Why Decorator Show House volunteers jump at the chance to house-sit

  • Brian Keegan of Ellicott City house sits for his fourth year as a volunteer with Historic Ellicott City's Designer Show House.
Brian Keegan of Ellicott City house sits for his fourth year… (Photo by Matt Hazlett / Baltimore…)
September 30, 2014|Pete Pichaske | For The Baltimore Sun

As a parade of designers and artisans swirls around him, Brian Keegan is an island of calm and a rock of assistance. He answers the telephone, keeps track of who comes and goes, replaces a few lightbulbs.

It’s his job for two months a year, and he loves it.

Keegan, 73, is a “house sitter” for Historic Ellicott City’s Decorator Show House, an annual event during which a historic Howard County property is restored, redecorated and opened to the public for a month. For the two months the house is being worked on, a sitter is on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. House sitters sign people in and out, assist where needed and generally make sure things run smoothly and the house is secure.

“There’s always a lot of little things that need to be done to help facilitate the work,” says Keegan, a retired NASA engineer who lives in Ellicott City.

This year’s Show House property is Meriwether Farm, an imposing two-story stone house on Roxbury Road in Glenelg. In July, a small army of designers began cleaning, painting, furnishing and sprucing up every room of the home. The transformed house opened for public viewing Sept. 20 and will remain open through Oct. 19.

For the designers and artisans, the Show House is a chance to show off their work, attract new clients and sell their furnishings. But for the volunteer house sitters, it’s strictly a labor of love.

“They’re here out of the goodness of their hearts,” says Wendy Appleby, who owns Your Home by Wendy in Columbia and has been involved for years with the Show House. “At the end of the day when this is all over, we, as designers, hopefully make a profit. But the house sitters, they just go back home exhausted.”

Exhausted, perhaps, but happy. The event has a stable of some 30 or 40 steady house sitters, and filling the two months when sitters are needed is never a problem.

“I’ve been in charge of a lot of events over the years, and it’s usually like pulling teeth to get volunteers,” says Joyce Pope, the event’s chairwoman. “But in the case of the Show House, they come to us. They seem to just love being part of the process.”

And the reason for that is simple: While they keep an eye on the house, the sitters also get a front-row seat for the dramatic transformation of a grand old home.

“It’s really neat to be able to follow the transition of an older house to something more today, more attractive,” Keegan says. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of this.”

“It’s so fascinating to see these homes develop from the early stages,” echoes Charlotte Holland, a retired state worker who has been house sitting for a decade. “It’s just amazing and so fun to watch the designers work. They are very talented folks.”  

Visit howardmagazine.com to view a photo gallery of the finished Designer Show House.

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