Designs on history Two fund-raising show houses, Mt. Hebron in Ellicott City and Swan Harbor Farm in Harford County, have long roots to the past as well as the most current of decors

September 22, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Some show houses are all glitz and glamour. Others promise to offer practical solutions to design problems. But two decorator show houses opening this weekend will be remembered as much for their history as for the dazzle (or practicality) of their decors.

Historic show houses are nothing new for Historic Ellicott City Inc., the nonprofit organization that supports restoration and preservation in the area. This year's fund-raising house is Mt. Hebron, on the grounds of Mt. Hebron Presbyterian Church.

The stone mansion was built in the early 19th century for Judge Thomas Beale Dorsey. (He was the judge who successfully petitioned for Howard to be designated Maryland's twenty-first county.) Mt. Hebron's formal parlors will be on display, but so will its slave quarters.

Swan Harbor Farm, the AMC Cancer Research Center show house in Harford Country, is even older than Mt. Hebron. It was built in the 1700s, and bought by John Adlum in 1797. From Swan Harbor, Adlum pioneered wine making in Maryland and, most notably, provided his friend Thomas Jefferson with 165 cuttings from his vines to be planted at Monticello.

Historic Ellicott City Inc. traditionally requires designers who participate in its show houses to adhere to strict guidelines, so the rooms have a continuity and reflect the period of the building. The AMC Cancer Research Center design committee had no such strictures for Swan Harbor, but there's still a surprising consistency of design.

"It's a nice flow of ideas from room to room," says Tina Cohen, chairwoman of the design committee. "They all have an historic feel."

Because Swan Harbor is next to the Chesapeake Bay, watery colors and themes predominate -- from the aqua shades of the wallpaper in the master bedroom (designed by Judy Langenfelder of JTL Designs in Bel Air) to the not unexpected swan murals throughout the house (such as the one in the dining room designed by Betty Reeves Design Studio in Churchill).

Many of Swan Harbor's designers had to wrestle with common problems of old houses: small rooms, low ceilings (these are about 8 feet high) and awkwardly positioned fireplaces. But the house also has very special charms, like the light-filled sun porch, much sought-after by designers and finally awarded to Nancy Welsh of Nancy Welsh Interiors in Havre de Grace, who has filled it with a pine armoire, bamboo chairs and a round table covered in floral print and surrounded by painted captain's chairs.

Another appealing space is the large screened-in sleeping porch on the second floor surrounded by huge old copper beeches. The porch and the bedroom next to it were decorated by June Griffith and Carla Brumfield of the Darlington Country Store.

While the nearby water suggested a common theme and colors for Swan Harbor Farm, Historic Ellicott City Inc. decided on a theme for its show house. It set up Mt. Hebron as the home of a bride on her wedding day. The designers weren't required to incorporate elements of a wedding into their rooms, but many did. Visitors will be charmed by their vignettes.

Note, for instance, the heart-shaped wedding cake covered with rose petals in the music room, which is one of the most visually stunning rooms. Gold is everywhere, from the gilded chairs to the harp that's the focal point of the space. The design firm is Drury Lane Interiors of Ellicott City. (Michele Drury is also the design co-chair of the show house.)

Romance abounds in the house, with Victorian designs and flowery wallpaper and fabrics throughout. One of the most appealing is the upstairs hall. Lydia Baker of Lydia Baker Interiors in Eldersburg used her grandfather's framed wildflower collection as the inspiration for her design.

Not all of Mt. Hebron's rooms are romantic and Victorian. For a change of pace, Kathleen Jeschke of the Purple Door has created a Gothic dining room, with the walls painted to resemble suede (a new paint finish by Ralph Lauren). And note the moldings, done in luxurious metallics.

Mt. Hebron's wedding theme may seem to be a typical show-house fantasy, but publicity chairwoman Janet Kusterer begs to differ. "The church plans to use the house for wedding receptions once the event is over," she points out.

Unlike show houses that are for sale once the fund-raisers end, both Mt. Hebron and Swan Harbor Farm will go on to benefit their communities. Harford County bought the farm and its almost 500 acres in 1994 as part of its open-space preservation program. Mt. Hebron will have many improvements and a fresh new look when it reverts back to a senior center and space for church functions.

Mt. Hebron

Where: 2330 Mt. Hebron Drive, Ellicott City

When: Sept. 21-Oct. 20.

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.; closed Monday

Admission: $10 at the door, seniors and students, $9

Directions: From Interstate 70 take Route 29N to the end. Turn left on Route 99. Make the first right onto Mt. Hebron Drive. Go two blocks and turn left into Mt. Hebron Presbyterian Church grounds. The show house is the stone mansion on the left.

$ Call: (410) 461-6908

Swan Harbor Farm

Where: 401 Oakington Road, Havre de Grace

When: Sept. 22-Oct. 6.

Hours: Friday through Wednesday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Admission: $10 at the door

Directions: From Route 40 between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, turn onto Oakington Road. Travel past Roye-Williams Elementary School for .8 miles. Turn left at 401 Oakington Road immediately after the guardrail bridge and travel one mile to Swan Harbor Farm.

Call: (410) 879-2000, Ext. 6767

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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