The annual Columbia Home Tour — held the first Sunday in June — is a labor of love, but it's also a tightly choreographed high-wire act involving 60 docents and many people working behind the scenes.
As organizers refine the details of the popular fundraiser each year, managing all the different aspects of the event gets trickier and trickier, organizers say.
"There is a balancing act with the styles of homes," said Carol Hobelmann, who is tour chairperson as well as event planner for the Village of Wilde Lake. "While there are plenty of people who want to show their homes, it's a complex process to line up a variety of houses and it's our biggest hurdle."
This year's tour, set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 3, includes five homes — Rich and Malynda Madzel's luxury condominium in Wilde Lake; Phil and Lynn Engelke's California contemporary in Oakland Mills; Scribner and Mary Jo Messenger's traditional home in Kings Contrivance; Ray and Cheryl Zukowski's custom contemporary in River Hill; and Trevor and Debby Greene's townhouse, also in River Hill.
"We go after people's homes that we think are a good fit, but they're not always interested," Hobelmann said.
Some homeowners request to be considered for the tour, and planners reach out to all 10 of Columbia's villages for nominations for the next year as soon as one tour ends.
While home selection is a key consideration for the tour, organizers work diligently to prepare for every contingency, Hobelmann said. Before a home is accepted, they even contact the county to inquire about any upcoming road projects that could interfere with access.
"The tour is self-guided, meaning tourists can go to the five houses in any order they choose and at their own pace," she said.
This is necessary to prevent the 500 expected tourists from arriving en masse at each of the homes, she explained, and the reason the different routes to each home are carefully evaluated.
"Our goal is to have houses that make people say 'wow,' and others where do-it-yourselfers think, 'Hey, I could do that,' " she said.
Phil Engelke said he and his wife, Lynn, had discussed moving from what he has dubbed their "center hall rancher" into a larger house a few times since they purchased their home new in 1972, but they opted instead to add on to it in phases.
"When we talked about moving we would stop and think, 'This home is the story of our lives,' " the retired designer said of the unique structure modeled on homes in northern California. "It's pretty organic how it's grown and changed, and we could never move now.
"I have an ulterior motive in being part of the home tour," Engelke added. "I want to show that it's really worth it to put your time and money into renovating in a settled community with a great infrastructure and great amenities."
A privilege to live here'
Malynda Madzel said she and her husband, Rich, "love, love, love" their condo in downtown Columbia because they're both "city people at heart" and because they and their fellow residents have built a community there.
"I call it the vertical neighborhood," said the retired entrepreneur and consultant. "It's easy to talk about it and show it because it's a privilege to live here.
"This is our home, and it's not a showplace," she said of the couple's art-laden condo, with furnishings that range from custom-made pieces to consignment finds. "It's not professionally done, but I believe you get what you love and it finds its place."
Mary Jo Messenger said she and her husband, Scrib, had given thought to moving into a 55-and-older community, but chose to stay in their home and put the money that would have gone to homeowner's fees into hiring a lawn service and converting their basement into an apartment they can rent.
"Everyone likes to see how other people decorate and change their homes," she said. Aside from their eclectic, Asian-influenced style and love of colorful Benjarong pottery collected in Thailand, she thinks visitors will also enjoy seeing the two additions they put on their home as well as Scrib's ham-radio operator's station tucked in an upstairs bedroom closet.
Proceeds from the tour benefit Bridges to Housing Stability, a county-based nonprofit organization that provides housing for families who are recovering from homelessness and awaiting permanent housing of their own. The money will go toward replenishing an emergency transportation fund that was exhausted in June, representatives said.
The guidebook contains a map and directions that use the Columbia mall as a starting point. Refreshments will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. at Claret Hall in River Hill, where displays by Bridges to Housing Stability and the Columbia Archives can be viewed. Each year a different hall from one of the village centers is a featured stop on the tour.
Brief histories of each village and a biography of Columbia founderJames W. Rouseare also included in the guidebook to help disseminate local history and "create a spirit of community."
The event, which is a spinoff of the successful Wilde Lake Home Tour held in 2007 for Columbia's 40th anniversary, now has its own website at columbiahometour.org. Next, the group hopes to get a link on the Columbia Association website, though CA doesn't sponsor the event.
"It's an awareness issue. The more we can widen our diameter beyond the villages, the greater participation we will see," Hobelmann said, adding organizers have a "big goal" of attracting tourists from surrounding counties and cities.
"This isn't just an event for Columbia residents," she said. "It's for the whole county and beyond."