House opens doors to charities

Tour: A showpiece in Westminster raises money for two nonprofit groups as it raises envy in would-be buyers.

November 04, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A stately new Colonial, built on the outskirts of Westminster, combines the amenities of the 21st century with the charm of the Old South.

But its most gracious offering is that it is opening its doors this month to benefit two county charities: Carroll Hospice and the Carroll County Children's Fund.

The Bienville, built by Robin Ford Building and Remodeling Inc. of Hampstead, is one of eight homes in the southeastern United States -- and the only one in Maryland -- to participate in Southern Living magazine's annual Showcase of Homes tour. The homes, all built from one of Southern Living's 700 custom plans, are featured in the November issue of the magazine.

"All the tours are occurring this month, and they are all set up to benefit a charity that the builder selects," said Shirlyn Evans-Ford, the builder's wife and business partner. "We chose small charities that could use the recognition and exposure."

Her husband selected a replica of 17th-century brick and plank siding for the exterior to give the home a traditional look, said Evans-Ford.

"We were looking for a traditional Southern exterior," she said. "The interior is completely temporary as far as livability. You have all the spaces that you need, but this house is not so large that you would get lost in it."

From the bluestone walkway to a columned front porch where magnolia leaves fill jardinieres placed beside the French-door entry, the two-story, 3,000-square- foot house speaks of a welcome.

"I drive by here every day and couldn't wait to see it," said Lolita Croft of Finksburg, a first-day visitor. "I always wanted to look at a Southern Living home, but they are usually far away in Georgia."

Susan Underwood Leahy, a Westminster interior designer, donated her services to the project and has been working since June to furnish it with decor that highlights its features.

"I want it!" said Margaret Zinder of Reisterstown, who is looking for a new home. "It is exactly the size I need. It is unusual to find decor that is so to your taste. I would move in here as it. I would not change a thing."

Zinder saw an ad for the "house with a heart and soul" while lunching with a friend at Harry's Main Street Grille, which also is featured in Southern Living this month. The Westminster restaurant donated its catering to a kick-off reception at the home last week.

Volunteers from the two charities are serving as tour guides, ushering guests through the home. All are well-versed in all its charms. While selling admission tickets in an oak-floored foyer with vaulted ceilings and crystal light fixtures, Janet Hollinger said she was developing house-envy.

"There are so many fine details and specialties that you don't see in today's houses or in houses of any era," said Hollinger, a volunteer with the children's fund, a child advocacy group that provides assistance with medical needs.

On opening day, Hollinger took the early shift and greeted nearly 20 visitors.

"I would say more than half were serious buyers who were not here just looking for decorating tips," she said.

The $549,900 selling price was a bit too hefty for the Hollinger family budget, she said, but her husband promised to buy her lottery tickets for the next few weeks. She already has taken away something from her stint as a volunteer, however.

"There are a thousand great decorating ideas here," she said.

Price was often not the first question asked, she said. Room sizes, paint colors, lighting and flooring topped the list of queries.

Fran Thomas, a hospice volunteer, said any prospective buyer should know she planned to take her favorite room with her.

"It is a shame that the person who buys this home won't have a kitchen," said Thomas, eyeing the granite countertops, custom cabinets and drawers, and built-in appliances.

Even the refrigerator has paneled doors and the double-light fixture over the work island is decorated with whimsical, wrought-iron pinecones. The kitchen flows into the breakfast room where windowed walls overlook the 5-acre property.

The wet bar that opens onto the great room was the most popular kitchen feature.

"When you entertain, you don't want to be away from everybody," said hospice volunteer Gerry Irish. "This way, you can fix things as you go."

The wet bar was one of many ideas Irish planned to take home with her. Visitor Dawn Ryan, who had just redecorated her Union Mills home, said she wished she had waited until she had seen the Bienville. She toured the home with her husband, Pat Ryan, who works as a homebuilder.

"This is beautiful home and a great idea to raise money for charity," he said. "But it is giving my wife ideas."

The showcase home is at 341 Leisters Church Road, near Gorsuch Road. Admission is $5. The Bienville will be open Thursday through Sunday this month, with the exception of Thanksgiving. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Information: 410-239- 8850.

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