Hundreds of people may have returned home around the region Friday and looked at each room with a more critical eye, intent on making changes in their decor after finding inspiration at the annual Near & Far Aid Designer House Tour, featuring showplace residences in Fairfield and Westport.
The day began with a knowledgeable, and often comedic, presentation by renowned interior designer and star of Bravo TV's "Million Dollar Decorator," Mary McDonald, at the Patterson Club in Fairfield. McDonald talked about some of her high-profile projects, her new collection of fabrics, trims and rugs and a future furniture collection, and offered tips on trendy and traditional decorating.
Beverly Brokaw of Wilton called McDonald "witty, self-deprecating but also informative."
"She was so funny, very approachable, and her aesthetic is gorgeous," said Sage Hammond, a designer who works for Cherie Greene Interiors in Westport.
Greene said McDonald "took some of the mystery out of design inspiration."
The inspiration continued as those on the tour walked through rooms of five houses in Westport and Fairfield, gaining an appreciation of work by interior and floral designers, artists and photographers.
Ruger Interiors gave a 19th-century Queen Anne-style house in Fairfield's Greenfield Hill area an adventurous update with a bold color palette and high-octane glamour.
"This is beautiful. This is my kind of house," one person said of the antique Victorian house.
A seaside home in Westport featured a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere, with a nod to nature created by designer Ali Schwarz of Redding. "This is a personality-rich house," said Jeanne Burris, president of Near & Far Aid.
Floral arrangements by Victoria Ross were highlighted at a Greek Revival-style house in the Greens Farms section of Westport.
A room in one house displayed a decorative sense of humor. Two walls were covered in framed black-and-white photographs of various breeds of dog. A third wall contained an oil painting of colorful balloon animal dogs.
"You look at lovely homes and then you take an idea and do it in our own house; see how you can incorporate it into your own decor," said Anita Casey of Bristol, who attends the tour every year with daughters Pamela Adams of Bristol and Robin Wardle of Wilton.
Martha Gesswein, the Designer House Tour event chairwoman, said the tour has a loyal following that continues to grow each year. The funds raised help families in need throughout Fairfield County, she said. "We're grateful to the homeowners who open their homes to us," she said.
"The people who open their homes to strangers for this are incredibly generous. You can imagine how it disrupts their family life," Bennett said.
One of the participating homeowners is a professional interior designer and decorated her own house. "My husband and I are private people," said Jodi Perno, adding that they were willing to open their home for the tour because of the cause and the funding generated for the charity.
The mission is as inspiring as the decor in each house, according to Emily Gordon, chairwoman of the house selection committee.
Near & Far Aid, an all-volunteer non-profit organization established in 1946, targets poverty and aims to change lives through a number of programs that feed and clothe the homeless, provide job training for the working poor, and supporting schools to ensure a solid education for promising young students.
In a letter included in the event program, Burris said Fairfield County is home to the widest income gap of any metropolitan region in the United States.
"It can be difficult to see the silent suffering that's part of everyday life for people in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford and even pockets of more affluent suburbs," Burris said.
Organizers could not provide the amount they hoped to raise from this year's tour, but Near & Far Aid literature indicated that the non-profit has granted more than $12 million to improve the lives of children, families and individuals affected by poverty in Fairfield County since the year 2000.
For more information about Near & Far Aid, to donate or volunteer, visit www.nearandfaraid.org