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Designer builds home to showcase her collection of antiques

| Friday, June 3, 2011

One out of three Americans does it, according to authorities. It has been called a passion, a compulsion or even an addiction. But Bettelou Sorci has turned collecting into the fine art of living, and her style is a gold standard for glamour.

Pittsburgh's grande dame of interior design began collecting at 18, while working in the interior design studio of Kaufmann's Department Store. Then, she struck out on her own and turned a love of antiques into Guiding Light in Oakmont, her emporium that brims with divine objects, lamps and lighting fixtures.

Bettelou's richly detailed Country French home, which she and husband Nino built in 1996 atop 80 sylvan acres in O'Hara, recalls a European villa. There are layers upon layers of grand-tour treasures to discover in each room. She splurged on space, volume and 16-feet-high vaulted ceilings in most of the first-floor living spaces, thus, limiting the upstairs' guest bedrooms to two.

These are large, dramatic rooms -- each with a "wow" factor -- that revel in old-world grandeur and vastly over-scale furnishings. They are bold in scale, yet gentle in color. "Large scale in my mind translates to comfort," she says. "The grander the furniture, the greater the need to make it comfortable."

She designed the superb architectural detailing and every inch of space as a sumptuous backdrop for her collection of fine period furniture, antiques, sculpture, paintings and objects from their former home. Lamps• There are 52 on the first floor, including four blazingly beautiful chandeliers that are monumental in size.

An irrepressible "ahhhh" escapes at the sight of the majestic entrance hall with its French Art Nouveau sculpture of a Valkyrie by Louis Chalon that fronts a 12-panel, 9-feet-tall Coromandel screen. And splendid rugs float on limestone flooring throughout.

Elegantly sculpted wrought-iron gates open to the great room, a spectacular space for entertaining. Glazed terra-cotta walls and a Savonnerie rug cozy the space that's anchored by a massive 18th-century oak altar from the Vatican Museum at one end. At the other end stands a 9-feet-tall English cabinet, now a dry bar, from Jane Fonda's Paris flat when she was married to director Roger Vadim (remember "Barbarella"). Rather than hide the TV, Bettelou cleverly encased it in a 19th-century Chinese fireplace mantel.

The sunken French salon, staged with the sophistication of a movie set, has the effervescent rush of a glass of champagne. Walls were upholstered in black silk moire and mounted with four sconces that once graced the mighty Mellon mansion on Fifth Avenue. The salon's focal point is the pearl-gray peacock fireplace mantel whose scale she corrected by adding plinth bases to its carved columns.

The salon flows gracefully into the dining room with its soft celadon-green walls and pale Aubusson rug. The table can seat 20 guests and is covered with a no-iron cutwork cloth from her shop. Ceiling beams and brackets were positioned to frame antique cabinets that hold an extraordinary collection of sterling, crystal and china.

French doors open to a large courtyard, swimming pool and exquisitely landscaped gardens.

Given that her husband of 55 years was a renowned local chef and restaurateur, Bettelou made the starting point of the design project the dream kitchen. White ferns were stenciled delicately on peach walls and scattered with whimsical monkey faces. Instead of crown molding above the pale custom cabinetry, she used the space to display 12 rare Korean porcelain plates.

The master bedroom is a Chinese fairy tale that was inspired by two epic-carved domes recessed in the ceiling. Sevres lamps and carnelian wood chests are set against pale ochre walls. Its windows, chaise and dressing table are covered opulently in chinoiserie fabric by Clarence House.

With an unerring eye for quality, Bettelou has orchestrated an exuberant living place that's a kick-up-your-heels antidote to minimalism's monkish extremes.

Each piece has a story. And all is art.

Bettelou Sorci collaborates with interior designer Thomas Catalucci, formerly of Fort Lauderdale. Details: theguidinglight@verizon.net or 412-828-2828.

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Light fantastic

Light fantastic

Designer Bettelou Sorci builds a home to showcase her antiques collection.

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