It is not often that a visitor receives a Dickensian welcome at the front gate of a historic Monkton home decorated for the holidays. Dressed to the nines in fresh greenery, this circa 1840, white-washed brick structure wears red bows and pine cones on green wreaths like haute couture.
Two women arrange garlands to sweep the length and breadth of the white picket fence surrounding a small front garden. Large brass lanterns on either side of the front entrance light the steps up to the front door.
Just inside, music rings from a Steinway grand in the parlor. JoAnn Ruther emerges in a flurry of excitement from the home's large dining room, across the hall from the parlor. The entire scene is reminiscent of a Currier & Ives Christmas card that wishes the recipient "Old-Fashioned Holiday Greetings from Our Home to Yours."
Ruther, a 65-year-old homemaker, is joined in the kitchen by her 91-year-old father-in-law, George Ruther, the musician at the piano.
"This was never a grand house," she said. "It's more like a Colonial farmhouse in the country."
The cozy kitchen bears a worn wooden sign above a buffet sitting against an original brick wall that announces, "Saddlery: Harness Made or Repaired." Notches in the brick on opposite walls hark back to a time when a hefty wooden rail would have had saddles splayed over it.
Ruther and her husband Neil, a 62-year old corporate attorney in Towson, have been living in the home since the fall of 2007. The move was not without its kinks. Mold problems led to the removal of a carpet in the family room, the home's only addition done in the 1970s. The couple also added central air conditioning, a rear deck and patio, and a solarium onto one side of the house. The Ruthers totally renovated the second level and the kitchen, which had been dark and uninviting.
Steve Kimball, of Executive Building Services in Phoenix, Md., gave Ruther the kitchen of her dreams, while her brother crafted the furniture in the room and in other parts of the house. A cherry table, walnut sideboard and sack-back Windsor chairs are a few of the pieces that add warmth and richness to the kitchen.
"The most treasured furnishings in our home are the reproduction and custom pieces crafted by my youngest brother, Dave," said Ruther, noting that her brother is a cabinetmaker and chairmaker who lives in Marshalls Creek, Pa. "These include everything in the kitchen, a magnificent tiger maple linen press in the dining room, a gorgeous little Pembroke table in the parlor, Neil's little writing desk and two tables in the family room, and many other chairs and small pieces. These are our family antiques of the future.
"All of our tables expand to accommodate up to 24 people," she added, walking into her formal dining room, which features a large Chippendale reproduction, double-pedestal table of mahogany and a Sheraton-style buffet. It is here that decorator Mary Pitt of Mary Pitt Interiors and her assistant were placing greenery in preparation for the Baltimore Symphony Associates upcoming Homes for the Holidays tour.
"Neil and I are honored to be members of the Baltimore Symphony Associates, and we're especially delighted to join several of our neighbors and friends in opening our houses here in Monkton Village for this year's Homes for the Holidays tour," said Ruther. "Like all of the Symphony Associates' fundraising events, Homes for the Holidays benefits the educational programs of the BSO — including OrchKids, an amazing project that brings music into the lives of inner-city children here in Baltimore."
Of all the rooms in the home, perhaps the parlor, or living room, is most like a scene from "A Christmas Carol," when Scrooge visits his nephew where holiday merry-making is in full swing. In this 21st-century living room, red toile draperies hang from six large windows, and four wing chairs, along with a Queen Anne sofa in front of the decorated fireplace, fill a room that was designed for visits from the Ruthers' large family and for the many parties they host throughout the year.
"My favorite room is the living room," said Pitt. "The homeowners are such welcoming entertainers, [and] this space is totally them — a fire roaring, music floating from the large grand piano, and lovely company. They enjoy [the] traditional character to their home, and it was great to help them achieve their goal."
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If you go Symphony Homes for the Holidays
Thursday, Nov. 29, through Saturday, Dec.1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Monkton Mill, 2019 Monkton Road. Tickets are $30 at the door or may be purchased for $25 at Graul's Markets and the BSO ticket office at 1212 Cathedral St. For more information, call 410-783-8023.