When floral designer Eleanor Oster visited the Guilford home she had volunteered to decorate for the holidays, her attention was caught by a white silk kimono hanging on a wall in the living room and an Asian doll collection in nearby curio cabinets.
"I decided almost immediately that I would try to capture an Asian theme to enhance and accentuate all the beautiful things that the owners had collected from the Far East," she recalls. In addition to the kimono and dolls, there were bowls, statues, vases, sculptures and other accessories combined in a design scheme that mixed fine antiques and traditional furniture.
On the faux-painted fireplace mantel, Oster envisioned bittersweet painted white and scrub pine trimmed in a bonsai style. On the dining room table she saw antique dolls -- borrowed from the curio cabinets -- costumed in bright red authentic Asian costumes mixed in with the ornate, cobalt-blue, heavily gilded china plates, and pine branches painted white and decorated with stemmed candy-red cherries. In the front hall, she would fill Chinese bowls with coral-red "Raphael" roses and make corkscrew-like topiaries of Alberta spruce.
This week, Oster gets to turn her plans into reality when she joins six other Baltimore floral designers to create holiday decors for the fourth annual "Symphony Homes for the Holidays" tour Friday and Saturday from 9: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To help support the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the designers donate their time, talent, fresh greens, flowers and plants. The homeowners -- and this year for the first time church-owners -- lend their property to be lavishly decorated for the season. Freed from the demands of a paying client, #i designers let their imaginations soar beyond traditional Christmas reds and greens.
They also trim the 8-to-10-foot tree that each participating family receives as a gift from the tour organizers.
Sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Associates, this year's tour includes six Guilford homes, within a half-mile mile walking distance of one another, and the chapel of the Second Presbyterian Church. Like its older, more established cousin -- .. the Decorator Show House -- the holiday tour is a major fund-raiser for the BSO. Proceeds will support the youth education programs of the orchestra such as Music for Youth, Prime-Time, Side by Side and the Tiny Tots.
"In the past, we have tried to establish a general theme for the tour, but this year we decided to let each designer pick his or her own theme," says Nancy Kromkowski, co-chair of the floral committee. "And we encourage them to be very creative and to " do their own thing."
Selecting a theme is not an easy task, and not everyone comes up with an idea as quickly as Oster did when she saw the kimono. Darlene Waters of the French Tulip was slightly dismayed as she walked through the large, traditional home assigned to her.
Her inspiration came quite unexpectedly when she stepped into the bright and sunny dining room of the house. "I knew we planned to set the dining room table as if the family was having Christmas dinner, and when I spied the owner's yellow-accented china, I suddenly thought lemons -- and then apples, pineapples, cranberries and pomegranates." She had a theme. "Fruitful Yuletide," she adds with a laugh.
Her plans include cranberry spikes -- cranberries strung on pieces of straight wire -- in the stairway garland, a lemon tree on a dining room sideboard, candle holders made from real pineapples, and apples cored to hold tiny water tubes filled with orchid-like, rosy alstroemeria.
Floral designer Susan Kershaw, a two-year veteran of the tour, promises lots of pink heather in the chapel of the Second Presbyterian Church. A contemporary space without much detailing, the room will be "turned into a little chapel like you would see in the highlands of Scotland," says Kershaw, who drew on the history of the Presbyterian Church to establish a Scottish theme.
"I like to use texture, pattern and color to make a very dramatic image," explains Kershaw, who often works as a floral designer for movies shot in Baltimore.
"I really do draw on my experience in creating scenes for movies," continues Kershaw, and for the tour, the chapel of the Second Presbyterian Church will become much like a movie set. She will fill the chapel with "all things Scottish," including bagpipes and tartans in all colors and patterns.
Nearby, Kathleen McGuire of Flower Markets Inc. plans to capture "English charm" for her holiday theme as she decorates the church's rectory. She will use candles, wreaths and topiaries -- made from boxwood and hedge apples -- throughout the house. Fresh flowers including tulips, a Christmas favorite at McGuire's shop at the Drumcastle Market, will fill arrangements.
"The homeowner has a beautiful tea set of very fine English bone china and lovely lacy tablecloths and napkins," she says. "So we will set the dining room table for high tea." McGuire was inspired by the color of the nasturtiums on the china. An orange-red rather than a true red, the flower color and avocado green are the dominant hues in her holiday decorations for the house.
Rhea Arnot is an interior designer and a rug designer, but when asked to decorate a house for the tour, she signed on with her partner, Madeleine McComas, and their interior design staff.
Putting their heads togeth- er, the team came up with a theme: "Tapers, Topiaries, Teddy Bears and Tea."
"I knew the homeowners had children, and I knew I had three wonderful topiary teddy bears made with moss -- really reindeer lichen that I had carted home from my house in northern New York," she explains. She also had a 3-foot gingerbread house iced in frosting and dotted with candy to be photographed for her company's Christmas card. The gingerbread house fit quite nicely into the decorating project.
Arnot says the house design will be whimsical and fun -- huge gingerbread cookies, made by associate Pam Meier, will hang from the branches of the Christmas tree, and under the branches a child-size table will be set for tea using tiny cups and saucers. But some of the decorations will be elegant and sophisticated. "Lots and lots" of candles, gold ribbons, boxwood topiaries and garlands of evergreens will decorate the more formal rooms, and the dining room table will be set for a grown-up tea.
A veteran of the holiday house tour, Dale Klietz of J. J. Cummings Florist Co. knows that volunteering for this event means a major commitment. Last year he decorated a Ruxton house to the nines, including planting 300 red carnations in the snowy front yard.
But this year he and his colleague, Tim Green, were temporarily stumped for a theme. "We finally settled on 'A Natural Christmas,' " he says. "We are going to use as many natural materials as we can, including making a tree skirt from galax leaves and spray painting grapes with edible gold paint."
Diane Carter and Teresa Kastner from Roland Park Florist decided quickly on a theme for their house. "The rooms contain many beautiful Victorian antiques and elaborate window treatments, so we decided to do a Victorian theme with taffeta, silk and lace ribbons, dried hydrangeas, roses, dendrobium orchids, ivy and ornate arrangements of fruit," she says.
The tree in the living room will be trimmed in lacy ribbons, dried hydrangeas, fresh roses and white lights. Kastner predicts it will take her and her assistant, Joanne McDavid, at least four days to FTC decorate the downstairs.
BSO house tour
What: The Fourth Annual Symphony Homes for the Holidays Walking/Driving House Tour in Guilford
When: Dec. 6-7, 9: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Why: Proceeds to support youth education programs of the BSO Tickets: $12 in advance; $15 during the tour at the Second Presbyterian Chapel or at any of the houses. Advance tickets are available by calling the BSO at (410) 783-8023 or at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; Grempler Realty Inc.; O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Inc.; or from any of the participating florists or floral designers.
Preview: Candlelight Tour, Dec. 5, 5: 30 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. Party, 7: 30 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m., at the Hopkins Club; $45 per person
Call: (410) 252-4236 or (410) 296-0407
Pub Date: 12/01/96