When Kim Little and her husband, Jeff, purchased their historic Darlington stone house six-and-a-half years ago, it was in "deplorable condition," she recalled.
Little showed pictures of a bathroom with the floor tile torn up, vines crawling up the exterior walls, and said the dwelling, which was built in 1810 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had no basic modern-day conveniences such as a septic tank, central heating or even hot water.
Flash forward nearly seven years, and the Littles were entertaining guests with cookies, cider and a fire roaring in the living room fireplace as they stopped by the cozy Stafford Road house, one of six Harford County homes decorated for Christmas on this year's AMC Holiday House Tour Sunday.
"Everyone's in a great Christmas spirit," Kim Little, who was wearing a blue and white period dress, said. "It's been very pleasant."
She said the major restoration projects included replacing the roof, restoring the chimneys and installing new mechanical systems such as plumbing and electricity.
Little and her husband also took on a number of smaller restoration projects such as "reglazing" the period windowpanes and building a wall cabinet to hold pewter dishes.
"Because we love old things, it doesn't seem like work even though it's a ton of work," she said of the restoration work, which is continuing.
"You know what they say, if you love what you do it doesn't seem like work," she added.
The AMC Holiday House tour is designed to raise money for the AMC Cancer Fund and the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology Center.
Little and her husband participated, with the loss of her father to cancer last year in mind.
"We're always happy to help when it's for cancer research," she said.
People who purchased tickets for the house tour could visit six homes in the greater Bel Air area, including the Dorris, Garrett and Butler homes in Bel Air, the Shaffner and Zealor homes in Forest Hill and the Little home in Darlington.
They could also visit Broom's Bloom Dairy in Bel Air and Christopher's Train Garden at the dairy, plus the Greenspring Gift House in Jarrettsville.
"I think it's fantastic, what they're doing," said Margaret Castoro of Bel Air South, who visited the homes with her son, Chuck, and daughter-in-law, Pat. "Each house was different; it had its own charm, its own personality."
Visitors to the Shaffner home off Saddle Ridge Court in Forest Hill could see four Christmas trees with different themes.
The main tree was the 12-foot-high family Christmas tree in the living room. It was covered with ornaments, including Christopher Radko glass ornaments and those made by members of the Shaffner family over the years.
"I've been collecting for a very long time," Teresa Shaffner said.
She owns the home with her husband, Hal.
Their son Ryan, 26, showed ornaments he made as a child, such as one that resembled a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
A food-themed tree could be found in the family kitchen, topped with a white chef's hat.
Ryan Shaffner is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and his sister, Chloe, is studying there.
Chloe's chef's hat was on top of the kitchen tree, and Ryan had a Culinary Institute ornament on the family tree.
"She's done a marvelous job," Jan Carpenter of Aberdeen said of Teresa Shaffner's decorations. "I like all the different trees and all the different themes she has for each tree."