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Interior Designer Faces Jail Time For Organizing Long Island Show House

LAUREL HOLLOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Designer show houses are popular in wealthy suburbs and often draw thousands of visitors. But the village of Laurel Hollow says the attractions are illegal and has put an interior decorator on trial.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, designer Claudia Dowling is charged with operating a commercial business in a residential neighborhood.

Dowling organized a designer show house at a historic Gold Coast mansion last year. Twenty-five decorators transformed rooms into showcases of their work, donating a quarter-million dollars in renovations to a homeowner trying to sell the house in exchange for public exposure of their crafts. Brochures were printed, and the show house was set to open to the public on Labor Day 2013 before the village shut it down.

“I thought I had the go-ahead,” said designer Claudia Dowling. “I certainly wouldn’t spend all that time and money and other designers’ time and money if I didn’t think I had the go-ahead.

“I didn’t go out to harm anything.”

Howard Avrutine, Laurel Hollow village attorney, said the law has to be enforced to protect neighbors.

“It’s no different than if I had a retail store,” he said. “Instead of selling shirts, I’m selling my services.”

“If you lived next door to this home, would you want to see business activity going on on a daily basis for an eight-week period with vehicles coming in and out?” Avrutine said.

Dowling said she’s been a part of 20 designer show houses and never thought organizing a mansion makeover would be a criminal offense. She faces fines and up to 15 days in jail when a judge rules later this month.

“We beautified it,” she said. “We added money to the community there.”

Her lawyer, Mona Conway, argues show houses are no different than fundraisers in private homes or real estate open houses. No admission price is charged. A charitable donation is collected.

“That would be like a village telling you, ‘You can’t paint your living room. You can’t change your kitchen cabinets,” Conway said.

The owner of the house, Bobby Bakchi, was not prosecuted. Village officials say they were unable to locate him to serve papers.

When reached by phone, Bakhchi told CBS 2 he had no comment.

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