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No Mid-Life Crisis for Potomac House Tour at 50

Organizers fine-tune annual fund-raiser, which raised $100,000 in 2003.

The Potomac Country House Tour turns 50 this year, and organizers say that like the case of fine wine that will be part of the annual raffle, it gets better with age.

House Tour Co-Chairs Cindy Buck and Sarah Lynch have made changes to the annual St. Francis Episcopal Church fund-raiser for charity this year — moving the luncheon to Normandie Farm, offering on-the-go box lunches at the church, adding a free lecture by historian William Offutt, and more than doubling the size of the boutique sale.

The core concept remains the same — on Oct. 1 and 2, Potomac residents will have the chance to tour four finely decorated and historic Potomac homes, shop for clothing and handmade crafts, and take part in a raffle and dessert buffet at the church. All of the money collected during the two-day event goes to local and national charities. Two years ago, the event raised more than $100,000.

“What makes it so great is there are so many wonderful people from the church to come together to do this,” said Buck, who leads a corps of more than 50 St. Francis volunteers that spend months planning the event each year.

Last year, a commissioned quilt featuring images of historic Potomac stirred widespread interest in the raffle. This year, organizers took a different tack, securing 10 different items — the wine, Redskins tickets, a hand-crafted copper weather vane, and more.

One item stands out, Buck said, and cues off of the success of the Potomac-themed quilt: a French porcelain gliceé box by Potomac artist Jessie Mann. Like the quilt, it features an image of Great Falls Tavern, along with foxes and other symbols of old Potomac.

Mann’s boxes have been commissioned by first ladies, actresses and celebrities. Her technique involves layered hand-painting, adorning the boxes with 24-karat gold, and firing the boxes four to 15 times.

“Her pieces are absolute masterpieces,” Buck said. “It looks like an oil painting, it’s so meticulously done.”

Mann has painted porcelain for 38 years. “It is my passion and I enjoy designing and painting boxes for people all over the world,” Mann wrote in a statement to accompany the house tour box. “What especially makes my job fun is the fact that every box has a story.”

While organizers are excited about improvements to the raffle and the events at St. Francis, they haven’t altered the weekend’s main event.

This year’s house tour features the luxurious Avenel estate of BOWA builders principal Steve Kirstein, a Potomac Falls colonial recently renovated by builder Frank Bell, and two Antebellum-style homes in North Potomac’s Belvedere neighborhood.

The Kirstein home is “absolutely gorgeous” Lynch said. “It’s just one of those houses you walk in and you go, ‘Ooh, aah.’ It’s cool.”

Of the Manor House at Belvedere, the house that gave rise to the Potomac Hunt, Lynch said, “Outside it’s this sort of typical farm house. Inside she’s transformed it into this sort of Tuscany flavor.”

One focus this year was to better incorporate businesses and elements of the larger Potomac community, organizers said. Along with the homeowners, who allow hundreds of people to pass through their houses and park in their yards, Normandie Farm, Potomac Deli and other businesses have offered in-kind donations.

“We really love the outpouring of support from the Potomac area,” Lynch said. “They’re stepping up and helping us.”

Both organizers said they hoped that some of the money raised through the House Tour would go to victims of Hurricane Katrina, but that they can’t be positive of where it will end up because it is distributed through Episcopal diocese, which determines where help is most needed.

Past local beneficiaries have included the Manna Food Center, the Montgomery Hospice Society, the Community Ministry of Montgomery County, Western Upper Montgomery County Helps, the Ivymount School, and Stepping Stones Shelter.