Show Time

Even those who don't live in mansions can learn a few decorating lessons from this season's home tours

April 29, 2007|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Reporter

MOST PEOPLE LIKE SHOW HOUSES because of the fantasy involved. What if I had a mansion and could hire 25 different designers to work their magic without worrying about a budget? Or they go on house tours to see how the other half, the half that has money for beautiful furnishings and perfectly manicured gardens, lives.

But if you're interested in home decor, there's a practical reason to visit the show houses and house tour homes that open their doors to the public this time of year. These designers and homeowners face the same kinds of problems you may have in decorating your own home -- just on a larger scale.

We toured the 31st Symphony Decorators' Show House, which opens today, and one of the beautiful homes on the Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage, River Run Farm in Baltimore County, whose owner is a former interior designer.

This year's decorators' show house is Long Crandon, a 17,000-square-foot mansion in Timonium. It was built in 1921 for W. Wallace Lanahan, a prominent Baltimore businessman. The duke and duchess of Windsor visited there, and many lavish parties were thrown at Long Crandon in its day. Twenty-three rooms and areas have been redone and are on display.

River Run Farm is on the Gunpowder River in Glencoe. The present owners, the Reichharts, bought it five years ago and have made extensive renovations on the stone house, which was finished around 1910. A wing was added some 60 years ago, and the Reichharts have built a second stone addition with a large new dream kitchen. The first-floor rooms of the house and the surrounding gardens are part of the tour.

Here are some lessons that ordinary people can take from these extraordinary houses.

Be ready for anything. In renovation and interior design, the first rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected. "Like any old home," says Susie Reichhart, "we didn't know until we got into it" what problems might be lurking. Bad cracking in the concrete porch and rotting wood in a den, for instance, only came to light once she and her husband had moved in.

In the family / media room of the decorators' show house, interior designer Russell Slouck of Gatehouse Interiors found that the settee he had ordered for an alcove was half an inch too long. He had to rethink the whole room.

In interior design, he says, "You're always thrown a curve. You have to be flexible."

Don't be afraid of color. Donna Foertsch of DLF Design Associates painted the walls of the ladies' sitting room in Long Crandon persimmon red. Many people would be afraid such a dark color would make a small room look even smaller.

It doesn't. The room is light-filled because of one large window; a white mantel and lots of artwork on the wall brighten it even further.

The formal dining room, with its playful "Chinese Takeout" theme (each place is set with a carryout container and chopsticks) takes its color scheme from blue-and-white Canton dishes. There are bright accents of Chinese red, lime green and turquoise everywhere. But the unifying Asian theme and handsome antiques keep the room from looking garish.

Surround yourself with things you love. River Run Farm's owners love animals, so the den has a dog motif and the library features horses in antique art and accessories. But these aren't overdone. The first things you notice in these rooms are the comfortable furnishings, period pieces and cozy color schemes.

On the other hand, says Reichhart, "I like to go crazy in bathrooms and powder rooms." One powder room is filled with birds and bird nests (including the hand-painted sink) and the other is covered with foxes in every form.

When a room has good "bones," accentuate them. One of the most striking features of this year's Symphony Show House is the beautiful crown molding throughout the mansion. Katherine and William Tarleton of Tarleton Interiors made the molding stand out by painting it an architectural white, while the walls and ceiling are a linen white.

The hardwood floor of the ladies' sitting room was in such good shape that there was no need to hide it with carpeting.

The Tarletons noticed that the house's tarnished door knobs were actually sterling silver, which gleamed richly when they were polished.

Work with what you can't change. Laura Kimball of LCK Interiors was stuck with a green laminate countertop in Long Crandon's butler's pantry. She created a dramatic black-and-white space that softened the green of the counters.

The eye goes first to the black-and-white floor tiles, upper cabinets in white, and lower cabinets in black. An island features a speckled granite top predominantly black and white shaded with green. The green of the counters ends up working positively to add warmth to the room.

Be creative when you have a small, dark room. The gentlemen's library in the decorators' show house posed a dilemma for designer Janet Plitt. Beautiful mahogany walls made the room darker than it needed to be.

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