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Carloftis helps dress up Washington landmark

When Better Homes and Gardens was invited to take part in decorating rooms at the Blair House in Washington, D.C., for a holiday design showcase, the magazine called Jon Carloftis.

The New York garden designer and Rockcastle County native was asked to decorate the courtyard. Carloftis has written stories for Better Homes and Gardens for 15 years.

The project had to be turned around quickly, he was told. Carloftis had 24 hours to see the space, come up with a concept and have it approved by Capricia Marshall, chief of protocol at the State Department.

His design made use of the antique urns and the fountain already in the courtyard, "making them look fresh and modern with stainless steel spheres and good lighting," he said earlier this week. "Lighting is key to decorating large, outdoor space in the wintertime."

Carloftis quickly lined up a crew of friends to work with him: Dale Fisher of Lexington; Melissa Smith of Annapolis, Md.; and Carlos Rodriguez, head of Carloftis' office in New York.

The State Department worked with Magazine Publishers of America to line up lifestyle magazines — Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, This Old House, Traditional Home, Mother Earth News and Natural Home — for makeovers of 17 historic spaces in the Blair House, the president's guest house, and the State Department's adjoining Harry S. Truman building.

Magazine designers had three days to perform their magic.

Working in the courtyard, Carloftis and his crew started at 7:30 a.m., "and we didn't stop," he said.

While there, Carloftis met Andrea Metzger, executive director of the Blair House Restoration Fund, who asked for ways to improve an empty second-floor terrace.

"I sketched some ideas for her," Carloftis said.

The Blair House was named for Francis Preston Blair, a journalist from Frankfort who moved to the nation's capital in 1930 at the invitation of President Andrew Jackson to become editor of the pro-administration newspaper, Globe. He also was a member of the informal group of advisers known as Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet."

In 1837, Blair and his family took up residence in the house that became known as the Blair House.

Called "Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays," the showcase opened Dec. 7 with a reception to honor families of government employees serving overseas. All the designers were invited.

To see more pictures of the designers' work, go to