Each year, top local decorators descend on a selected home -- painting and furnishing each room from scratch. Some create elaborate murals. Others haul in enormous pieces of antique furniture. They hang chandeliers, choose fabrics and roll out rugs.
This year, that home -- site of the 23rd Decorator Show House -- is Woodford Farm, an 1880s structure on 140 acres off Old Frederick Road in western Howard County. Visitors can pick up design ideas and buy furnishings starting Saturday when the show house opens to the public.
The event gives designers a chance to publicize their work and serves as a fundraiser for Historic Ellicott City Inc., which sponsors the event. The homeowners get decorating ideas, lots of fresh paint and first crack at buying the furnishings and accessories that have been expertly selected and arranged. On the downside, they have to move out for six months while the work is being done.
Janet Kusterer, executive director of Historic Ellicott City, said she is always on the lookout for properties for future show houses.
Older homes are best, she said, and Woodford Farms certainly has history. The 1880s home has been in the Rhine family since 1923. It is owned by Jay Rhine, owner of Rhine Landscaping, who raises cattle there.
Before the decorators began tweaking the house, Rhine renovated it, adding hardwood floors and crown molding, changing the location of a door and staircase and generally creating solid bones, said Kusterer. Then the designers came in and added frills.
This year, they drew their inspiration from two main sources: the rural setting and the fact that the home's occupants will be newlyweds. Yet they interpreted those cues in vastly different ways.
AnnMarie Farran of Interior Details in Frederick used a neutral color palette and natural materials -- even a chandelier made with real twigs -- to create a rustic yet elegant feel in the gathering room. She also added some horse-themed artwork to play off the view of real horses, grazing and switching their tails right out the window.
"We decided to do something that was organic, because of the farm setting, with a little equestrian mixed in," she said.
Blue Arnold of Kitchens by Request in Jarrettsville created cabinets with an appealing distressed look. The kitchen, unlike the rest of the house, was built with the approval of owner Jay Rhine and will remain after the show is over.
"The concept was to make it not look like a modern kitchen," said Arnold. Old-fashioned elements include a deep, farmhouse-style sink, bead-board accents and a dishwasher and refrigerator that are invisible behind wood panels. The kitchen also has up-to-date features such as "soft-close" drawers that never bang and a two-zone wine refrigerator in the wet-bar area.
The dining room, created by Patty Keener, owner of Sidetracked Antiques and Design in Westminster, has a cozy feel, thanks to walls the color of milk chocolate, and an upholstered chair at the head of the table. Decorated in browns with bright shots of blue, the small room combines modern and antique pieces, including an 1820s table and sideboard of mahogany.
Upstairs, Karen Hancock of Karen Hancock Antiques in Ellicott City brought in a wrought-iron bed and other pieces to create a room that has a "feminine, romantic feel to it," she said. The dressing room was accessorized with an antique wedding dress, as well as old-fashioned brushes and bottles that mirrored the 1920s time period of the vanity on which they sat.
Di Smith of the Ellicott-City-based Lady Di Interiors also went for an old-fashioned look, using lace curtains and antique furniture for a feminine guest room. The French-inspired design was highlighted by walls painted in thick vertical stripes of blue and white, with gold fleur-de-lis accents.
In contrast to all that femininity, Michele Drury of Drury Lane Designs in Ellicott City created a study with deep red walls, a zebra-striped desk and a cowhide rug.
"The room really needed to be masculine," she said. Yet it was still romantic, thanks partly to a comical little sculpture of a man who has, quite literally, lost his heart.
For Dee Cunningham of Deelite Design in Ellicott City, the show house presented an important opportunity. Asked to bring her skills to a staircase, she painted faux wood panels along the sides and a faux nook at the top. At the bottom, she added a life-size mural of a little girl in a dress, peering through a half-open door.
In fact, murals are a major theme at this year's show house.
These include a whimsical blue sky filled with clouds and bright hot-air balloons, painted by Betty Brown of Not Just Stenciling in Woodstock. The painting surrounds a cozy third-floor window seat.
"I figured we're already up in the sky," she said, explaining why she chose her theme.
The third floor has a room described as a "mother's room," where the woman of the house can relax while her kids play. That room, decorated by Linda Paar Welcome of Welcome Interiors in Silver Spring, is anchored by a Moroccan chaise longue and a brightly painted traveler's trunk. A wall mural painted by Ron Ames of Art Nous Faux creates the impression that a branch is poking through the wall.
The room also features a tiny chair turned toward the corner.
"In case one of the children is misbehaving," Welcome said.
What: Decorator Show House
Where: Woodford Farm, 12885 Old Frederick Road in western Howard County. On-site parking is available.
When: Saturday to Oct. 21. Hours - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and Sept. 29. The last admission is an hour before closing.
Tickets: $15 at the door or $12 in advance. 410-461-6908, or http:--www.historicec.com/2007WoodfordFarm.htm.