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Former home of Johnny Unitas is this year's BSO Decorators Show House

CulturePetsJohnny UnitasBaltimore Symphony Orchestra

With its commanding view of roof tops and tree tops stretching endlessly north, Legend Hill in Timonium is similar to most previous show houses in that it is old and stately.

Legend Hill, off Timonium Road, is named for legendary Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas, who owned the house from 1971 to 1987.

"That's what women come to see," Carolyn Stadfeld, design chair for the Baltimore Symphony Associates, which produces the annual fundraiser, said.

And they come in droves, more than 8,000 people, unstymied by age or infirmity. Some people come in wheelchairs and walkers with their daughters and granddaughters to help them through, Stadfeld said.

The  37th annual Symphony Decorators Show House, which will be open from Sunday, April 28, through Sunday, May 19, is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the 81-year-old  classic stucco colonial, and raise thousands of dollars for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's education programs.

Stadfeld is serving as liaison for the dozens of professional decorators who have imbued 24 areas of the house with charm, elegance and sometimes humor. Stadfeld said she goes to bed thinking about the show house and gets up thinking about the show house, she said. 

Multiply that for Mary Jo Bianco, chairman of the entire show house project, who knows the 55,000 students who take advantage of BSO programs and are depending on her to raise the money that will allow them to continue to do so. 

For Bianco, it's high anxiety mixed with delight.

"It's so exciting to see a private residence transformed into a spectacular showpiece," she said.

'A certain prestige'

The prominently displayed painting of a cow in the show house kitchen is Monkton designer Regina Bello's tribute to Unitas.

Long before she became the owner of the Monogram Shop in Bare Hills, she and her family lived near Sandy and Johnny Unitas and got to know them, she said. Johnny Unitas often talked about  moving his family to a farm "with cows roaming in a pasture." 

Eventually he did, moving from the Timonium house to Bradshaw.

Designers donate their services and labor. They start with just a shell of a space. They submit design boards with sketches and fabric for up to three rooms.

They vie to participate in the show house even though they have to provide and pay for everything from  furniture, paint and accessories to lighting fixtures.

"There's a certain prestige to being associated with the show house," said Stadfeld, who lives in Carroll County but in years prior lived in Towson and Hunt Valley.

It's also time-consuming once a design space has been completed. Even the tiny fruit tarts on the elaborate table setting that Towson designer Carol Grillo, of Carol Grillo Designs, created for the dining room had to be inventoried and priced for sale. 

In addition, many designers like to be present or have a representative present during show house hours.   

The designers get to reap new clients and referrals by displaying their best work, unhindered by the opinion of any one client they are working for.

But it's easy to run amok when you are your own client. Grillo knows the chandelier in the dining room is hand-beaded because she covered the iron chandelier with amber and green beads herself, to tie in the color scheme of the room, she said. 

"I can't tell you the number of hours it took and the amount of money I spent on the beads. It was crazy, but I wanted the room to be unique.

"Still, it's wonderful experience, working with so much talent in the house."

Inspiration never seems to be a problem.

For Towson desiger Liz Dickson, of Millbrook Circle Interior Design, who took on the library, it was the large ottoman upholstered in turquoise blue and soft green medallions, which she surrounded with four chairs. 

"I  loved the fabric the minute I saw it,"  she said. "I  built the whole room around it, mixing the very traditional architectural details and lines of the room with the fresh splash of color and pattern. I think the design and color combination is happy and fun."

All four members of the design team from Alexander Blank Fabrics and Design in Timonium fell in love with a textured floral linen with graphic lines that "almost resembles a painting," said Marietta Ries, who teamed up with Judi Bradshaw, Kathy Fine and Jessica Cunningham to create the master bedroom and dressing room.

"The colors are gorgeous," Ries said.

The Baltimore Symphony Associates have a search committee, but for the most part people call or offer to donate their houses for the duration of the project, as Legend Hill owners did, Stadfeld said. "We have to turn down many. The house has to be able to accommodate large crowds of people."

As much as the symphony associates treasure older houses, they can be problematic. Last year, they discovered the supports under the porch of the Eck house in Cromwell Valley Park had rotted away, and the dubious condition of a show house in Reisterstown was discovered when a designer leaned her  hand against a wall and her hand went through it.

And, older homes often feature sloping floors and window frames that require extensive adjustments. "It's the art of illusion," Ries said. "You have to tweak it on site."

The days leading up to the preview of a show house are "a mad crunch," said Dickson. "If they hadn't cut us off last year, we'd still be there accessorizing."

Not to worry, Ries said. "We've done this so many times; we'll get it done. Everything will be fixed.

"Everything will be in its perfect place by opening day."

Tickets are $30 at the door, $25 in advance (They can be purchased at  BSO Box Office or retail outlets such as Graul's Markets, Budeke's Paint Stores and Watson's Garden Center or through 410-783-8000 or BSOmusic.org.) Parking is at Timonium Presbyterian Church, 303 W. Timonium Road, with free shuttle service provided. Show house hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m-8 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m. For further information, call 410-560-5604 or 410-783-8023 or email Associates@BSOmusic.com .

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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