BSO Decorators Show House

Towson designer Carol Grillo stands in the dining room which she designed for the 37th Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House, in Timonium. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / April 16, 2013)

With its commanding view of roof tops and tree tops stretching endlessly north, Legend Hill in Timonium is similar to most previous show houses in that it is old and stately.

Legend Hill, off Timonium Road, is named for legendary Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas, who owned the house from 1971 to 1987.

"That's what women come to see," Carolyn Stadfeld, design chair for the Baltimore Symphony Associates, which produces the annual fundraiser, said.

And they come in droves, more than 8,000 people, unstymied by age or infirmity. Some people come in wheelchairs and walkers with their daughters and granddaughters to help them through, Stadfeld said.

The  37th annual Symphony Decorators Show House, which will be open from Sunday, April 28, through Sunday, May 19, is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the 81-year-old  classic stucco colonial, and raise thousands of dollars for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's education programs.

Stadfeld is serving as liaison for the dozens of professional decorators who have imbued 24 areas of the house with charm, elegance and sometimes humor. Stadfeld said she goes to bed thinking about the show house and gets up thinking about the show house, she said. 

Multiply that for Mary Jo Bianco, chairman of the entire show house project, who knows the 55,000 students who take advantage of BSO programs and are depending on her to raise the money that will allow them to continue to do so. 

For Bianco, it's high anxiety mixed with delight.

"It's so exciting to see a private residence transformed into a spectacular showpiece," she said.

'A certain prestige'

The prominently displayed painting of a cow in the show house kitchen is Monkton designer Regina Bello's tribute to Unitas.

Long before she became the owner of the Monogram Shop in Bare Hills, she and her family lived near Sandy and Johnny Unitas and got to know them, she said. Johnny Unitas often talked about  moving his family to a farm "with cows roaming in a pasture." 

Eventually he did, moving from the Timonium house to Bradshaw.

Designers donate their services and labor. They start with just a shell of a space. They submit design boards with sketches and fabric for up to three rooms.

They vie to participate in the show house even though they have to provide and pay for everything from  furniture, paint and accessories to lighting fixtures.

"There's a certain prestige to being associated with the show house," said Stadfeld, who lives in Carroll County but in years prior lived in Towson and Hunt Valley.

It's also time-consuming once a design space has been completed. Even the tiny fruit tarts on the elaborate table setting that Towson designer Carol Grillo, of Carol Grillo Designs, created for the dining room had to be inventoried and priced for sale. 

In addition, many designers like to be present or have a representative present during show house hours.   

The designers get to reap new clients and referrals by displaying their best work, unhindered by the opinion of any one client they are working for.

But it's easy to run amok when you are your own client. Grillo knows the chandelier in the dining room is hand-beaded because she covered the iron chandelier with amber and green beads herself, to tie in the color scheme of the room, she said.