Show house cuts back on showing off Ellicott City site blends livability and originality


September 18, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Veteran show-house visitors know what to expect: gorgeous rooms layered in luxurious finishes, artful settings of splendid furniture and artworks, elaborate window treatments, witty and sumptuous accessories, and elegance, elegance everywhere.

So it may be something of a surprise when the veteran show-house hands tour King's Gift, this year's Historic Ellicott City Decorator Show House.

"We tried to take a little different tack this year," says Pam Harris, a member of the design review committee. "In the past we've seen a lot of very elegant rooms, a lot of faux finishes -- but you couldn't imagine real people living in them." So the committee asked decorators to submit designs in which livability was the foremost factor.

Don't imagine for a moment that elegance was not another watchword; the rooms in the brand-new, 7,500-square-foot house have all the color, style and cleverness that make visiting show houses so much fun. But they also feature the comfort and practicality "real" residents would appreciate. So, while there is some stenciling in the house, there are no faux finishes. The walls of rooms are simply painted in colors ranging from dove gray, tan and taupe to vermilion and pale moss green. Window treatments are sprightly rather than elaborate, and most could be duplicated easily by a handy homeowner.

One of the prettiest treatments is a bay window in the master bath, by Janet O. Plitt, of Morgan Truesdell, Stevenson. Ms. Plitt covered ordinary plastic plumbing pipe with a raspberry, white and green plaid fabric, mounted the pipe to the wall with angle irons, then looped it with sheer fabric in translucent white flecked with tiny green threads. At the edges and where the windows meet, she used artificial flowers and vines as accents. "The windows are high, so you don't need privacy," Ms. Plitt says. "And sheers with patterns are getting very popular."

Certainly the wittiest treatment is in the kitchen, where Joan Ellis of Joan Ellis Associates, Lutherville, hung triangular blue-and-white striped "flags" in the top panes of three high windows, anchoring the bottom points with decorative balls. The look is both modern and Renaissance; it fits the "high country-Italian" look Ms. Ellis choose for the room. She based her colors on a striking painted wood screen, embellished by artist Jane Hartley with a peacock and "romantic" ruins. The room has a terra-cotta tile floor and what Ms. Ellis calls "celestial" touches, including wrought-iron bar stools at the counter eating area with backs in the shape of a sun and a moon.

Design students at Catonsville Community College devised an unusual window treatment for the guest bath on the second floor. "We started off with the interesting ceiling," says Ada Colon, pointing out the peak over the tub in front of a three-window bay. They anchored four lengths of sheer white fabric to the ceiling, looped the ends to the corners and to the spots where the windows meet, and let them cascade to the tile tub surround. In the center of the peak, they hung an antique bird cage.

"The room was extremely institutional," says Richard Green, associate professor of interior design at the college who worked with the students on the room. "It was very cold and severe, with white tile everywhere." The draped fabric and the pale floral wallpaper are intended to give the room a "European" feel, and to soften the starkness of the tile, Mr. Green says.

Simple lengths of fabric, knotted at top and sides, fall two stories in the double-height family room by Leah Deane and Debbi Wilder of the Furniture and Design Center, Owings Mills.

"It's a hard room, because there are so many openings," Ms. Deane says. There are five doorways, two windows at second-floor level, above double patio doors leading out to a deck, and a balcony on the second floor that overlooks the room.

"The windows on the top are a different size than the doors on the bottom," Ms. Deane says, and the drapes help unify the spaces. The 1 1/2 -story stone fireplace between the patio doors also merited unusual treatment.

"We call this the solution to a strange fireplace," Ms. Deane says. "The stone stopped in the middle of nowhere." The remedy: a stenciled pattern of black points bordered with gold stenciled rope that goes almost all the way to the ceiling and curves across the top. Inside the curve is a relief fleur-de-lis.

"We wanted to draw the eye up," Ms. Deane says, noting that the border also softens the sharp edges of the stones. For further softening, the wall was "stuccoed" in a pale grayish-green with circular "trowel marks" for texture. The pale colors of the walls, sofa and furniture is offset by a black, green and maroon rug, two chairs in a black and gold fleur-de-lis pattern and a black painted armoire-entertainment center.

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