Interior design volunteers transforming Homestead

September 04, 1994|By Charlotte Moler | Charlotte Moler,Contributing Writer

This fall, as leaves begin to change their hues, another metamorphosis will be happening in Harford County.

On the crest of a hill in the heart of Bel Air, the Homestead, a stately three-story house of granite and slate that has been home to some of the county's most prominent families, is being transformed by a volunteer team of professional interior designers.

The designers are preparing the Homestead to be the 1994 Decorator Show House in a home tour to benefit the Harford County chapter of the AMC Cancer Research Center. The home, which will be open to the public Sept. 11 through Oct. 2, will feature 26 areas decorated by more than 20 interior design firms from Harford County and beyond.

Situated on six landscaped acres on Linwood Avenue behind Bel Air United Methodist Church, the Homestead is more inviting than imposing. The silver-gray granite has mellowed with age and the wraparound porch beckons a visitor back to a time of gracious, more leisurely living.

TTC The original wooden house was built about 1774 by William Smithson, a noted county judge. This is the same Smithson family that left a fortune to the federal government to found the Smithsonian Institution as "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

In 1902, the Homestead was purchased by George and Lavinia Bradford, who built the present house of Port Deposit granite over the original foundations after the house was destroyed by fire in 1905.

The home was later owned by John and Annie Worthington, of Homestead Publishing Co. Edward and Barbara Pitts bought the property in 1971. Last November, Mrs. Pitts sold the home to its current owner and neighbor, Bel Air United Methodist Church.

On a recent behind-the-scenes tour, it seemed that every square foot of the house -- floors, ceilings and walls -- was having something done to it. Amid the whine of floor sanders, the pungent odor of paint thinner and the chaotic clutter of discarded carpet, paint cans, ladders, sponges, brushes, buckets and hoses, JTL Interiors designer Judy Langenfelder seemed unfazed as she showed a visitor some of the work in progress.

"I can tell you a lot about the library," she said with a smile, "because that's my room. There will be some antique Victorian furniture in here, and a musical theme in the art and accessories. I'm even borrowing a harp from the Peabody."

As she tiptoed around open paint cans and ducked under ladders, Ms. Langenfelder pointed out some of the interesting architectural features that inspire creativity in the designers. There are five fireplaces, inlaid hardwood floors, deep crown moldings, wainscoting and wide window sills.

Other features, such as cracked plaster walls and exposed radiators and pipes, are more of a challenge. On the second floor, Linda C. Ferracci, who recently completed Harford Community College's interior design program, worked on a faux finish border for a small bathroom with French doors opening onto a lovely balcony.

"I'm planning a neutral color scheme and lots of collectibles, mostly from the West Indies," said Ms. Ferracci, who was reluctant to give away all her secrets. "I can't tell you everything, but I will say that I'm going to use decorative canes as towel holders."

In a tiny third-floor bedroom, we encountered a pretty, paint-spattered blond woman who seemed to be at war with a wall.

Wiping her hands on her Mickey Mouse T-shirt, Patti Ruth lamented, "When we started stripping the covering off these walls, the plaster just fell apart, and we had to drywall. It took a week before we could even begin to paint. We have to supply all our own materials, and it always costs more than you think."

Ms. Ruth, of Bel Air Designs, described her vision of the finished girl's bedroom, which she calls Ribbons and Ivy, as "a floral theme with lots of stenciling, which will be fun because there are more angles in here than you can shake a stick at!"

"We do this for community goodwill and credibility among our peers," Ms. Langenfelder said. "And, of course, it is good advertising. Though there is some expense involved, most of the furniture, accessories and window treatments are available for purchase, so the designers make some of the money back."

In all, 23 interior design firms were chosen by the AMC's design committee to volunteer their time and expertise for the remodeling project. Harford Paint & Decorating is donating about 100 gallons of paint.

The Decorator Show House is a major fund-raising project for the AMC Cancer Research Center, a national independent, not-for-profit institution in Denver, Colo., that works to prevent and control cancer through clinical research.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the AMC's Harford County chapter is the top fund-raising group among 55 chapters nationwide. It's an enthusiastic and close-knit group of volunteers.

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