Wednesday, July 11, 2007

t doesn’t take much to spark a theme room. The culprit could be a lifelong love of hockey, a passion for Mount Vernon’s sprawling estate or a lonely pair of cowboy boots.

No matter the impetus, theme rooms can add a jolt to a home’s decor, assuming the owners embrace the dramatic detours.

Janet Aurora, an interior decorator with the Vienna-based Decor & You, helped Centreville resident Lisa Keller turn her admiration for the nation’s first president into a thriving theme room.

“It was something she always wanted,” Mrs. Aurora says. The homeowner already had a wealth of Washington-inspired items, including a sofa reminiscent of the Founding Father’s day and some antique artwork, but she wasn’t sure how to convert the pieces into a full-fledged room.

That’s where Mrs. Aurora came in.

“She had been to Mount Vernon over a 100 times. She knew the look she was after,” she says modestly.

Mrs. Aurora used the existing items as a starting point, incorporating some of the period colors like burgundy and navy blue in the room and around the rest of the house.

“We didn’t want the room to stand out,” Mrs. Aurora says.

Sometimes, a theme room draws life from objects that otherwise would rot in a basement.

One of Mrs. Aurora’s clients asked her to help design around inherited antiques from the Victorian period.

“She hated them,” Mrs. Aurora says of the homeowner’s attachment, or lack thereof, to the items. “I politely asked her, why were we going to drive the whole interior around antiques she didn’t like? She said they had been in her family and she really wanted to use them.”

So Mrs. Aurora went with a variant on the typical Victorian approach, adding lush red fabrics to give the room a romantic veneer.

“She wound up loving the furniture,” Mrs. Aurora says.

June Shea, president of Shea Studio Interiors in Springfieldsays not every theme room has to announce itself with the equivalent of a trumpet’s blare.

“It could be so subtle people don’t realize it’s there until they look closely at the details,” says Ms. Shea, who routinely orchestrates theme rooms for her clients.

One such project involved using squares as a recurring motif in every room of a home’s floor.

“It doesn’t have to be in your face,” Ms. Shea says.

Some clients actually prefer such an approach.

Ms. Shea turned a local family room into the Verizon Center 2.0.

The family already owned oodles of Washington Capitals memorabilia and handed Ms. Shea crowd photographs to complete the look. The custom carpet looks like arena ice, down to the team’s logo, which required the franchise’s permission to use. Black ottomans sit on the carpet like gargantuan hockey pucks to complete the effect.

“It looks like you’re in the stadium,” she says.

Chayse Dacoda, designer and host of the new HGTV series “Get it Together,” says theme rooms spring from how people spend their leisure time.

“People have hobbies they want to showcase, whether it’s a Hollywood room or ‘look at all the ducks I’ve killed.’ ” Ms. Dacoda says. “I encourage people to showcase their eclecticism.”

Ms. Dacoda once created a Thailand-inspired boudoir for a television program. While she poured her heart into the project, she made sure to let the homeowner have the final say.

“Your footprint should be there in the best possible aesthetic way,” she says.

And don’t treat a theme room like a museum chamber.

“[Some theme rooms] become like a tomb, almost. It’s old and it’s a relic and it can’t be moved,” she says. “Keep a room fresh, regardless of if it’s a theme room or something else.”

Ms. Dacoda doesn’t mind theme rooms offering a much different perspective from the rest of the house.

“I happen to think rooms that are over-the-top work. It’s great to enter the threshold and to be propelled into a different time or place,” she says.

Theme rooms can become kitsch if not handled properly, according to Nancye Lewis-Overstreet, owner of Rabbit Runn Designs in Alexandria.

Mrs. Lewis-Overstreet recalls a tiki bar basement complete with grass skirts and pineapple bar glasses.

Resist the urge to fill up a theme room with obvious, easily obtained items. Instead, she suggests reserving one’s budget for a few finer goodies to make the room stand out for the right reasons.

Cutesy touches might be fine for a children’s room, but adults might want to set their sights higher, she says.

Mrs. Lewis-Overstreet also suggests some rooms are better suited for themes than others.

“Theme rooms are better reserved for little hideaways like guest rooms, rather than living rooms,” she says.

Sandra Hambley, regional developer and interior decorator with Decor & You, says some look down on theme rooms.

“They’re too trendy, some say, or a turn-off for someone walking through when the owner is trying to sell,” Ms. Hambley says.

Homeowners can avoid that problem by weaving classical, timeless elements into their theme rooms whenever possible.

“They could be changed for anyone moving into the house afterward,” she says. “It’s a delicate balance.”

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