Howard County Times
Howard County

Designers head to the Wilderness of Woodbine for Decorator Show House benefiting Ellicott City flood relief

Near the turn of the 20th century, an undeveloped 450-acre plot in Woodbine known as “The Wilderness” was given by a patriarch of a prominent Howard County family to his son as an early wedding gift.

After Joshua Warfield Sr. bestowed the parcel on Joshua Warfield Jr. and his fiancée, Mary Nicodemus — who also hailed from a prominent Howard County family — the couple built the Victorian farmhouse in 1907 and dubbed the property Wilderness Farm.


In its 111-year history, the stately home listed on the Howard County Historic Sites Inventory of the Maryland Historical Trust has had just three owners. After Mary Nicodemus died in 1972, her nephew, Howard Nicodemus, inherited the property, then sold it two years later.

Now, the 5.4-acre estate at 3366 Jennings Chapel Road is home to 13 designers and artisans, who are transforming its 4,500 square feet into the 32nd annual Decorator Show House presented by Historic Ellicott City Inc.


A preview party for the annual show house will be held Thursday, and the home will be open to visitors with paid admission beginning Friday and continuing through Oct. 21.

Joan Becker, president of Historic Ellicott City Inc., said the nonprofit volunteer organization, which was formed in 1972 to assist with recovery from Hurricane Agnes, will donate proceeds from the show house to Ellicott City flood relief efforts through grants administered by Preservation Maryland.

Several flood-damaged historic district businesses were given space to sell their wares in the home, which will feature an eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional décor.

“We wanted to help displaced Main Street vendors such as Shoemaker Country, The Artists’ Gallery and Georgia Grace Café,” said Becker, a real estate attorney.

“It’s exciting to walk through the house and see what’s possible,” she said of the transformed spaces, “and to see each designer’s stamp of individuality.”

Carroll Frey of Carroll Frey Interiors serves as design chair for the show house — and is also tackling the foyer. He is creating a music and art room in the grand entrance space, which has marigold walls and “an exuberant color scheme,” he said.

A 1905 Knabe grand piano made of rosewood will grace one corner of the foyer and artwork ranging from abstract to 19th century prints will adorn the walls, including a piece he painted, Frey said.


Serenity is what designer Tracey Davidson of Woodside Home is aiming for in the master bedroom, which features a blush pink ceiling and accents. A pastoral mural in shades of warm beige and gray by Lisa Brown Malveaux of Studio Malveaux dominates the space.

“This room has such a great view, anyone would love to wake up in here,” Davidson said of the bedroom, which is focused on creating “a livable and accessible space” through tonal accents of texture such as velvet, linen and glass.

Debbie McHale of Interior Transformations is designing the sitting/dressing room as “a restive yet flexible living space” to connect members of a family by encouraging them to read, write, rest and relax. The room features four siting chairs around an oversized ottoman with acrylic legs.

She will also fill the walls with works by four artists, and host an Artist’s Day on Oct. 6.

Bohemian chic is the theme for a nanny’s room created by the owner of Camille Scott Interior Design and Renovation, who is aiming for “a cohesive and curated look with balance and symmetry.”

The room “lets your imagination take the lead” with its many cultural influences, Scott said.


The aqua walls of a nursery by Kim Christie of Christie Interior Design and her sister Pat Christie, who together also own an online design company called, has an ethereal glow.

Along with a wicker bassinet, the cross-shaped room features an antique dollhouse transformed into a changing table, among other furnishings. Murals created on canvas have been applied to walls, so they can be removed as wallpaper when the baby grows up, Kim Christie said.

Margaret Nelson, of Nelson Dorsey Interiors, hopes to recreate a dining room “for well-to-do world travelers” by combining influences of the West Indies and British colonialism.

The room, which has peacock blue walls and intricate wainscoting, will feature a Hepplewhite server, quarter-sawn oak pedestal table with contemporary chairs, and a settee with side table for afternoon tea.

The search is currently on for a fourth owner for the three-story house, which is for sale by Wade and Rita Gallagher, who bought the property in 1974.

Rita Gallagher, who grew up in Baltimore City, joked that her husband tricked her into looking at the home 44 years ago. She soon realized she was “way out in the boonies.”


“Wade lived nearby on Hipsley Mill Road, which was unpaved, so he decided to take us to the house a roundabout way on Georgia Avenue,” she recalled with a chuckle.

“When we entered the home for the first time, the seller was leaning against the fireplace mantle in the foyer and I saw the leaded glass in the window and the beautiful staircase and I fell in love,” she said.

Gallagher, 77, is a retired pastoral counselor who is an active volunteer along with her husband, a 78-year-old retired attorney.

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She has mixed feelings about putting the house up for sale after nearly half a century and raising the couple’s three children there, although she said the time is right to downsize.

“I will miss being able to sit on the front porch in a swing and watch our cat chasing butterflies and see all the deer,” she said.

Gallaher has many memories of Wilderness Farm, but never encountered the ghosts that supposedly live in the home’s eaves.


“A house painter swore to us that he saw them,” she said, “so who can say for sure?”

If you go

Wilderness Farm, the 32nd annual Decorator Show House of Historic Ellicott City Inc., will be open to the public Sept. 21 to Oct. 21. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays; the home will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Last admission each day is accepted one hour before closing. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and can be purchased online at or at retailers listed on the website.

A Preview Garden Party will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and will feature a ribbon-cutting and luncheon. Tickets are $60 and are also available on the website.