House lives anew in eye of designer

In Sykesville, the work begins on Decorator Show House

May 30, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

At the century-old farmhouse in Sykesville that will be Historic Ellicott City's 2007 Decorator Show House, Cindy Miller of Ellicott City ruled out the bathrooms and hallways as possible workspaces for her and business partner Linda Farndon.

Their business, Wild Goose Chase, specializes in fairly large antique furniture.

As for the attic, "I'm not even going to look up there," Miller said, because it seems like, "if it isn't 500 pounds, we don't buy it."

The two show house veterans did have some ideas for the "gathering room," which includes a stone fireplace, and for the master bedroom as they worked their way through the house, envisioning what furniture, curtains, upholstery and paint could do for the dusty, bare-walled spaces.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's Howard County section of The Sun incorrectly reported that Historic Ellicott City's show house in Sykesville became vacant when the owner's mother died. Jay Rhine's mother moved in July.
The Sun regrets the error.

"We'll see whatever catches our eye," said Farndon of Catonsville. "A room we can do something fun with."

The ideas of more than 20 designers will be on display from Sept. 22 to Oct. 21 at the house on Route 99 as Historic Ellicott City holds its 23rd show house fundraiser. The proceeds will support the preservation group's effort to build a replica mill and education center off Main Street in Ellicott City.

Tomorrow, the event's design committee will meet to consider about 90 proposals by 30 designers, said Carroll A. Frey, owner of Carroll A. Frey Interiors in Baltimore and the event's design chairman.

Each designer can offer a written description of what he or she would do with up to three of the 21 available rooms. Designers also have to rank their choices.

"I'm looking for a comprehensive design," Frey said. "I'm looking at the style and color system they are suggesting, the general overall theme they're trying to project."

Because the house is sponsored by Historic Ellicott City Inc., he said, he also looks for proposals that respect the vintage of the house and the structural elements that are there.

This year, he expects a lot of traditional and modern country looks to go with the farmhouse, which he thinks was likely built in the 1880s or 1890s. But, he said, "we do allow some flexibility."

By Monday, the committee will have assigned the rooms. The designers then will create detailed display boards showing the colors, fabrics and furniture they intend to use.

After conversations with Frey and any necessary tweaking, the boards will be shown to the house's owner, and the hands-on work will begin in mid-July.

The owner, Jay Rhine, said it is naturally "a little nerve racking" to let two dozen strangers decorate a house that has been in his family since his great-grandfather bought it in 1923.

When he was 19, Rhine took over running a dairy farm there upon his father's death. The land produces corn and hay and the family has horses and beef cattle.

Rhine is excited to have the whole house - which has been empty since his mother died in July - in top shape before he moves in with his wife in November. The two plan to have their wedding reception at the house Sept. 29, when it is fully decorated.

"I could never afford to do this on my own," he said.

He said he was also encouraged to participate because he has found the show houses interesting in the past and because it will serve as good publicity for his company, Rhine Lawn Care and Landscaping.

Rhine is putting in flagstone paths, lighting and plants to beautify the home and to serve as a deluxe example to customers who visit his business, which is down Route 99 from the house.

When the show house committee first toured the home, it had been gutted of its plaster walls and had old windows and beat-up siding, said Wanda Mathews, the show house chairwoman.

Rhine invested in new drywall, wood floors, molding and other structural elements to get it ready for the decorative stage. It also will have modern kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures.

"It still has an old farmhouse flavor to it," Mathews said. "But you have to have the modern amenities."

The improvements did not go unnoticed by the designers, particularly those familiar with the uneven - and non-air-conditioned - state of some previous show houses.

"Wow, new drywall. Oh my God," said Nadine Newlin, who decorated a hallway in last year's show house. "Floors we don't have to paint. Electricity we don't have to rewire. That's wonderful."

Newlin, who owns Blue Willow in Annapolis, was at the Sykesville house looking to design a small space with a window.

"My primary focus is window treatments and soft goods," she said. An upstairs hallway and an attic "nook" between two rooms seemed like possibilities.

As a designer, she said, the show house offers an opportunity to display her talent, make contacts with other designers and offer goods for sale.

In picking a room, she said, she considers "what do I have to invest in, especially investments that can't be recouped in any way." Paint and wallpaper, for example, stay with the house when the show is done.

Liz Wethington, who owns Vanilla Dreams in historic Ellicott City with her business partner, Pat Finlayson, said, "We're trying to figure out how we can showcase the stuff in our store." That includes homemade soaps and lotions, jewelry, purses and home accessories.

One bedroom "gave both of us an epiphany," Finlayson said.

They debated whether they should offer to decorate a bathroom, with Wethington suggesting, "Maybe we should start small because it is our first one." But the two had trouble resisting the relatively large front parlor.

Regardless of the room, "We're thinking of going more feminine," Wethington said. "We're into that pampering."

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