PALMETTO — When he saw the inside of his newly furnished and decorated Habitat for Humanity home for the first time, the big and strong Cory Hill, who is raising three daughters, broke down and cried.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Hill, who was raising Ashley, Caitlin and Cara in a two-bedroom apartment before he qualified for a neat, trim and plain three-bedroom Habitat for Humanity home in Palmetto’s Washington Park. “It’s awesome.”
On Sunday, Hill’s recently built home was still neat and trim, but forget plain.
Sarasota designer Jason Champion, known to HGTV fans as the “Design Star” show contestant who made it to the Fab Five before getting booted off the show, had accepted a challenge from Habitat for Humanity to furnish and decorate the Hill home in 24 hours.
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That was the same challenge facing Sarasota designer Mark Dalton, well known locally as the “Chic on the Cheap” author, who had 24 hours to turn the Habitat home of Keosha Newton and her two children a few houses down into something extra special.
This pair of enthusiastic designers, who interviewed the homeowners before getting started, were also given tight budgets.
Dalton said most everything he used to completely furnish Newton’s home in a very stylish way was donated by Lowe’s, Target, Ikea or the Habitat ReStore, but if it hadn’t been, it would total roughly $6,700.
“That’s really wonderful when you consider a whole 1,100-square-foot house furnished,” Dalton said. “It shows it can be done. We are changing how people think of interior decorating. It’s indeed now for the masses.”
Dalton charges people $100 to come to their homes and get two hours of consultation.
“Anyone has $100 for something that could change your home,” Dalton said.
“I like the ‘Wow’ factor of these houses,” said Bob Lounds, a construction tech teacher at Palmetto High School who sent over a team of home construction “commandoes” from the school’s Future Builders of America club to help the designers make their 24-hour deadline.
“When you walk into these houses, you feel like you have stepped into million dollar Longboat Key condos and they barely spent anything,” Lound said.
Based on the reactions of the homeowners, it was clear that both these designers had met the challenge.
“I absolutely love the color of my living room,” said Newton when she saw the pumpkin colored living room walls conjured up for her by Dalton and his team.
Some of the Palmetto High helpers, including Angel Gonzales, Gerald Whipper, Jennifer Colman, Mike Elsenheimer, Wesley Lee and Bobby Ferencz, made bamboo window treatments in the Newton home and helped with the crown molding on the ceilings.
“Some of these kids went to the football game and dance and still got here at 7:30 a.m. Saturday,” Lound said. “They were dedicated.”
Lound was asked to lend his students by Dalton team-member Jennifer Sanchez who graduated from Palmetto High in 2003 and now is a senior interior design student at the Art Institute of Tampa.
“When we walked in here on Friday, it was just white, white, white,” Dalton said. “Our goal was to make it contemporary and energetic.”
Back at the Hills’ house, the white walls in the living room were now a soft green. There was a patterned green wallpaper in the master bedroom, which had a king-size bed snugly fit into a black leather headboard.
On the living room floor was a thick Tibetan rug, of green and chocolate. The young girls’ bedroom was done in pink “princess” with bedroom accessories from Ikea. The Mickey Mouse ears and magic wand on the white Ikea dresser were the idea of Champion, whose career has skyrocketed due to his appearance on HGTV.
Champion is originally from Mississippi and because of media attention in his home state, he has been asked to decorate the mansion of Mississippi’s governor this Christmas.
“It’s been crazy,” said Champion, who moved to Sarasota because he thinks it’s a beautiful place to do interior design. “I guess I’ve gotten notoriety because not many people have done what I have done. I mean, not many people from Mississippi.”
Champion orchestrated a back-splash of tile in the Hill kitchen.
Everything inside the Hill and Newton homes had been donated by either the Target store in Bayshore Gardens, the Habitat’s ReStore, Lowe’s and Ikea.
Ikea donated the furnishings for all six bedrooms.
Newton, who is raising a son, Keauno, 7, and a daughter, Randaja, 5, covered her mouth and wept when she walked into her colorful home.
“I will never leave this house again,” said Keauno, who meant exactly what he said. His intention is never to walk out the door ever again, even to go to school or ride his bike.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.