The new Designer Show Home home in Cape May was still being painted and furnished last last month in anticipation of its opening. The group of volunteers wore blue paper booties as they toured the home following along in their guidebook as project manager Anne Gibboni pointed out highlights, like the bathroom chandelier that is reportedly identical to one in an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
"I love houses," said Alice Downey explaining why she will spend part of her summer as one of the volunteers who staff the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities Designer Show House, at 1109 Washington St., across the street from MAC. "And I learn a lot about architecture."
As a volunteer activity, spending a day or more in a beautiful house at the shore is not too shabby. Some shore house tours are one-day events featuring several homes. Others, like the MAC home, will remain open into the fall, staffed by a rotating group of as many as 100 volunteers, with the more experienced working as lead volunteers.
One veteran is Anne Doherty who moved to Cape May to retire. But she still wanted something to do, and began volunteering for MAC.
She said while people come to see the house, her job is also to promote the reason for the tours.
"I'm promoting MAC, and the designers who have given their time for this," she said as volunteers got their first look at this year's home during a training session.
Tour sponsors say house tours are one of their most popular fund-raising events, and are profitable largely because they are staffed by volunteers.
Amy Carreno, public programs coordinator at the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, said most of their volunteers come back every year, helping to make the group's Seashore Open House Tour successful.
"It is one of our most popular fund-raising events," she said.
Beth Joseph-Arentz, director of communications for Jewish Family Services, said they welcome volunteers for the group's Downbeach House Tour. Volunteers can work half the day, then get a free pass to visit the other homes. The house tour is their largest fundraiser, and already more than 100 tickets have been sold, she said.
"Because of the volunteers and sponsors we spend less than $2,000 putting on the house tour," Joseph-Arentz said. The event typically raises about $50,000 which goes toward older adult services.
Volunteers seem to anticipate the tours as much as guests.
"Every year I realize how much I look forward to doing it each summer," said Laurie Blumberg, of Margate, who has worked on the Jewish Family Services House Tour in Margate in August for the last five years.
Volunteers said the house tours are a great way to see how other people decorate and get ideas.
"You get to learn about different companies and designers," said Geri Breth, of Cape May, who volunteers for MAC and said she has actually bought a couple of items from the show houses.
A show house is different than a regular house tour in that professional designers decorate each room, and the items in it are for sale. This year's home is owned by Ionna Iliopulos and Tom Cataldo who were married in Cape May in 2002 and are frequent vacationers to the city. They tore down the old house and built a new one in a design that blends with the neighborhood. Supporters of MAC, they approached the group about using their home as a Show House this summer before they moved in. They plan to make it their permanent home.
"This is the place we want to live and become a part of the community and be a part of its ongoing historic restoration," Iliopulos said in a statement.
Volunteers said they love to meet the people who visit, but also feel a strong responsibility to protect the home, which a few guests want to treat a bit too much like their own home.
"It's hard to tell people 'please don't sit on the furniture, or pick stuff up' " said Eileen Cassidy, of Cape May. "We never used to have signs, but now we do."
Photos are generally prohibited to protect privacy and because of the disruption, but volunteers said when everyone has a camera in their phone, it can be hard to control. The biggest problem is people bumping into items or other people while they're trying to get the shot they want.
"You are responsible for the home, just as if it is yours," Blumberg said. "We try to control the flow of people so they aren't bumping into things, but we also want them to enjoy the home. It really takes 150 percent of your attention."
Homeowners are usually not identified and leave during the tours to maintain a level of privacy. Blumberg recalled being very nervous when a homeowner last year came through a couple of times, but then realized she was enjoying watching other people enjoy her home.
Volunteers are typically equipped with interesting stories about the homes. And like proud mothers of large families, the volunteers are reluctant to name a favorite on the tours, and find something they love about each house.
"Two years ago it was on the water," Geri Breth, of Cape May, said as the MAC group recalled how lovely the views were during their shifts.
"Every house has rooms you like, and some you don't" said MaryJane Ripinski, of Cape May, who has volunteered for eight years. "But it's always fun."
Gibboni said last year's home had an elevator, making it possible for handicapped visitors to see the second floor. She said the designers also volunteer their time, as do many of the workers preparing the homes.
They are our second biggest group of volunteers," she said.
The only drawback volunteers could think of is that they do spend most of their shift standing, so someone with bad feet might want to consider another volunteer option. But anyone who loves homes and meeting people will enjoy every minute.
"MAC really appreciates it and it makes you feel good to help," said Downey.
"I like the feeling of knowing it was a successful day," Blumberg said.
Contact Diane D'Amico:
Local house tours
Cavalier Cottage, the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities Designer Show House, open daily through Oct. 31. Admission is $15. Self-guided tours are offered from 1 to 4 p.m. daily. Designer Show House Dinner Packages are $50 and include dinner and a guided tour. Lunch packages in the Carriage House Cafe are $35. Call 609-884-5404, ext. 153, or visit
capemaymac.org for more information.
Jewish Family Service 26th Annual Downbeach House Tour, 11 a.m. to
4 p.m., Aug. 5. Tickets are $50. Call 609-822-1108 or visit jfsatlantic.org, or at the JFS office at 607 N. Jerome Ave. Margate.
The Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences 47th Annual Seashore Open House Tour, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 7, featuring seven homes on the island. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 the day of the event. Call 609-494-1241.
The Ninth Annual Home & Health Show and Designer House Tour by the Cape Regional Medical Center Foundation and Auxiliary, Aug. 10. The Home& Health Show at the Avalon Elementary School is free and open
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Designer House Tour runs 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call CRMC at 609-463-4040, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.