BSO Show House opens in Pikesville

Interior designers of the mansion outfitted for this year's BSO Decorators' Show House offer advice and a few tips to use in your own home.

May 06, 2010|By Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

When designers sign on to transform a house into a "show house," they aren't working with a blank slate.

It's more likely they are working with a slate that has issues and challenges and charming quirks. A slate that needs some TLC.

Homeowners hunting for the right wall color or trying to cover up unsightly elements in a room can probably relate. So we took a tour of this year's Baltimore Symphony Associates' Decorators' Show House in Pikesville, which opens to the public Saturday, to search out designer secrets that homeowners can use on their own slates.

For the 34th year of the fundraiser, a house built during Prohibition has been re-imagined by 20 interior designers — including design students from Harford Community College —- and four landscape designers.

The Tudor-style mansion house has four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a sun porch and a library. The designs range from the practical — a closet-size laundry room — to the fanciful, including a bedroom that has been converted to an alchemist's chamber, complete with specimen jars.

But as fanciful as the house has become — the nursery is done in black walls with purple highlights and a second-floor closet has become an intimate bar off the master suite — there are design elements and ideas in this house that any one of the 10,000 expected visitors can re-create in their own homes.

We asked four of the interior designers for some take-home tips.

Lightening up a library

This is the first designer show house for Barbara Brown of Barbara Brown Interiors in Westminster, and captivated by the bay window, she chose to brighten the gloomy library and make the window the room's centerpiece.

Instead of decorating with the traditional dark leathers and claustrophobic bookcases, she chose light colors, painting the room in tones of mint and celery. Brown also selected floral fabrics and artwork in bright, flowing colors.

But her biggest design challenge was an unsightly radiator under that beautiful bay window.

Her answer? She constructed a table-like frame out from the window sill and hid the radiator behind a custom-made sheer table skirt.

"I liked the center window and I want it to be the focus of the room," said Brown. But the oversized radiator made that difficult.

"The table serves three purposes," she said. "It covers the radiator. It draws your attention to the arch of windows and it makes that area a usable space."

Take-home tip: When painting a room, if you haven't worked with color before, "keep the colors easy and pleasing to the eye. And go a little safe. Choose a color and then go two or three chips down on the color stick."

Slip into something comfortable

Missy Connolly of Fern Hill Designs in Butler has done 12 designer houses and somehow she always ends up doing a bathroom.

"This year, I felt like doing a grand room," she said.

So she tackled the over-large living room, and divided it into a TV-family room on one side and a conversation area on the other.

The result is a room filled with comfortable furniture, bright colors and masculine touches. The walls and the window treatment are turquoise, and the ceiling is trimmed with a geometric design done in leather strips and upholstery studs.

"I believe in repurposing," she said, pointing to a table whose top and legs had had several lives between them and a chair covering that was once a floor covering.

Her choice for the furniture is one that might surprise homeowners: Slipcover the sofa and chairs in white cotton.

"There's nothing easier," she said. "Take them off, soak them in some Oxy-clean. Put them back on when they are still damp.

"From there, you can dress them up or dress them down."

Connolly has added lots of throw pillows in turquoise, browns and lime greens and with large geometric designs that fit the scale of the room, which manages to look cozy, despite its size.

Take-home tip: Don't be afraid of white slipcovers. Dress them up or down with the pillows you choose. "Comfort is one of my main things," she said. "And I love my pillows. If you want a change, you can always swap them out."

A cover-up

All the noise in the bedroom designed by Amy Neill comes from the "conversations" in the room.

The owner of a design company in Parkville likes to combine furniture styles, art and colors that, quite literally, speak different languages. The result is not exactly a polite tea-time "conversation," but one that holds your attention by changing the subject regularly.

There are lime green and red cushions, bed coverings and table skirts that are surprisingly harmonious. Victorian and Art Deco are extremes that cooperate in this room.

But it was the bathroom and its cracked and broken tile that was the real design challenge.

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