When the show house season descends on Baltimore, you can bet that decorators will strut their stuff. This year is no exception.
Usually the subject house is an old-timer that somebody has just moved out of or into -- a space large and fireplaced, porched and pantried. Just as often, it is a structure that has seen better days, sort of brown around the edges like an old gardenia and largely in need of a cosmetic transplant.
This year Historic Ellicott City Inc. has trotted out a circa-1815 log cabin with several thousand square feet of terraced additions thrusting dramatically up a steep, deep draw, high above the Patapsco River.
Apparently the unusual design is packing them in.
"We've had 1,000 people in a week!" says Vera Leclerq, show general chairman, who thinks that this year's exhibit may outdraw 1989's "Bethesda," a 1790 Howard County manor house seen by 7,500 visitors.
From the front, the Oella home (called "Spring Promise") seems as if it houses little more than a country basement and a few upstairs rooms off a hall. But appearances are deceiving, for a contemporary home has been built above the first two levels of authentic early 19th century log and chink walls.
Each of the upper rooms has loft-sized ceilings and each an individual character.
The designs have a spirit of fun (not a quality common in often-staid decorator displays). In the lady's bedroom, for example, is a giant Victorian gilt frame on one wall, reminiscent of the type that framed the wedding pictures of great-aunt Mary and Abe. Inside the giant mat is a small, compelling picture of Marilyn Monroe wearing in a big, floppy flowered hat. Perhaps the most light-spirited note of all is the installation in the home's large family room of no less than five bird cages and two birdhouses, a setting by M. S. Interior Design Inc. of Laurel.
Other portions of the home reflect current modes and methods of making fabric call attention to itself. Flounces in semitransparent voile decorate the fenestration and a bed canopy in the lady's quarters and the family room. Dramatically draped windows in the bouffant style and bright fabric patterns are used at some of the windows.
Folk-style stenciling runs vertically along walls in the 1 1/2 -story entranceway. The entrance hall features a painted canvas floor covering -- a handsome zodiac design of Greek revival inspiration. Molly Pritchett's marbleized floor cloth for the hallway is actually canvas but looks like inlaid marble. "It's supposed to look that way!" said the craftsman. The unusual effect was
created with 14 coats of unvarnished oil paint.
The dressy living room by Sally Dibert achieves startling presence with its chinked log walls, on which are hanging 18th century French pastel portraits. Other art works include an East African wood sculpture depicting a dancing child with arms uplifted, shown on a Louis XVI marble-topped table.
Also off the center hall is the home's large, airy kitchen and dinette and its formal dining room, the latter furnished with light-toned, country Queen Anne reproductions from about 1900, and a 1790 hutch with a rebuilt series of plate shelves. A Chinese needlepoint carpet in bold bright patterns makes a colorful statement on the floor. Throughout the home, to maintain something of the country-craft look of the building's core, armoires and chests in light woods accent the scale of rooms and blend easily with the light-toned walls that run through the structure.
The entire top floor of the house is taken up with a 27-foot master bedroom and its amenities, including a terrace overlooking the river and a bathroom with a tub of ocean liner dimensions. The mirrored bathroom is arranged so that it gives a repeated image far into the distance. In the bedroom, (done by the Columbia Design Collective/Columbia Design Interiors) a Shaker-inspired pencil post bed is flanked by colorful limited edition prints by Keith Herring.
"Spring Promise" is one of five homes in the Logtown road arebuilt with stone foundations and log walls early in the last century. Its original dimensions were 22 by 16 feet, but it always had three floors. Its expansion to four floors is by no means a distortion of tradition, yet added are contemporary notes like cathedral ceilings and huge arched window lights. Many items in the show are for sale as is the entire house, one of a group restored under auspices of the Oella Co., a history-oriented development firm that has been active in neighborhood revival since the hilly region got water utilities in 1984.
The Historic Ellicott City show house will remain open through Sunday, Nov. 4. Hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.; and Sundays, noon until 5 p.m. The exhibit is closed on Mondays. Tickets are $7 at the door and $6 for senior citizens.
Directions from downtown Ellicott City: Turn left at Oella Avenue immediately after crossing the Main Street-Frederick Avenue bridge eastbound and proceed about one third of a mile to Dickey Mill for ticket and registration. Watch for road signs for the show ouse "Spring Promise."
Proceeds of the tour will be devoted to the completion of the George Ellicott house (1789), a Patapsco River landmark stone residence once owned by the founding family of Ellicott City and other society projects.