Once a year, designers involved with the Symphony Decorators' Show House create their glamorous rooms in a matter of days (preceded, to be sure, by months of planning). Because they donate both their time and materials, they must come up with clever ways to produce a fabulous look quickly and inexpensively.
How do they do it? The annual show house, which is sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Associates and benefits the orchestra, always demonstrates some forward-thinking tricks of the trade as well as innovative design and the latest in decorative accessories for sale.
Foxhall Manor, this year's house, is so large it provided 26 separate areas for designers to transform, including seven bedrooms and a working kitchen. (Unlike some show houses, the historic Catonsville home is owned by a family who have moved out for four months and will be moving back when the event ends in May.) The three-story fieldstone farmhouse was built around 1820. Surprisingly, it's nestled among the cheerful homes of the Foxhall Farms subdivision.
Recently the designers and decorative painters who participated in this year's show house, the symphony's 25th, agreed to share some of their secrets with us. While many of their rooms fall into the category of fantasy rooms with a significant "wow" factor, the designers still had to deal with real-life problems, such as how to hide unsightly radiators or decorate non-working fireplaces.
Fool the eye
Examples of faux painting abound at this year's show house, but none more striking than the "marble" panels that line the upstairs hallway. They look absolutely real -- decorative painter Maria Moscato of Moscato Design in Baltimore created the veining with Q-Tips! -- but were, of course, much more practical than using real marble.
Along the same lines, the "tin" ceiling in the Victorian guest bedroom designed by Wild Goose Chase Antiques in Baltimore is actually a three-dimensional painted anaglyptic wallpaper.
Caroline Leo of DARE Designs in Baltimore had a common problem in decorating the bathroom of an older home: It was a tiny space with a very high ceiling. She opened up the room by putting a tone-on-tone rag finish on the walls with a high-gloss glaze.
"It bounces the light around and moves the walls back," she says.
She also "lowered" the ceiling by painting it chartreuse, which she says stops the eye, and placing a lower-than-usual wall border around the room.
Usually the most successful rooms are carefully coordinated. Even mix-and-match rooms have to be planned to work. One of the easiest approaches is to take something small -- a bit of printed fabric, an Italian tile -- and pick up the motifs and colors throughout the room.
"Find one thing you love and you can do a whole house," says Bobbie Dunn of B. Dunn Interiors in Phoenix. She has a striking example in this year's show house, creating a complete boy's room and bathroom from the seashore pattern on the fabric window shade. The pattern is the basis of the lighthouse mural on one wall; the colors and sailor motifs are found throughout the cheerful red, white and blue room.
Also note the clever use of space in the non-working fireplace. It's been transformed to hold bookshelves and books.
In the library, Anne Markstein of Anne Markstein Interiors in Millers covered plywood with Ultrasuede in shades of gray-blue, taupe and beige and hung them on the walls with Velcro to create inexpensive sound-deadening paneling. She found shutters at Home Depot to cover an unsightly radiator.
Decorative painter Paula Douglas applied paint with a feather duster in the master bedroom for a handsome textured look. (The colors are Pumpkin Chiffon over Buttercream.)
In the artist's studio designed by Susan Tarlov Interiors in Baltimore is an easily duplicated painted floorcloth -- you can use a pattern as simple as checks, then cover the design with polyurethane.
Play it again, Sam
Kimberley Davey of F. Meyer Designs in Lutherville, who decorated the girl's dressing room, suggests using consignment shop finds and recycling things around the house in creative ways. The shoe rack is a garden trellis cut in half. She also framed one daughter's baby dress, and hung it between framed black and white photos of her girls.
Janet Plitt of Morgan Truesdell Interiors in Stevenson used a table instead of a desk in her polished family room.
"A desk is more limited," she points out. "This has more functionality."
And, of course, you're more likely to have a spare table than a spare desk around the house. The table can be used for games as well as writing letters. You just have to be sure you have plenty of storage elsewhere in the room if you're eliminating desk drawers.
Symphony Decorators' Show House
Where: Foxhall Manor, 6020 Foxhall Farms Drive, Catonsville
When: Today through May 20. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays
Admission: $12 advance tickets, $15 at the door
Information: No handicap access, no children under age 10 admitted, inside photos or videos are not allowed, visitors must wear flat shoes only.
Directions: From the Beltway, take exit 12-C (Wilkens Avenue). Go 1.3 miles to Rolling Road. Turn right and then immediately left onto Collegiate Drive. Take the first left onto Foxhall Farms Drive and continue to the end, then straight ahead into the private drive.
Call: 410-869-3323 for ticket locations, or visit www.baltimoresymphony.com