After visitors to this year's Decorator Show House meander along a slate pathway from the parking lot to the front of Mount Ida, it becomes obvious why William Ellicott, grandson of one of the city's founding brothers, chose the site on Sarahs Lane for his home: the twin silos of Ellicott's Mills rise majestically in the distance like castle towers.
"Part of what William loved was the clear shot of the mill from the property," said Joyce Pope, executive director of Historic Ellicott City Inc. and show house chairperson. "He used to love to sit out on the balcony" and take it all in.
Once inside the yellow stucco house it's even more obvious why HEC chose to return to Mount Ida for its 28th annual interior decorating event as the graciousness of another era — with a few creative twists — unfolds inside.
The front entrance opens onto the grand foyer, whose walls have been realistically painted by artist Dee Cunningham to resemble bleached walnut. Using a plastic cup taped to her shirt, the owner of Deelite Design of Main Street painstakingly applied paint and glaze to achieve the faux finish.
Bright abstract acrylic canvases in teal and orange were custom painted for the house and complement contemporary foyer chandeliers made from diesel engine valve springs.
To the right, formal and informal parlors greet visitors as they begin to tour the home, which dates to 1828 and was built by Charles Timanus, who was also the principal builder of the Patapsco Female Institute. The two buildings are so similar that "sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two," Pope said.
Using a floor plan from the Library of Congress, Wendy Appleby, of Columbia-based Your Home by Wendy, set about "keeping true to the [home's] original plans" in the formal parlor, she said.
"The wainscoting and chair rail make it more traditional, but the glossy paint on the walls gives a more contemporary feel to the room," she explained.
Adjoining Appleby's room is the informal parlor done by Carol Weil, of The Decorating Therapist, also located in Columbia. A leather sofa and two chaises are set at an angle in the room, which also features a game table set with two clear acrylic chairs known as ghost chairs that "are perfect in a house with a ghost," Weil said.
"If you ask any of us, we would tell you that we become obsessed with our designs," she said, noting she made liberal use of symmetrical displays to offset the untraditional furniture arrangement "because symmetry calms people down."
Appleby agreed about the intense preparations. "It's sad when we take it all down; it's like the last day of camp," she said, referring to the end of the month-long fundraising event.
The mansion, which is currently owned by the Miller Land Company, has undergone three months of decoration at the hands of 12 designers under the direction of HEC Inc.'s design chair, Carroll Frey. Mount Ida, named for one-time resident Ida Tyson, also was the Decorator Show House in 1995.
The house's style was influenced by the Greek revival and Italianate periods, and is reminiscent of design that pervaded the American South during its antebellum period, according to a show house brochure.
Moving on to the dining room, decorated by Paula Henry, of Simply Put Interiors, "a twist on traditional" is the theme, she said. The room features a round table and silver and chrome elements that would not normally be found in such a setting. Abstract art serves as a focal point.
A tiny bathroom on the first floor received a large treatment from designer Laura Farrell, of LMI Studios in Bowie, who painted a tone-on-tone mural to expand a space that's barely big enough to turn around in.
Upstairs and to the left, visitors come upon Ida's Wonderland, a collectibles-filled girl's bedroom designed by Caroline Leo, of DARE Designs in Baltimore, for an imaginary 8-year-old Ida.
"It's a girlie-girl room with dolls, unicorns and fairies and was inspired by a famous painting called 'The Audition,'" Leo said. Over the twin bed hangs a portrait of the imaginary Ida that is actually the designer as a young girl.
The master bedroom at the end of the upstairs hall features a 19th century four-poster bed, an armoire and a Victorian dressing table.
"Many of the room's furnishings are French. The dressing table is topped with a French mirror that has marble cherubs and it displays a collection of antique perfume bottles and an array of antique frames," said Julie Baker, of the Antique Center in Savage Mill.
The second floor has other spaces that are designated as a study, morning room, nursery and governess's room, each exhibiting its own unique decorating flair. Other designers include: Daniel F. Liggon Associates, Wild Goose Chase Antiques and Interiors, JOD Interior Design, Doojies and Tracey Davidson Interiors.
"Everything in the show house is for sale," Pope pointed out. "Each room has a binder listing the items and prices" of furnishings and accessories.
When visitors have completed touring the decorated rooms, they may also shop in the boutiques located in the home's basement, she said. Events in the Tent, featuring a different event each week, will be offered free of charge on Thursdays.
A preview party on Sept. 26 featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony with District 1 County Council member Courtney Watson. A proclamation was presented to Mount Ida owners Paul and Valerie Miller and a new bronze plaque detailing the building's history was unveiled.
"There are a million committees working to pull this all together," Pope said. "It's just a ton of work" and the event requires up to 600 volunteers to run.
"But we expect 6,000 people to come through and that's what makes it all worthwhile," she said.