Unleash 11 designers onto four identical vacation-rental condominiums and the result is a raft of eye-pleasing ideas for updating, brightening, styling or warming up a room.

The Wine Country chapter of the Interior Design Society is inviting people to take a break from gift shopping to troll for ideas and inspiration at their latest Designer Showcase in Glen Ellen's historic "Chauvet" condo complex.

In addition to getting a makeover with new furniture, accessories and a soft, earthy palette of fresh paint, each of the 2,200-square-foot units has been dressed for the holidays in surprising ways, with clever alternative Christmas trees, wreaths hanging from the windows and sparkly or playful accents that express the season with imagination and understatement.

Christine Hansson, one of the Chauvet partners, said she initially was opposed to the idea of tying up the high-end rentals, which book for $450 to $545 a night during the winter, for several weeks.

"But when we started talking, we all realized we could work it in and it would be a unique opportunity for everyone," she said. "For a showcase, it's definitely something different and it has been a challenge for them, just because they're dealing with four condominiums as opposed to a fabulous house in Kenwood (last year's showcase home)."

The three-story, Italianate-style brick building is on The National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1906 by Joshua Chauvet with bricks from his own kiln. At the time it was considered the grandest of a number of hotels in a town that, in the days of Jack London, was served by multiple railroads and was far more bustling than the sleepy village it is today.

After sitting empty and dilapidated for some 20 years, the hotel was purchased by a group of limited partners and renovated into luxury condominiums that maintain the ultra-high ceilings, brick interior walls and big windows looking out to the village.

For the showcase, each condo was assigned a different theme. So while they are identical in size and layout, they will look and feel dramatically different, from "wine-Ccuntry chic" to "global inspiration," contemporary to "modern rustic."

Suzanne Morrison, of Joyful Surroundings interior design business in Petaluma, confesses that she's not "a big Christmas ornament, deck the halls" kind of decorator.

"I wanted something subtle and organic," she explains of her unconventional Christmas tree. Talk about going local. Her "tree" is a large branch freshly pruned from a manzanita tree. Against a prominent wall it looks like piece of sculpture, trimmed with colorful ornaments made from recycled metal which she bought at Marshall's. (Tip: Even designers hunt for deals at discount stores.)

Other nice touches that lend a seasonal air include a contemporary, metal, hanging light fixture over the dining room table with clear crystal that, when in motion, casts a series of fanciful shadows on the wall that creates the illusion of snowfall.

The showcase also features ideas for inspired table settings for the holidays that, with a little switching out, could work nicely any time of year. Santa Rosa designer and Interior Design Society chapter president Susy McBride created an elegant table with a new twist on Christmas green. Her table runner is a kiwi green threaded with a little silver sparkle. Rather than lying flat it's bunched for a more sculptured look.

Her candlesticks are unique antlers, a subtle nod to Santa's team without being cutesy or literal. And because mounted deer heads are back in style, they can be used year-round. McBride also brought in the antler look with a cut manzanita branch she carefully selected because it was in the shape of antlers. With a few glass ornaments, it becomes a playfully pretty Christmas decoration over the bed in the master suite.

Petaluma designer Rochelle Mella created a completely different table setting in her "eclectic contemporary" space on the second floor. The glass inlay in her dark wood dining table looks like a smooth lake of ice over which she floats a simple metallicized wreath of magnolia leaves and pears.

Her accent color is a peacock blue that would also work well for Hanukkah or New Year's Eve. As a final elegant note, her top salad plates feature a painted peacock (Tip: Only $12.99 each, purchased locally).

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.