In pursuit of my mantra, Look rich, be cheap, I go on every design-house tour I can.

You know those fundraising events where a bunch of designers consume a lot of caffeine, then converge on a house like a swat team. Each takes a room, and turns it into a personal showcase. They say they "collaborate" to "merge seamlessly" with the other designers' rooms. But, given the egos involved, you know it's a total shootout.

And that's OK, because they do it all for a cause - and for a few new clients.

Some folks leave these eye-popping home-tours feeling inadequate and wanting, which is just such a waste of good emotion. Not me. I go with my cellphone camera on stealth mode and leave with budget-friendly ideas I can make mine - and yours.

Last week, I visited a design house to benefit Hope & Help, a large HIV/AIDS outreach program in Orlando. Five designers took on the 3,400-square-foot penthouse, which hovers like a glittery oasis on the 35th floor of a high rise, high-style condominium complex. The 3-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath residence has 270-degree lake and city views.

I came late, after the crowd, and had the place to myself, except for one designer and the real estate agent, offering the place for $2.5 million.

"That includes the furniture," he added. For that price, I thought it should include servants and a floor safe full of diamonds.

Let's do the math: That's $735 a square foot. No yard.

I must have reacted, because he said, "We've had some interest. A Saudi prince is looking at it seriously."

Extravagance aside, the tour delivered all I ever want from a home tour - a visual reminder of good design rules in play and at least one idea that's a lot cheaper than it looks.

Among the design rule reminders were these:

• If you have a view, don't block it; frame it. The designers each capitalized on, rather than upstaged, the spectacular views.

• Light fixtures are a room's jewelry. Here, they hung from the 11-foot ceilings like exquisite pendants. A mobile of colored glass cubes floated over the dining table, a strip of blazing Swarovski crystals lit the master bath; a blown-glass, tortoise-shell-colored teardrop illuminated the man's dressing area.

• Walls look best with texture. In the master bath, I passed my hand over the yummy , iridescent taupe patent leather wall covering, which was stitched in diamond quilt-like pattern.

• High tech stuff shouldn't look tetchy. At the foot of the bed in the master, a handsome, thickly framed, floor-to-ceiling mirror leaned against a wall, which camouflaged the television screen floating inside it.

But the best takeaway - the moment I came for - was this: a mosaic of wood that covered a half wall over the bar, and also clad a column in the guest room. Interior designer Julie Koran, of Winter Park, Fla., designed both spaces.

Although she could have told me that a famous wood artist from Bali had flown in and hand assembled the woodwork, and I would have believed her, Koran said she did it herself.

The result was warm, textural, artistic, unique, more interesting than paneling, and - here's the best part - practically free. You just need a saw, wood scraps, glue, pin nails and a little time. She told me how she did it, and, boy, was I paying attention:

• Gather wood scraps. Go to the workshops of carpenters, cabinet makers and flooring suppliers. Sift through the scrap piles for pieces of finished wood in varied sizes.

• Look for variety. Keep your eyes open for exotic woods like wenge, zebrawood, teak, and bloodwood, as well as more common maple, poplar, cherry, ash and walnut.

• Cut pieces so all corners are 90 degrees. Create squares and rectangles of different sizes.

• Measure the surface. On the floor of your workspace, tape out the dimensions of the surface you want to cover.

• Create a mosaic. Lay the pieces inside the taped borders until you've built a tight-fitting puzzle. Move pieces of your collage around until you like the composition, look for balance, and a blend of shape and color.

• Hang it up. Starting in one corner and working out, attach pieces to the wall with hot glue, then secure with pin nails.

• Do it again. To give a home continuity, Koran likes to see design elements like this repeated. The treatment can work as a backsplash, headboard, accent wall or to define a niche.

• Stand back. And enjoy a look fit for a Saudi prince.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson can be reached through