Historic Ellicott City's decorator show house offers a variety of design approaches this year, from traditional Williamsburg-style plates and topiaries, to 1970s-inspired lava lamps, to a family room cabinet featuring a large TV that rises at the push of a button.
Giving designers the freedom to show their stuff has always been part of the appeal of the show house, which is in its 24th year. But design chairman Carroll Frey said that because this year's house is 35 years old, the design committee gave people more leeway to take a contemporary approach.
"If it were an older house, we'd be more strict with tradition," he said. The result "is a varied house, but it holds together well."
This year's event attracted more than 20 designers, decorative painters and antiques dealers to refurbish the brick farmhouse on Homewood Road in Ellicott City. The house will be open to the public every day except Mondays through Oct. 19.
The house was built in 1973, but it is on land that was once part of Doughoregan Manor, home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and his manor house and other Carroll family buildings are nearby.
"It is not in our tradition of really old houses," said Janet Kusterer, executive director of Historic Ellicott City Inc. "But even though it is not a historic house, it has a historic feel."
Kusterer said the central location was another plus at a time when fuel costs are high for visitors and volunteers. She also said the designers enjoyed working in a space that needed little structural renovation.
As in past years, show house visitors will be able to buy items they see in the rooms and shop at an on-site boutique and at an antiques shop in the barn. Brian's Catering Services will offer lunch and dinner.
The main attraction, however, is seeing what the professionals do when they are let loose on a room.
A piece of striped fabric inspired Linda Featherman and Linda Fochtman of Chic and Unique Interiors in Clarksville to design a master bedroom with striking lilac walls offset by shades of gray. Details, including a silver starburst mirror, fuzzy black throw pillows and patent leather lampshades, add interesting textures throughout the room.
"We do a lot of traditional work," Featherman said. "We wanted to get out there and do something edgy. It's dramatic and romantic ... but it is something most people could live with once they see it."
Eileen Abell said welcoming and relaxing were the goals in a sun room decorated by River Hill Garden Center. The room combines Williamsburg details with fall decorations in rust, orange and green. Inviting was the word used by designers from La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries to describe their family room with its cozy seating and television-hiding entertainment center.
Fun was on the mind of Wanda Mathews of West Friendship when she turned a former laundry room into a groovy 1960s-themed "high spirits room," complete with mirrored tiles behind a bar, vinyl chairs and shag carpet.
"I wanted to do something nontraditional," Mathews said. "This is a small space where I can get a little crazy. ... The show house gives you the opportunity to show other styles that you can do."
Lighthearted details also appear in some more traditional rooms.
Books, birds and antique cameras add charm to a sitting room by Stephanie George Hirschberg and Karen Hancock of Ellicott City. An elephant-shaped bookshelf, a giant giraffe and a custom Jeep-shaped bed are highlights of the safari-themed boy's bedroom created by designers from Wild Goose Chase in Catonsville.
The show house has attracted several faux finishers, who used paint and other coatings to decorate the walls and ceilings in rooms throughout the house. A number of decorative painters also took on areas of the show house this year.
Emily Michael of Laurel made a softly colored landscape mural in sepia tones with touches of gold for the entrance hall while Karen Steele of Ellicott City used the trompe l'oeil style (meaning "to fool the eye") to create faux stone block walls, a fountain and a koi pond on a floor cloth for the rear hallway.
Dee Cunningham of Deelite Design worked on her painted "view" of the B&O Railroad station and part of Main Street in her studio and then attached the canvas to the wall, a technique she said is growing more popular because it is less intrusive and requires less traveling than painting a traditional mural.
Faux painting is "a very popular thing," Frey said. "Some of the painters are at the level of fine art."
The house is owned by a limited liability company formed by two families. They are working with JST Builders to sell the show house, which is on 4 acres with a pool and tennis courts, as well as two adjoining 5-acre lots upon which homes can be built.
Funds raised from the show house support Historic Ellicott City's preservation efforts. It is planning to build a replica mill on Main Street in Ellicott City's historic district to serve as an education center and headquarters.
What: Historic Ellicott City Inc.'s 2008 Decorator Show House, a farmhouse featuring rooms decorated by area designers with shopping and dining on-site
Where: 11380 Homewood Road, Ellicott City
When: Sept. 20 to Oct. 19
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays
Admission: $15 in advance, $20 at the door
Parking: free on-site
Information: 410.461.6908, or www.historicec.com