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The Joy in Donating Time and Talent

Written by Jane Trabert Schmit
Imagery by Sandra Kicman

Everyone knew it would be wonderful, this Decorators’ Show House-turned-haven for patients and their families who come from all over the world for medical care in Buffalo.
    What many didn’t realize, however, was how deeply invested the design community would become in helping to transform an old Victorian-style mansion into a place so special and so welcoming to those in need. Yet that’s exactly what happened as area decorators, designers,
artists, craftsmen and landscapers responded to a call for action from the Junior League of Buffalo, the Interior Design Association of Western New York and the Kevin Guest House.
    “It’s stunning,” said IDA President Michelle Peller White. “Everybody just steps up when we pull projects like this. All we have to do is ask and they jump on board.”
    This story begins with a historic city home called the August Feine House, built in 1888. The three-floor, 7,800-square-foot structure was acquired several years ago by Kevin Guest House, a nonprofit organization that since 1972 has provided a home-away-from-home for patients and families during a medical crisis. The plan was to renovate the house and expand the hospitality campus in downtown Buffalo from three buildings to four.
    Then came an interesting and exciting development: The architecturally-rich August Feine House was chosen to serve as the 19th Decorators’ Show House, co-sponsored by the Junior League of Buffalo and The Buffalo News.
    “We knew that it would be a great opportunity to bring people here and introduce them to Kevin Guest House,” said Pamela Chrzanowski, KGH Development Director. “And the designers did such great work to help us get the house ready. We received many donations from them and from the community.”
    Local professionals came up with design schemes for the various rooms and worked for months before the final reveal.
    The restored building was visited by an estimated crowd of 15,000 over a three-week viewing period last spring. What made this different from past years, however, was that once the Show House event ended, it was revamped as the Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House.
The name change was in recognition of Salvatore, a longtime restaurateur and philanthropist who was a benefactor of the $3 million Expansion Campaign of Kevin Guest House.
    “The decorators had to take into consideration what the Kevin Guest House was going to be afterward for the families who would be staying there,” said Debi Scherer, Show House Chair.
    Century-old flooring detailed with inlays was carefully redone by MP Caroll Hardwood. New tile was installed in kitchens and bathrooms. Walls and ceilings were refreshed with paint or wallcoverings. Updated lighting and plumbing fixtures enhanced the aesthetic. The exterior was spruced up and new gardens were planted.
    Even an elevator was added along with other handicap-accessibility features for the patients and families who would be occupying the home for weeks or months at a time.
    “The designers did an amazing job,”  Chrzanowski said. “The rooms are beautiful and comfortable. We were mindfulnot to make it feel institutional but to keep a homelike feel for the families we serve. The designers really helped us win that way.”
    Kevin Guest House was a one-of-a-kind project, according to Peller White. She said a team of IDA members and strategic partners spent many months donating their time, talent and custom materials to re-design the home. In the basement, for example, they created a brightly-colored play area and a media room.
    “This project was a win-win for everybody,” she said. 

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