Pueblo, villa, castle or hut: They all mean the same thing — a home for someone in some culture at some time. What’s in a home, really?

When I travel with my family, the romantic in me loves to visit historical residences to take in the beauty of the architecture, learn about the history and culture, and get a sense of what it was like to live there. The designer in me simply wants to be inspired.


This past summer, Darrell, Nicki and I went on a Baltic cruise. The highlight for me was St. Petersburg — the incredible Hermitage, the mesmerizing fountains of Peterhof and one of my favorites, Catherine’s Palace.


The facade of the Palace is almost 1,000 feet long and has lots of decorative gold ornaments. Just the first floor alone has 50 rooms. There are almost 1,500 acres of landscaped gardens.

Maybe I’m a total sucker, but I signed us up for the schmaltziest excursion: a private tour and gala champagne reception in the palace. I felt just like a tourist at a luau — but I jumped at the chance to experience this opulence.


We were greeted by Royal Guards and given a tour of a few of the many dining rooms, staircases and bedrooms. A special treat was seeing the famed Amber Room, named for the amber panels that originally covered the walls, but which were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

We were taken into the Throne Hall, where the “king” and “queen” waited to greet us, along with traditional dancers. It was an eye-opening glimpse at the splendor of the 18th century royal court.


You see these places in movies, and still can’t imagine lifestyles this over-the-top. For a moment, I felt like I was a part of it. Yes, I was inspired by the design and architecture and by the colors and beauty of the amber. And I tucked away in my mind design ideas, so that I can incorporate that warm glow into my own home.


It was a memorable evening, made all the more memorable as I looked at Darrell and Nicki beside me in the lavish hall. I was reminded then that it’s not the ornaments,, but your family’s love that makes any dwelling a true home.

Cathy Lee is a home style expert, speaker, and president and designer of Cathy Lee Style. Her workshops have taught more than 2,000 people the basics of DIY designer style, and her redesigns of residential and business spaces have been featured in local and national publications and on HGTV. For more info and inspiring photos of design projects, visit www.cathyleestyle.com.