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The Utterly Shady Requests of Clients of Fancy Decorators

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In light of North Carolina decorator Bryan Huffman taking the stand in the John Edwards trial—Huffman quietly funneled money from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to Edwards' failed 2008 presidential bid by passing along $200,000 checks marked with the word “bookcase”—this week the Times looks at just how shady certain elements of the decorating business have become. Sometimes it's the case of not knowing where the money comes from; as a Manhattan decorator says, "We had the sweetest family, and we looked them up and they own South African diamond mines. Ten percent of the time the money comes with a question mark." Other times it's using corporate funds for, say, $6,000 shower curtains or $15,000 umbrella stands, as Dennis Kozlowski, the jailed ex-CEO of Tyco, did for his 10,000-square-foot home in North Hampton, N.H. Occasionally it's being unknowingly wooed by cocaine bigwigs and ending up being convicted of money laundering, as was the case with San Francisco decorators Antony Alexander Blarek and Frank V. Pellechia, who "were paid in cash delivered in Gucci bags" for their work for José Santacruz Londoño, a California druglord. But let's face it: often it's just the simple case of asking a decorator to commit insurance fraud or perhaps calling the sex room the "wine cellar." The best lines from the Times piece:

1. "The deal on the divorce was that the husband provide the wife with a house that was fully furnished and decorated. [...] There was trim for $600, $700 a yard, and they thought they could just scoot that by, and the wife could get a kickback."

2. “The thing I’ve had come up against several times is people looking to deal with insurance questions. [...] They’ve had some damage in their house, and they want it to seem like there was more damage."

3. "We also have had clients who want us to lie to their husbands, saying something costs half of what it does and they’ll pay the difference out of their petty-cash pile, because he’ll never buy it if he knows it costs what it does."

4. "Then there are those requests that are legal but morally suspect, said Mario Buatta, who still feels guilty about designing a bedroom for the mistress of a man to match the bedroom he had already designed for the man and his wife." (He "replicated the bedroom that was obviously done in a floral chintz. Curtains hanging from the ceiling. A trellis carpet.")

5. A "'pizza king' [...] wanted the Prince of Chintz to design a kind of dungeon in an A-frame house on Long Island. As Mr. Buatta recalled: 'I told him I don’t do this. I do English style. And he said, 'What kind of a meatball are you?' I heard later he’d been found dead in his car."'

6. “They know when someone is building a room under their house that might not show up in plans filed with the Department of Buildings. Or the hidden sex room. Think about 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.' Someone had to design that room. And how many of those 'wine cellars' are really wine cellars?"

7. “William T. Georgis, an architect who works mainly in the art world, said he never did a bondage room, but he does have a few panic rooms and gun rooms to his credit. Also shoe closets for '1,757 pairs of shoes,' he said. And vanity drawers to contain '350 tubes of lipstick,' and a round glass guest room for a voyeur."

· A Palette of Gray Areas [New York Times]