Homeowners turn to design professionals to transform blueprints into practical and beautiful interiors. But where do the designers go for expert help and new ideas? In Florida, they go to DCOTA in Dania Beach, just south of the Fort Lauderdale airport. The acronym stands for Design Center of the Americas. DCOTA consists of a fully enclosed four-story mall that currently houses upwards of 150 showrooms representing approximately 5,000 lines of products.
Design categories include furniture (juvenile and adult), fabric, flooring, kitchen, bath, garden, lighting, art, antiques, accessories, decorative hardware and more. There are even things especially designed and manufactured for outfitting yachts. DCOTA provides additional amenities such as restaurants, party and exhibition space, and conference areas where designers and clients can plot their strategy. More showrooms are on the way, because DCOTA is not yet completely built out.
DCOTA began in 1985 as the brainchild of Michigan real estate developer and furniture retailer Marvin Danto, who currently makes his winter home in Sarasota. He conceived DCOTA as a four-phase project that would provide a one-stop shopping center for new collections from manufacturers all over the world. Some of the prestigious names on exhibit at DCOTA are Versace, Ralph Lauren, Paloma Picasso, Fortuny and Valentino. When Phase III is completed in April, DCOTA will offer more than 775,000 square feet devoted to design options, making DCOTA the largest, free-standing interior design campus in the world.
And happily for consumers, DCOTA, unlike most "to the trade" markets, is open to the public as well as to design professionals. Designers shop DCOTA alone, designers and their clients shop there, and ordinary consumers are welcome, too. While many design-savvy homeowners can evaluate their options at DCOTA successfully, it's not as easy for the "civilian" as you might think. First, there is the pricing structure. All tags are printed with two prices, list and net. The list is what a civilian pays, and the net is offered to a design professional. If a civilian is accompanied by a design pro, the civilian gets the net price. The cost difference is significant-you do not want to pay list.
If you come to DCOTA alone, how can you get the net price and navigate the vast emporium in a way that maximizes your budget and achieves the look you want? You access the Designer On Call (DOC) service of DCOTA. This DOC/DCOTA amenity matches up consumers with one of 45 professional designers at the center. At no cost, you get the professional's advice, special price and navigation skills for two hours. When the two hours are up, you have the option of hiring the designer to keep working with you. You can pay by the hour, by the project, or on a cost-plus basis. All the designers in the DOC corps are established local professionals with their own successful businesses who sign up to spend one or two days a month at DCOTA to provide on-call help.
You especially need an interior designer if you intend to shop for fabrics, either for upholstery or window treatments. The fabric representatives in the various showrooms do not want to deal with the uninformed consumer. You need exact measurements, you must know about repeats in the pattern, and you face the overwhelming task of narrowing down thousands of choices in prints and material to just the right one for your particular project. Walk into the fabric showrooms with an interior designer or expect a chilly reception.
Many of the showrooms have what you'd expect to find-for example, elegant Sherle Wagner bathroom fixtures, Pierre Deux County French furniture or SieMatic kitchens. But there are some unusual emporiums that feature items that you probably didn't even know you should be coveting. A favorite with browsers is Maximilliaan's, an amazing Old World shop that deals in 19th and 20th century art-case pianos.
Maximilliaan Rutten (himself a pianist) scours the globe for grand pianos that have been neglected. He restores them inside and out and offers them as fine instruments and extraordinary art for luxury homes worldwide. You can find dazzling pianos with Victorian marquetry inlay, Louis XV bronze mounts, as well as a Cubist painter's take on what a piano should look like. The Art Deco ones have a swanky nightclub glamour that's irresistible. Many of Maximilliaan's instruments have been owned by famous people, and you get the piano's provenance when you buy. Some homeowners fall in love with a grand piano and then design a room around it.
Sarasota-based interior designers use DCOTA all the time. They go alone or sometimes take their clients. DCOTA is about a three-hour drive to Naples and across Alligator Alley from Sarasota, but some stalwarts do it in a day. "It's a mad dash," says Susan Mignone, owner of Panache Interiors, "but I have been known to run over there, shop furiously for three hours and drive back when I need some options right away for a client. The best scenario is when I can stop in Naples and have dinner with a friend on the way home."
Anne Folsom Smith is another local designer sold on DCOTA. "It's closer to the heartbeat of the designer than any other facility that I have used," she says. "It is truly an uncomplicated approach for me and my clients. The showrooms are staffed with friendly people who go the extra mile. Everything is beautifully presented, the buildings are gorgeous, and the shopping is convenient. What more could I want?" DCOTA may be too far for non-design professionals to consider as a frequent shopping venue, but DCOTA staffers organize special events throughout the year; it's worth getting on the mailing list for the semi-annual floor sample sales. One day is reserved just for the trade and two for the public to scrounge for bargains of up to 70 percent off. A two-day pass can be purchased for $15. A portion of the proceeds goes to support Gilda's Club of South Florida, a free non-profit cancer support community.
Complimentary DOC/DCOTA purchasing assistance is offered as part of the admission price, so take advantage of the professional advice during floor sample days. Children under 12 (including infants) are not allowed. The next public floor sample sale happens Saturday, March 24 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Sunday, March 25 (noon-5 p.m.). Mark it down as a good weekend to discover DCOTA and remember, there's a hotel right on the property!
1855 Griffin Road (corner of I-95 and Griffin Road)
Dania Beach, Florida
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DCOTA Made Easy
* Come prepared. Consider bringing photos, room measurements, pages from magazines, fabric swatches-anything that will help DCOTA pros get the picture of what you want or need.
* Figure out what your budget is and let your designer and showroom representatives know. They'll help you get the absolute best quality for your dollar.
* Understand that you will be overwhelmed by so many choices and possibilities, so come with a designer or access the Designer on Call (DOC) option. They will help you focus and can take you directly to the showrooms that can help you most.
* Realize that DCOTA showrooms are not set up as "vignettes," depicting rooms or scenes. You will need to visualize how a piece will fit into the scale and style of your room at home.
* Wear comfortable shoes and take breaks every so often to rest, clear your mind and eat or drink. All of DCOTA is wheelchair accessible.
* Remember that every piece of furniture you see can be custom- covered in hundreds of different fabrics and finished in many different woods or paint treatments. DCOTA suppliers can even adjust the sizes of furniture, making it larger or smaller to suit your own space. What you see on display is only a tiny glimpse of what you can actually have.
* Consider your lifestyle when selecting upholstery and window treatments. Maybe you want silk but you have children and dogs. A design pro can suggest new microfibers that have the look of silk but are family-friendly and less expensive, too.
* If possible, start the design process while your home is being built or remodeled. Ordering custom furniture, fabric, etc. takes time.
* Don't be intimidated. If you love bright colors and bold patterns or you want Asian strict minimalism, stick with your style. The design professionals will help you make the most of it.
* Know your own attention span. When you're tired, quit. Bad decisions are made by worn-out shoppers. DCOTA isn't going anywhere. You can come back.