At Historic Ellicott City Inc.'s annual decorator show house, which opens Saturday, the organization gets the proceeds, the visitors get inspiration, and the designers get to let loose their creative sides.
"That's the fun for the designer: It can be their own vision," said Carroll A. Frey, design chairman for the event.
Participants have to respect the historic nature of the 19th-century farmhouse. But, unlike when they are working for clients, they get to make all the decisions. "You can pick what color you like," Frey said.
The show house drew 6,000 visitors last year and raised more than $50,000 for the nonprofit preservation group. This year - the event's 19th - organizers hope to continue their success with Valhalla, in the wooded hills along Marriottsville Road.
The structure, which housed Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, became the home of former Howard County People's Court Judge John L. Clark in 1954.
The current owner, Skip Conrey, worked on the judge's farm as a child and recalls putting in more than 1,700 fence posts when he was in high school.
Conrey bought the 100-acre property, which includes three other homes, after the judge's death in 1998.
"The house was in much better condition" than previous years' show houses, said Lorna Ozgun, general chairman of the event.
Conrey, who owns a construction business, renovated the building and added a large modern kitchen and master bedroom suite.
Still, the designers faced challenges as they sought to create a personal vision for each room.
In the library, Laura Mackey, owner of M&M; Interiors Ltd. in Washington, sought small books and art objects for built-in shelves 10 inches wide and 10 inches deep.
She used dark blue walls to contrast with the white shelves and chose a Danish mahogany table from 1880 as a visual anchor.
In the basement, Paula Niemann of Ellicott City turned a modern kitchen into a gentleman's retreat. With the help of faux finisher Roslyn Honsberger, also of Ellicott City, she used rivets and paint that imitates the look of stainless steel on the cabinets and wall trim.
Leather panels hide a crumbling basement wall and accent the cabinet doors, and Niemann built a bar out of plywood painted to look like stone.
In the parlor, two large windows offered a perfect opportunity for designer Mary Wolf of Frederick, who said, "I like to layer a lot of different fabrics." Wolf asked Julie Cope, owner of Custom Window Decor in Frederick, to design elaborate window treatments with five fabrics in blue and gold.
But she still needed to "chunk up" the simple moldings in the room. Wolf brought in Mark Stokesbury to paint faux dental molding near the ceiling and add a line to the wall to make the chair rail appear thicker.
Stokesbury also painted an ellipse on the ceiling and added a faux finish to the walls.
Faux finishes - in which layers of paint or glaze are used to give surfaces a textured look - are becoming popular, Stokesbury said.
They can be more versatile than wallpaper and often are less expensive.
That and other types of decorative painting proved to be popular throughout the show house.
Murals of outdoor scenes liven up the modern master bath and a small room off the foyer. Detailed paintings adorn dressers in the master bedrooms and a young woman's bedroom.
In a small basement bedroom, Karen Thompson, who owns Simple Things Decorative Painting in Sykesville, painted a picture of a window, complete with scenery and a bird on the windowsill.
She also painted a picture of a bookshelf on a utility cabinet to disguise it.
Visitors may notice some other themes carried throughout the house.
A pattern called toile - usually containing pastoral scenes in one color on a white or cream background - appears often on wallpaper, bed covers and chair upholstery. Many designers chose equestrian themes for paintings and art objects to reflect the property's use as a horse farm.
Everywhere, details were essential in bringing the picture together.
Enalee Bounds, who owns Ellicott's Country Store in Ellicott City, put antique butter presses on the shelves of the kitchen and placed her riding gear in the mud room area by the door. She has plastic vegetables and herbs, and oysters made of wax (with real shells) sitting on a 100-year-old oyster board.
"When I design a room, I like it to look real," she said. To do that, "you must use details."
"Every day is more impressive," said Conrey, who has been living in one room that is not being designed and watching the project progress.
He was allowed some input, including his desire to keep the woodwork painted white.
He will keep all of the elements that cannot be easily removed - such as the decorative paint and wallpaper- and can buy items he particularly likes.
For a few more weeks, though, his home is in the hands of the designers.
"It's an opportunity to show and reflect what you can do," Wolf said.
The Decorator Show House, 1575 Marriottsville Road, is open through Oct. 19. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The house is closed Mondays. Tickets are $15 at the door or $12 in advance. No admission fee is charged for children 10 or younger. Information: 410-461-6908. Because of expected inclement weather, the preview party has been moved to Monday. Catered meals for visitors will be available starting Tuesday.