When you're pleased to be called a "working class" designer, you'd better be shopping when the Arlington Design Center holds a sample sale.
At least that's how Kristin Petro, whose Elmhurst firm bears her name, looks at it.
"Our clients really look for deals," said Melissa Tase, another designer shopping with Petro, who added, "Everyone needs help with design. It shouldn't be completely inaccessible. Of course, we don't discriminate against higher- end clients."
Petro and Tase happily showed off treasures they had scooped up for under $300 at the recent sale, which was open to the public.
The shops at the center in north Arlington Heights mainly feature custom orders, and consumers must arrange these through designers, either someone they have a relationship with or one on call at the center. The sample sale and other events are attempts to let more suburbanites know they can get high style without traveling downtown.
Petro and Tase snagged their biggest find with they paid $98 for a half-moon foyer table with a retail price of $3,400 from C.A.I. Designs.
"It doesn't have glass, and it's a little wobbly," said Petro. "But we have a great carpenter who can fix that."
The dark-stained table might be oak, and the designers heard the table had been ordered for a hotel and rejected when it arrived.
"We're shopping for four jobs today," said Petro. "If it works for one of them, it works. If it doesn't, we'll keep it for a future job."
At about 3 feet, the table is a little tall to go behind a sofa, but it could take the place of a sideboard, Petro said.
The duo also found a small brass and mirrored "anywhere" table. "Brass is coming back big time," said Petro.
Accessories the designers found for $125 at Chicago Design Team included a pair of white ceramic dogs with a chintz pattern; a large, heavy metal candle holder, and a white leather picture frame.
The candleholder that's more than 2 feet wide offers a large scale that is difficult to find and "big impact for such a low price," Petro said.
But not everything sold quickly at the sample sale. Why was that graceful black leather settee priced at $895, down from $3,045, languishing in the hallway?
"Black leather is a real hard sell," said Petro. "It's a bachelor fabric, and doesn't fit with decor today. That price is a great deal. If it were a better deal, I would buy it and reupholster it. Black leather is masculine, and that's not a masculine settee."
But designers with clients in downtown condos would snap it up, Tase said.
Vicki Martin, an owner of Chicago Design Team, said many of the sale items represent discontinued products, and there just isn't room to keep big things like a carved four-poster bed priced at $1,000 that retailed for almost $9,000.
Large gilded finials designed for the ends of curtain rods were so impressive at three for $5 that they got customers chatting with Martin about ideas for using them.
Screw three into a piece of wood and mount it on the wall as a coat hanger? Use two that almost match for a drape on large window? Arrange a few as part of a centerpiece?
This is the store where Eva Landesman of 51 Elements in Buffalo Grove struck it rich. She found a bronze vase with a green contemporary flower design priced at $35, about one-third of its retail price.
It is perfect for an oak mantel in a home she is designing, where she envisions it holding dried foliage or plain sticks. She also designed copper tiles for the fireplace.
At the C.A.I. showroom examples of Marge Carson furniture like a sofa priced at $9,467, were half price. But much of the action was in the back room where some of the company's famous ethnic pieces were deeply discounted.
A large buffet with an Asian scene painted on the front was priced at $1,699, down from $4,398. A huge bowl that looked like it was made from shell was tagged $139 rather than $949.
A lamp with a mirrored base said $29, and it had been $449. A $13,898 china cabinet wore a $3,700 price tag. A gilded black chest of drawers was $1,315 rather than $3,289.
Mary White of Lisle noticed a few intriguing candleholders -- silver-looking boats with a dragon theme marked $39 from $259. She wasn't sure whether she would keep them or give them as a gift.
Ana Puga of Carol Stream found fur pillows that might work for a client, and if not she'll be happy to keep them.
Julie Towers of Palatine, whose Garden2TAble helps clients with containers, in-ground gardens and indoor arrangements, found small bargains others might pass up.
For example, at Chicago Design Team and Design d'Vision she selected generous pieces of fabric and fringe with retail prices around $175 a yard for $5 or $10.
That's plenty for pillows or tablecloths, noted the woman who knows her way around a sewing machine.