One Manhattan apartment, six interior designers, an eBay auction budget and eight weeks to decorate. Sound like the newest reality designing show?
When executives at online auc- tioneer eBay were looking for a new way to highlight their home furnishings category, they turned to renowned interior designers and set them loose on the site.
All items in the finished apartment, with a total value of about $70,000, will be for sale in the eBay Showhouse Charity Auction from Thursday through Oct. 30. Proceeds will benefit Alpha Workshops, a nonprofit design studio that provides work in the decorative arts for artists who have HIV or AIDS.
Each of the designers -- Laura Bohn, Christopher Coleman, Jamie Drake, Tiffany Dubin, Glenn Gissler and Marian McEvoy -- was given a room or set of rooms to design, a budget based on room size,
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and a request that 80 percent of the items be purchased on eBay. In mid-April, they set out to make over the two-story apartment, which featured a typically small Manhattan kitchen, two large living areas and a terrace overlooking the East River.
The entryway posed a challenge for Glenn Gissler, who New York magazine named one of the city's top 100 designers several years ago. The hall set the tone for the rest of the penthouse, but it was a narrow entry measuring 4 feet by 30 feet.
To create a calm and earthy space, he bought three African masks (about $700 total) and a Chinese altar table ($900) on eBay and added a custom-made mirror.
For Tiffany Dubin, owner of the Lair boutique at Henri Bendel in New York, racing the clock was the biggest obstacle. She had the tightest timetable of all the designers, with only five weeks to design three rooms.
"My room was tough proportionally," Dubin said of one of her assigned rooms, "so I divided it into three spaces."
The "love shack" featured a low sofa and privacy curtain in rich red; the lounge was highlighted by a shaggy white rug and futuristic chairs; and the gallery was a modern, sparse display of books and art.
Although she also decorated the terrace, the space that most reflects her fun, funky style is the bathroom. She found a collection of vintage bodybuilding magazines on eBay for less than $60 and used them in a decoupage-like wall treatment with 1920s wallpaper. The result was a historical retrospective of male muscle magazines from the '20s through the '70s.
Christopher Coleman, who grew up in Lutherville but now lives in New York, approached the master bedroom from the perspective of a young couple with big style and a small budget, though he had $12,000 at his disposal.
The fun, eclectic room features striped walls and a checkerboard floor design made from square carpet tiles in coordinating colors. The flooring was not available on eBay when Coleman shopped for it, but he said it is now widely available on the site and retails for about $9 a square.
Marian McEvoy, who considers herself an old hand at online auctions, said the purchasing was the quickest part for her. Transforming the pieces for the dining room with embroidery, paint or upholstery took longer.
"I think dining rooms are a very sexual room in the house," said McEvoy, former editor of House Beautiful and Elle Decor. To play off that sensual theme, she chose a vibrant red for the walls that complemented the red tableware and embroidered cotton muslin chairs.
Jamie Drake, owner of Drake Design Associates and member of the board of directors of Alpha Workshops, said he stayed true to his new American design style in the large living room he was assigned. Floor-to-ceiling pink walls lend glamour and optimism to the room, and semicircular sofas help direct the flow in the high-traffic area.
To assist the designers, Alpha Workshops provided 10 artists who helped install the rooms. The apartment was up for only five days in June, but the furnishings are in storage ready to be bid on by the public.
Ken Wampler, director of Alpha Workshops, said the money raised will go primarily into the organization's training program.
Working toward a philanthropic goal inspired all the participants to overcome time and budget challenges with good spirits.
"I'm always interested in having everybody win," Gissler said.
The interior designers who worked on the eBay Showhouse offer these suggestions for shoppers trying to buy home furnishings online:
* Be imaginative. Designer Christopher Coleman often buys pieces for their shape and reupholsters them.
* Get all the information. Ask the seller as many questions as you need to. Many make their living through eBay and are happy to give you more specifics so you can find the right piece.
* Narrow your search. Designer Marian McEvoy suggests that buyers narrow their searches, either with geographic limits for shipping reasons or item details (such as color, dimensions) to make online shopping more efficient.
* Don't forget shipping. Shipping items can easily double their cost, so pay attention to where the seller is.
The eBay Showhouse Charity Auction features hundreds of items featured recently in a New York penthouse decorated by renowned interior designers. The proceeds will benefit Alpha Workshops in New York.
To view eBay showhouse rooms: www.ebay.com / showhouse
Charity Auction dates: Thursday through Oct. 30
Charity Auction Web site: www.ebay.com / showhouseauction