Personal Finance > Smart Spending
Shop like Dennis K.
Yes, you can blow six grand on a shower curtain. But it's really not the classy thing to do.
September 24, 2002: 1:37 PM EDT
By Annelena Lobb, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - You might wonder how former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski could have spent thousands of dollars on stuff most of us could get at Bed, Bath & Beyond for, at most, a few hundred. Interior designers to the rich and famous say it's easy. But really, it's in awfully bad taste.

An SEC filing last week from Tyco alleges that Kozlowski spent company funds on unauthorized purchases including $15,000 for a dog-shaped umbrella stand, $6,300 for a sewing basket, $17,000 for a traveling toilette box, $2,200 for a gold-plated wastebasket, $2,900 on coat hangers, $1,650 for an appointment book, $5,900 for sheets, $445 for a pincushion, and $6,000 on a shower curtain.

Authorized or not, does spending $5,900 on sheets sound nuts to you? It seems most of the experts would agree. Even in the ritzy world of interior decorators to the super-rich, purchases like these are seen by those we spoke to as out of line.

"This is the way people spend money when they first win the lotto," said Jeffrey Bilhuber, a Manhattan-based interior designer. "The goal of a really good decorator is to help a client spend money wisely. I don't think these sound like wise purchases."

Kozlowski's decorator, Wendy Valliere of Nantucket's Seldom Scene Interiors, declined to comment for this story.

But it's very, very old

Let's start with the antiques -- the sewing basket, traveling toilette box, pincushion and umbrella stand. Believe it or not, the experts say their prices actually sound reasonable.

Andrew Seltzer, vice-president of sales at Newel Art Galleries, a New York City high-end antiques dealership, said the prices of Kozlowski's antiques were consistent with today's antiques market, and weren't unusual buys for a serious antiques collector.

"Collectors are looking for unique items to round out their collections. We have a late 19th century Black Forest umbrella stand that retails for about $15,000," Seltzer said. "That's right in there with the French one [Kozlowski bought]."

Valliere told the Wall Street Journal that Kozlowski's canine stand is, in fact, a one-of-a-kind, 1840s French antique.

A fine antique might also have some investment value, Bilhuber said. "But antiques are still considered decorative," he added. "At the end of the day, I don't want to stick my umbrella in a dog. Do you?"

When it's not an antique

On the other hand, prices for the shower curtain, sheets and wastebasket raised more than a few eyebrows.

"Sure, there are gorgeous fabrics that cost $400 a yard, and making a shower curtain out of one could get you into the thousands," said Joseph Stabilito, a designer at New York City interior design firm Botero Associates. "But it's not the norm."

"It's easy to spend $1,000, if you want recessed tracks, a fine liner, and so on," said Laura Bohn, of Laura Bohn Design Associates in New York. "Was this a walk-in shower for 20 people?"

And don't forget the sheets. Pretesi, a bed linen supplier on Madison Avenue, sells sets that could cost up to $1,000 per king-sized sheet for very high-count cottons, Bohn said.

"Park Avenue clients buy those sheets all the time. But the shower curtain, the sheets, $2,200 for the wastebasket -- he really laid it on," Bohn added. "He really pushed the envelope."

Behind the shopping list

Bohn added that the client probably wanted such over-the-top items to impress others.

"Obviously, he wanted to spend as much as he could," Bohn said. "I'm not a psychologist, but I think it reflects blatant insecurity and arrogance."

Regardless, Bohn argues that if he wanted such items, you can't blame the designer for securing them. But Bilhuber says such purchases reflect poorly on the client and the designer.

"If any of my clients wanted a $6,000 shower curtain, I wouldn't want them," Bilhuber said. "I'm happy to embrace expensive purchases, if they have value. A $6,000 work of art will be worth the same or more next year. A $6,000 shower curtain is worth 60 bucks at the end of the day."  Top of page

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