Historic Ellicott City manor house goes from old to new

Walls have been painted and floors sanded. Curtains have been hung and furniture put in place. After months of renovations, the transformation is complete.

On Sept. 24, Historic Ellicott City Inc. opened the doors to its 30th decorator show house. Avoca, an 1800s manor house in Ellicott City, saw its three floors of rooms transformed into the designers' visions that only months ago were ideas on paper.


While Avoca needed little major work – only one room, a bathroom, was completely gutted – the amount of work the decorators did to create their visions was impressive and recognized by many thanks to a "dirty work party" Historic Ellicott City Inc. held for the first time in July. During that event, visitors were allowed to tour the empty rooms of Avoca before any work had been done.

"We've made some progress," chuckled Joan Becker, president of HEC, days before Avoca opened. "All the dirty work is done."


Everything received a transformation, from the manor's grounds, where tents are set up with vendors and a small cafe, to an outbuilding that was once a smokehouse and is now a summer kitchen

Even two of the property's trees are now recognized with plaques after it was discovered, and formally recognized, that the two trees were record-breakers, Becker said. A bald cypress tree on the property is the oldest in the state, while a Kentucky coffee tree is the oldest of its kind in the country.

"They have been registered with Big Tree Registry," Becker said. "Before we knew it, we had all these people out here for the trees."

The Kentucky coffee tree is visible from the manor's front porch, where white wicker furniture now sits and can provide a view.

"I wanted people to feel welcome to this home," said Veronica Christensen, who decorated the front porch of the home with pumpkins, flowers and bird houses. The porch was the first project Christensen, of Junk in My Trunk in Ellicott City, had done for a decorator show house.

"I've never done a project like this with this kind of deadline," Christensen said. "I enjoyed it. It was fun."

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For the third floor's bathroom, Debbie McHale of Interior Transformations in Clarksville, completely gutted it and then designed it to meet the needs of Stephanie, a character she created.

"You have to always have a story," McHale said. "My Lady Stephanie is an artist and is very involved in the community. She loves to host parties and events. We don't miss the marigold at all," she said, referring to the room's previous color.

A portrait of "Stephanie" hangs in the bathroom that also features a large, modern shower and cabinets with purple knobs.

"I got a little bold with the purple knobs," McHale admitted.

Coincidently, next door to Stephanie's bathroom is an artist's studio designed by Wendy Jorgensen-Perry of The Vintage Market Place at Glenwood.

"We walked through the whole house and this room really jumped out at us," Jorgensen-Perry said of the upstairs attic room she redecorated to be an artist's studio. The room that once had red and black walls and surf boards hanging from the ceiling, now features old signage, books, neutral colors and a row of lockers retrieved from a country club, Jorgensen-Perry said.


"We gave them fresh paint," Jorgensen-Perry said, of the lockers. "They are so sturdy. They make great storage."

Ashley Haker, of A.S.H. Designs in Ellicott City, was pleased with her room's transformation. The former nanny's bedroom is now a lounge with a sofa and prominent lamp.

"It came together how I envisioned it," Haker said, with a smile. "You can come here and listen to music, read a magazine or hang with friends."

This is the third decorator show house Haker has worked on. In the past, she has done a bathroom and an artist's studio.

"It is a little bit more of a challenge doing a smaller room with space planning," Haker said of this year's lounge room, which she was drawn to because of its flooring.

"I really liked the black floor," she said, and painted the walls a gray color with silver accents to compliment it.

A preview party held on Sept. 22 was well attended, according to Becker. Sales have also been good, she said, for both attendance and for items in the home as almost everything on display in the 19 areas is available for sale.

This year, HEC is planning to donate a portion of its proceeds from the show house toward Ellicott City's flood recovery. Throughout the show house's run, HEC will be selling five different T-shirt designs for Ellicott City Relief. HEC is also raffling off two specially designed cornhole games that say E.C. Strong. Tickets are available for $2 or three for $5, with the drawing to be held during the wrap party at the close of the show on Oct. 23.

"We're big community supporters," Becker said.

On its first Tuesday open, the halls of Avoca were filled with a steady stream of people.

"I love that there is a gem like this tucked away in suburbia," said Alison Brawdy, of Columbia, as she toured the house, admiring both the house's old features and modern touches. "Everything is beautiful."

Dale Rixham and Emily Fleming, both of Bel Air, have visited two other HEC show houses in the past and look forward every year to getting an email about the event. While this year the decor was not to their taste, the house was.

"The best part was being able to walk through the old stone house," Rixham said. "I liked the age of the stone house. I was disappointed there were no antiques."

"The house is beautiful ... so many porches," Fleming agreed "The architecture was impressive."

Avoca, at 4824 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City, is open through Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and can be purchased at www.historicec.com or by calling 410-461-6908.

Absolutely Perfect Catering is offering lunches daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Sunday lunches will be offered from noon to 5 p.m.

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