`The Lawn' delights in details

Styled 19th-century summer retreat does `Show House' turn for Ellicott City

September 13, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Some elements in Historic Ellicott City Inc.'s latest Decorator Show House jump out at visitors right away, like the cobalt-blue walls of the family room, the bright red embroidered curtain in the upstairs hallway and the ornate carvings on the antique dining room furniture.

But those with keen eyes will notice many more little things that the designers have used to make their rooms complete. Original oil paint backgrounds and miniature trains are framed in the guest room. Alice in Wonderland's shadow waits for her in a painting by the playroom door. Tiny white baby clothes serve as a window valence in the nursery.

For the 22nd year, details big and small will be on display at the show house, which is being held at "The Lawn" in Elkridge from Saturday through Oct. 15.

Proceeds from the event, which includes house tours, food and shopping, will support Historic Ellicott City Inc. in its restoration and education projects, including efforts to build a replica mill in the Ellicott City historic district.

The house started as a small summer retreat built in 1835 by George Washington Dobbin, chief judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City.

Over the years, it grew into a collection of wooden sections featuring "jerkin" roofs, balconies, porches and a third-story observatory. When Dobbin became ill in 1843, "The Lawn" became a permanent home for him, his wife and six children. He attracted other prominent lawyers from Baltimore to live in Elkridge on what became known as "Lawyers Hill."

Christopher Allen and Debra Streeter-Allen of Catonsville bought the house in March and right away thought it would make a good show house.

It had been rented out as several apartments in recent years, and even after the couple had a new roof and siding installed and made other repairs, the house "needed some love," Streeter-Allen said.

Her suggestion eventually led to the arrival of 25 designers and three landscapers to transform nearly every room of the house and much of the grounds. Most items in the rooms will be sold or reclaimed by the designers at the end of the show, but the couple gets to keep the paint, wallpaper, fixtures and other items that cannot be easily carted away.

After weeks of dust and paint and people lugging furniture around, Streeter-Allen, who investigates internal fraud for the federal government, and Allen, a mortgage broker, said they were impressed with the outcome.

"I thought, `You've got to be kidding me that I'm going to live in this palace,'" Streeter-Allen said.

"The add-ons, the idiosyncratic architecture there, makes [the house] very interesting," said Carroll A. Frey, the show house design chairman. "I think the designers picked up on that. It was a summer house, it has a lodge look, a retreat kind of atmosphere."

The owners and several designers praised Enalee Bounds' period library as an example of honoring the house's history.

Bounds, who owns Ellicott Interiors of Ellicott's Country Store, used numerous antiques to re-create a lawyer's retreat that Judge Dobbin could have used. The wood floors were refinished by A Plus Carpet in Columbia to show off their striped pattern, and Bounds added deep red wallpaper that she said was challenging to hang on the slightly crooked walls.

A large wooden desk (with a photograph of Dobbin), upholstered chairs, a red velvet couch and several of the original bookcases filled with books, art and other antiques complete the scene.

"I fell in love with it the first time I saw it," Bounds said of her chosen room. "You don't often see an elegant library like this anymore."

Bounds also contributed decorative items to a kitchen -- called a butler's keeping room -- off the dining room.

A new stove made to look old-fashioned and custom cabinets arranged at varying heights and depths make the small space historically appropriate and visually interesting, said Sandy L. Roos, who designed the space with Don Roos Sr., of Roos Kitchens & Bath Design Studio in Ellicott City.

"One thing Historic Ellicott City does, they try to stay in the traditional style," Frey said. "Designers try to reflect the character [of the home] or inject some aspect of historic quality in the room."

While keeping the historic theme in mind, some designers do embrace other influences.

Luis Aquino, owner of Ultimate Upholstery in Savage, used his skill with material to design his first show house room, a lavish master bedroom filled with gold, bronze and teal fabrics.

"I love European style" said Aquino who made fabric wall coverings, draperies and bed covers, an elaborate two-layered table cover and a large, quilted headboard for the room.

The long hours will be worth it, he said, if people recognize that he can do more than upholster furniture.

Frey said the show house is a rare chance for designers who usually work on their own to interact with each other and share ideas.

"This is our opportunity to have camaraderie," Frey said. "It's just fun."


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