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Families open doors to 'Holiday Home Tour'

| Sunday, Dec. 4, 2005

People love checking out how others decorate their homes. Christmastime is a gem because many people go all out and their flair for style can really emanate from their selections. Home tours are hugely popular for this reason.

With these thoughts in mind, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Ligonier Valley created the first "Holiday Home Tour" for the Ligonier Valley. Scheduled from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday, the Home Tour will include the homes of six area families who have offered to open their doors to benefit the museum.

"The idea for the tour originated with my husband Gary," said Janet Bucciarelli, SAMA director. "He and I like to go on the Junior League of Pittsburgh House Tour every year and after going to last year's tour he said, 'Your museum should try this.' The only problem was, how do we compete with all the other home tours out there, and where could we find a niche to slip into• We had to come up with something unique, based on the assets of the Ligonier Valley."

Bucciarelli drew her inspiration from recalling a fond memory of going to see the Overly home lawn display of Christmas lights as a child with her family. "I remembered how cars would line up for miles to see the sight, and I thought, 'What could be more appealing?'"

Bucciarelli approached a few members of the museum auxiliary who were well-connected in the community and asked for their input. Enthusiastically, they began planning their next moves, including which residents to approach to include on the tour. Six museum members -- including Eve and Joe Novak, Marge and Peter Hermann, Marie and Arthur Miltenberger, Cookie and Ed Soisson, Polly and Joe Artuso and Phyllis and Richard Knupp -- agreed.

Shirley Staslowski of Ligonier, who serves as chairwoman of the SAMA auxiliary and co-chairwoman of the holiday home tour committee, said plans began in January and February to conceptualize how the home tour would work.

"It was decided that we would only sell a limited number of tickets and ask people on the tour to wear hospital booties to keep the homes intact," she said. "These families are really the ones doing all the work because they are allowing people to visit and they are decorating for the tour. We appreciate what they are doing. We would hate to have a home damaged in any way."

While this tour is a self-driven self-guided tour, patrons are encouraged to visit SAMA, which is decorated for the holidays, and enjoy complimentary refreshments provided by the auxiliary and to view Abby Doolittle Ross's collection of handmade creches from around the world. A collection of nutcrackers and festive holiday music will also enhance the spirit.

"People love Christmas, love holiday decorations and love to look at gorgeous designer homes," Bucciarelli said. "This holiday home tour idea combines all three and is certain to be a winner.

The Novaks Japanese-style home offers a unique look at the beauty and simple elegance of customed-designed furniture from George Nakashima. To add to the ambiance, the Novaks are purchasing handmade origami ornaments created by children at the Ligonier Valley Library to decorate their Christmas tree this year -- 300 in all.

"My husband has always had a great appreciation for the simplicity of Japanese living," Eve Novak said. "The children at the Library spent days and days after school folding the traditional Japanese paper that Dr. Novak provided to make these beautiful ornaments."

In fact, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, which recently acquired a piece of Nakashima furniture, expressed interest in coming to the home tour and offering Pittsburghers a chance to see other pieces of Nakashima furniture. Eve Novak was instrumental in encouraging the 20th Century Club in Pittsburgh to come out for the tour as well.

"My goal was to bring 100 people in from Pittsburgh and we've made it," she said. "The bus can only hold about 90 people, so there are some who are driving themselves out by car. We're hoping for good weather."

Novak stressed the importance of this event helping the Pittsburgh communities see that Ligonier has much to offer by way of entertainment. So many times we go into Pittsburgh for events, but they have no idea what's going on in Ligonier and Westmoreland County, and we really need to get the word out, she added.

"We're delighted people are coming from Pittsburgh to see the tour," said Helen Thorne, of Laughintown, a co-chairwoman for the home tour. "This is our first attempt and we hope next year we have even more homes to offer. We hope this is successful and can benefit the museum."

Staslowski added that this is a wonderful opportunity for people to see how magical the Diamond looks at Christmastime. She suggests that visitors on the tour may want to round out their day in Ligonier with a trip to the Ligonier Valley Library to take in the Festival of Lights held by the Ligonier Valley Historical Society.

This is a wonderful opportunity to bring people to the Ligonier Valley and see our wonderful downtown area while helping SAMA at the same time, she said.

"One of the remarkable things about the Ligonier area is the way this community will wholeheartedly support and adopt a good cause," Bucciarelli said. "I have never been with more creative, hardworking and delightful people. I feel very fortunate to work with them."

Another homeowner on the tour, Marie Miltenberger said she hoped the home tour would help bring some greatly needed funds to the museum.

"Knowing that the Ligonier Valley museum is a branch of SAMA in Loretto that is pretty far for people to travel to, we're delighted to have the Ligonier Valley museum close by and be able to visit it," she said, noting she and her husband, Arthur, have been supporters of the museum for a number of years.

The Miltenberger home is a restored formal estate that showcases Old World charm with original woodwork, hardwood floors, fine fabrics, rare antiques and signature fireplaces.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at SAMA the day of the tour. The tour starts at the museum, where patrons can buy tickets, get a map, and directions (inside the tour brochure) and booties to wear in the homes. Patrons follow the map and directions and drive to each house, in any order. Parking is available at each site, and roadside signs will be posted to direct the way. For more information or to reserve tickets, contact SAMA at 724-238-6015.

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