Picturesque homes don’t just have to be experienced through a photograph.
Historic Ellicott City has made it its mission to bring beautiful, historic homes right to the feet of its guests. This year, attendees can witness firsthand White Hall, the 19th-century home that sits on a sprawling 41 acres that it shares with deer, geese and two owls. Enter inside and guests can experience room transformations from top interior decorators.
For out interior decorator and D.C. native Rhonald Angelo, transforming a room is deeper than painting a wall or throwing down a rug. His passion for detail and eye for design can be witnessed in the drawing room of White Hall, where he joins 17 other designers, artisans and decorators using the home as the foundation for their artistic visions.
Since 1986, Historic Ellicott City has been collaborating with designers to restore historic properties for its Decorator Show House.
This year’s proceeds will benefit the Historic Ellicott Revitalization Grant Program and the restoration of Carrollton Hall, a historic building built by Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll on the grounds of the Shrine of St. Anthony.
Angelo is a veteran of the Decorator Show House with White Hall marking the third home he has decorated. In 2013, a client invited him to take a look at the Decorator Show House and he met the design decorator in charge of the designers. Angelo was chosen to decorate a second-level bedroom with a bathroom attached for 2014. His creation became an “elegant dressing room” with a “masculine feel” for the space.
The entire process from choosing the property to settling on designs is done with careful consideration. The Show House Committee looks for properties that meet a specific set of criteria. The property must be at least 50 years old, located in Howard County, have adequate parking and have the capacity to accommodate about 100 visitors per day, among other stipulations.
After the property is chosen, the committee sends out a call to decorators to look at the rooms to settle on how they would like to develop the space. Decorators submit proposals with a floor plan of the room, a write-up of their concept and any fabrics, paints and furnishings they would want to use. The committee decides if they like the proposal and also if the design will be cohesive with the rest of the designers’ visions.
“When you walk into the front door of a home you want all the rooms to flow together,” Angelo says. “You wouldn’t want to have ‘Star Trek’ on one side and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ on the opposite side of a home because there’s no flow to that. So they look for similar paint colors, similar furnishings, similar concepts.”
Just as the committee has an eye for what works in a room, designers bring their own personal tastes into the home. Angelo’s intricate and neat designs can be traced back to his childhood. At 11 years old, he and his friends started building small-scale car models. For Angelo, it was important to put accuracy in every last detail.
“My mom would give me parts from her sewing box so I would create all the wires that you see in the engine. I was always very careful. I would study under the hood of a real automobile. That’s probably where my creativity and intense sense of detail comes from,” Angelo says.
Now as an adult interior decorator, his work method remains the same.
“Clutter is not a word that is in my vocabulary. All of my designs, my work, is very open and it allows everything to have its own breathing space.”
Angelo’s concept for the drawing room was to stay true to the room’s historic purpose. The house was built pre-1822 as part of the land grant Freeborn’s Progress. The house’s east wing was later used as a hospital during the War of 1812. In 1977, the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Historically, Angelo explains that the drawing room would have been used to entertain guests and would have functioned as a public space.
He opted out of modern comforts like a TV and other recreational or personal items like a bookshelf and family photos. Instead, he utilized natural light to make the room feel more open.
“The furnishings would be somewhat formal,” Angelo says. “But if it was our day and time, it would have been more comfortable than it would have been in the 19th century. The daylight that the room gets is significant. However, it’s shadowed by the deepness of the front porch. I wanted to do light colors to allow as much daylight to come in as possible. There’s two windows that face the front of the house. I purposely created a very open style to allow as much daylight to come in as possible.”
He hopes that people can learn a few design tips from visiting the house including considering incorporating antiques in their own homes. Although he says he understands antiques aren’t as popular as they once were, he says “they add a soul to the living space.”
More than anything, Angelo wants people to appreciate how he utilizes his attention to detail in the room. Every piece was chosen for a specific reason.
“They will experience a level of detail that, in my opinion, is not seen in many, many spaces. From the smallest motifs in the rug and how it relates to the design on the end of a cabinet, or the shape of a flower I’ve chosen that will correspond with a motif that might be in the drapery. It’s a feeling of comfort, balance, elegant-ness and appropriateness,” Angelo says.