With Oak Acre, symphony show house returns to its roots

What's old is new again at the 39th annual Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House.

After showcasing a farmhouse, waterfront condominiums and the suburban home of football legend Johnny Unitas, the event returns this year to its tradition of featuring grand city houses. Designers have transformed 23 spaces in Oak Acre, an 87-year-old neoclassical mansion on North Charles Street in Guilford.


"We're back in the neighborhood and the traditional show house," says Carolyn Stadfeld, the event co-chair.

Oak Acre was built in 1928 by Clarence Hurlock, a prominent local attorney and real estate investor. The home has remained in his family, passing now to his grandchildren.


Ann Hurlock, one of the owners, recalls that Oak Acre was a typical Guilford home decorated with Williamsburg blues and greens, oriental carpets, heavy draperies, oil paintings and antique furniture.

"It had a very traditional Guilford look," says Hurlock, whose mother, Ruth, lived in the home until her death in 2013 at age 93.

The designers recruited for this year's show house say they drew inspiration from the home's architectural details, including its ornate molding and expansive windows, while still creating a contemporary look that boasts pops of color against rich jewel tones and soothing pastels.

The designers "don't want the room to look the way it would have looked 30 years ago," says Liz Dickson, who decorated the office that once belonged to Hurlock's father.

Dickson says she found inspiration in the panels of the room's French doors. She painted the doors white and beige to emphasize the patterns and added similar geometric designs to chair fabrics, pillows and a radiator screen.

"It's traditional, but current enough to feel hip," Dickson says.

In the living room where the Hurlocks once held elaborate Christmas parties, designer Carol Grillo has indulged her passion for white and blue in the striped rugs, upholstered furniture, original paintings and ceramic accents. A close look reveals the home's history in the decor, including antique books that belong to the Hurlock family and a painting of the home in the molding above the living room entry.

The unusual pink and salmon watercolor treatment on the dining room walls seems far removed from Guilford traditionalism. Designer Paula A. Henry created the sweeping patterns by digitally transforming watercolor abstracts onto a wall covering. Yet Henry also drew inspiration from the room's architectural details. Oval patterns in the moldings above the doors are echoed in the seat backs, studded chairs and large tacks that hold the window sheers.


Although the large rooms are often the most sought-after spaces in the show houses, long-time event participants Victor Liberatore and Gail Lieberman selected a breakfast nook and adjoining butler's pantry because they were drawn to its angular shapes.

"We both knew it right away," Lieberman says.

This unassuming area, where the Hurlock children once ate their breakfasts before dashing off to school and where Ruth Hurlock sat watching "Wheel of Fortune" on a small television, has been painted a bright raspberry red. A chandelier made of dangling spoons, forks and knives adds interest. The original sink remains, standing beneath the head of the Roman god Bacchus and accented by antique kitchen utensils and posters.

"We wanted to leave a lot of the old elements but make it feel more contemporary," Lieberman says.

In the main entrance, designer Missy Connolly has layered multiple textures, including patterned orange wallpaper, thick stair carpeting that is reminiscent of wood grain and animal print rugs.

Connolly says she didn't intentionally try to accentuate the architectural features of the room, but her design selections nevertheless echo the theme of old and new. A round center oak table has contemporary metal legs. A Philippe Starck clear acrylic ghost chair is situated beneath the ornate staircase.


"I don't like it to look too matchy-matchy," Connolly says. "I try to marry some old with the new."

While many of the designers drew inspiration from the grand home's interior features, Regina Bello found her muse in the trees and shrubs outside. One wall features a mural of white birch trees whose branches are populated by brightly-colored birds. The nature pattern is replicated on the bed quilts and pillows.

The room's accents hint at girls who are growing up — a doll, a make-up table and a lamp stand patterned after the Velveteen Rabbit.

Hurlock's mother's bedroom, which had been decorated with heavy draperies, antique furniture and oriental rugs, has been transformed into a whimsical children's room by student designers from the Community College of Baltimore County. Moroccan influences are evident in the tented beds, a play tent and exotic stuffed animals. This brightly colored room is one of the few to feature the oriental rugs that were pervasive throughout the house.

Hurlock says she is delighted with the way designers decorated her childhood bedroom, covering its yellow walls with a faint zebra print. "It's very exciting," she says. "I like the look."

On the third floor, designer Lisa Brown Malveaux has added a thoroughly modern element by creating a yoga/relaxation room that features a sky mural, Tibetian antiques and a Lovesac bean bag. A blue lucite Buddha tucked into a dormer window appears to glow with the light.


The space that retains most of its original look is the third-floor billiards room, but that was mainly because the billiards table was too large to move and Hurlock didn't want the wood paneling in the room damaged. The room displays a number of antique toys, games and sporting equipment that belonged to the family.

Hurlock laughs as she recalls how she impressed boys in college with her pool prowess.

She says the family doesn't know yet what they will do with the home when the show house ends. They may sell it, or she and her husband may move into it, but she does know that she is happy the home has been updated and will again be enjoyed by visitors.

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"It's interesting," she says. "I'm going home to my old home, but it's a new home. It's a happy home."

If you go

The 39th Annual Symphony Decorators' Show House


Where: Oak Acre in Guilford, 4309 N. Charles St., Baltimore

When: Sunday, April 26, through Sunday, May 17

Hours: Sundays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays,10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tickets: $25. Tickets can be purchased through the BSO box office at 410-783-8000, at or at Graul's Markets and other locations. Money raised by the show house supports the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's educational programs.