Fund-raising for fancy furniture seems to be the thing for the rich to do in Washington these days. As attorney Steve Martindale put it at a State Department party last night, "Some people are into saving children, some people are into this."

Last night, yet another tax-deductible fund was launched, this time to refurbish the United States chancery and residence in Rome, Villa Taverna. About 100 "friends" of the new foundation gathered for a small but elaborate reception. To call it lavish would be an understatement.

Mountains of steak tartare, shrimp, clams casino and Italian delicacies crowded the banquet table, which was about a half-block long. The ubiquitous cocktail meatball was nowhere in sight. And everyone got a little gold-wrapped Gucci billfold as a favor.

"It can't be that bad. I mean does the embassy need that much work?" inquired Anne Merete Petrignani, wife of Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani. "Can't the State Department provide drapes and all that?"

"They can, but it's basic chintz," replied Martindale. "They won't go looking for the period antiques."

It's unlikely that anyone will be buying period antiques for the Villa Taverna for a while, since the foundation is just about breaking even so far, according to Raymond Rossi, one of the founders. But in June, the new organization will begin offering a quarterly luncheon series with guest speakers--cost: $2,500 a person for the package. The first scheduled speaker: Gen. James Dozier, who was kidnaped and held captive by Italian terrorists last year.

The idea for the fund started when Raymond and Iris Rossi--known as the people who once owned Pizza Hut--were entertained at the embassy last year by U.S. Ambassador to Italy Maxwell Rabb.

The rundown condition of the historic landmark apparently moved them into action. And when you have the money to start your own foundation in Washington, it's not too hard to line up impressive support.

"They're just all friends," said Iris Rossi of her board of directors and advisers. They include Carol Laxalt, wife of Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.); Clare Boothe Luce; Joy Baker, wife of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.); the Baron and Baronese di Portonova; and Reagan insider and public relations man Peter Hannaford.

Iris Rossi is also a member of the White House Preservation Fund, which made it known that its board members were expected to contribute or raise $250,000 per person.

"NO WAY!!" said Rossi, when asked if she would have a minimum requirement for her foundation. "And if I write a check for $250,000, it's not going to be for the White House Preservation Fund. It's going to this."

"We just don't talk about that around here," said Raymond Rossi. "I heard the White House Preservation Fund canceled its April board meeting because they couldn't get a quorum. They probably knew they could get more than a quorum, and they were afraid those guys who sought the requirement would get thrown out."

Tickets for last night's party went for $100, and about 200 were sold. Several members of the congressional leadership--like House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) and Sen. Baker--had been expected but did not show. "I fully expected to take a loss at first," said Raymond Rossi, who has been underwriting the project. "But it looks like we'll turn a small profit and hand it right over to the State Department. And we've only just begun."