Ellicott City Decorator Show House is a burnished 19th-century gem

For The Baltimore Sun

Thousands of visitors will soon pass through an entrance gate flanked by stone pillars and follow a winding driveway that climbs toward White Hall, the early 19th-century Federal-style home that once belonged to members of the Dorsey family.

There they will view the work of 17 interior designers, decorators and artists who have transformed the home, on 41 acres in the middle of the residential neighborhood of Dunloggin, into the 2017 Historic Ellicott City Decorator Show House.

“One of our designers said that seeing the house for the first time just took her breath away,” said Joan Becker, a real estate attorney who is president of Historic Ellicott City Inc., a nonprofit that began sponsoring show houses to raise funds in 1987.

Located at 4130 Chatham Road, the hidden gem will be open to the public Sept. 24 through Oct. 22 after a reception and ribbon-cutting on Sept. 22.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the nonprofit’s Historic Ellicott City Revitalization Grant Program as well as the restoration of Carrollton Manor, a historic structure built in 1730 and later modified by Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton, which is now part of the St. Joseph Cupertino Friary on Folly Quarter Road.

Organizers are aiming to increase attendance at the show house this year.

“We are hoping to attract at least 6,000 visitors, which is the number that came to White Hall when it served as our show house in 1998,” Becker said, estimating the annual tally has hovered around 4,500 in recent years.

“And we’re really trying to reach out to the younger generation by including younger designers and using social media,” she said.

Carroll Frey, who is design chairman for the show house, said this year’s event is special.

“People want to help all things Ellicott City since last year’s flooding,” he said. “And this year’s home is situated in such a peaceful, park-like setting.”

So magnificent is White Hall and its surrounding acreage, where as many as 40 deer are frequently sighted, that its beauty has been captured by muralists at the request of homeowners Bill and Ann Hugel.

“We asked [Historic Ellicott City] to invite artists and felt they should be allowed to be creative and do what they do best,” Ann Hugel said.

She noted that the couple bought White Hall in 1997 and were the owners when it was the show house for the first time.

As a bonus feature, the place is haunted, she said, explaining that family members have heard doors suddenly pop open and have detected an unexplained fishy aroma on many occasions.

Col. Charles Worthington Dorsey, who fought in the War of 1812, was the first owner of White Hall, which was built sometime before 1810. Family lore suggests Dorsey allowed the east wing of the home to be used as a hospital for American troops during the war.

“People died here [in the makeshift hospital], as did some family members over the years, so it makes sense that there could be lingering spirits,” Hugel said.

The house was later occupied by Dorsey’s son-in-law, Thomas Ligon, who became Maryland’s 30th governor in 1854. White Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

White Hall has been a hive of activity for months.

Deborah E. Watson, a decorative painter and watercolorist with an Annapolis studio, started work in July on three trompe l’oeil (French for “trick of the eye”) paintings.

The bathroom in the landing contains two murals that resemble windows and extend the view from the real Palladian window that faces the front lawn. The powder room painting of the home was made to look as if it was uncovered behind a layer of plaster, and Watson also added marble faux finishes to features in both rooms.

She is also painting an 18-by-24-inch map to be hung on a wall in the side porch, where she also painted faux wood grain on ceiling beams and window trim.

“Having three projects has been a lot of work, but I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

Rhonald Angelo, who owns a Kensington-based interior design firm, is decorating the drawing room, where guests were entertained before or after dining.

A fireplace he renovated in the room, which will blend contemporary and antique furnishings, is one of its best architectural features, he said. Angelo collaborated with decorative painter Lisa Malveaux to incorporate views of the property in three oval medallions on the mantelpiece.

A Louis Vuitton trunk will serve as a bar and an acrylic chair will add a modern note.

“I don’t like clutter,” Angelo said. “I like each object to have its own space to breathe.”

Tracey Davidson, who owns Woodside Home in Sykesville, designed the gathering room, which formerly contained a pool table.

“I’m calling this look ‘modern farmhouse,’ ” she said of the room, which was added after the original structure was built and features exposed stone. “I love blending old and new to make a comfortable place to hang out.”

Davidson added such touches as a pastel painting of a cow and calf, a mounted fox head and deer antlers to create “a space you can imagine living in” and that reflect the setting.

Jessica Hammer Harrell, a Parkville interior designer and licensed contractor, created a “young gentleman’s retreat” in a suite on the third floor.

“I took cues from the owners and from my own design aesthetic to create a modern take on a traditional theme,” she said.

A wall of horizontal dark-green shiplap, which is a type of rough-sawn pine paneling, will anchor the bedroom.

Icelandic photography and Peruvian textiles were added to create a world traveler vibe, she said, adding that hand-blown glass, a copper mobile and tweed fabric add to the retreat’s masculine appeal.

Hugel is grateful for the opportunity to have designers in the family’s home once again.

“It will be nice to have a refresh after 20 years,” she said.

The home is not handicapped-accessible, no one under age 10 will be admitted, and only flat-heeled shoes are permitted. For hours of operation and information on purchasing $25 tickets online or from 12 area merchants, go to HistoricEC.com. Price at the door is $30.

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