Finding comfort in cottage filled with collections

Low gray clouds of a late autumn day appear to envelop a two-story cedar cottage and its attached one-story log cabin. Sitting on three acres in Howard County and accessed through a wrought-iron arch down a narrow lane, the property has been the home of 63-year-old Priscilla Griffith for most of her adult life.

A roughly landscaped front garden contains the print of a fenced-in vegetable patch, harvested months ago. The path to the cottage is a dirt one; a brick walkway from its side entrance leads to the main house. A brick Georgian-style structure built in 1949 that appears in the distance behind a sheer curtain of fog was her family home. At one time, it sat on 40 acres of land. Farming, Griffith notes, was her father's hobby. Today, she rents the renovated mansion to caring tenants.

This allows Griffith to pursue her hobby, acquiring antiques and any number of interesting collections, while living comfortably in two of the original outbuildings that were restored by her brother, who works for the National Building Museum in Washington.

"This was the chicken coop," she said, walking past her enclosed greenhouse — at one time the coop's tool room — and into the kitchen, where the beams in the ceiling were salvaged from an old tobacco barn.

"And this was the room for the chickens," she added upon entering the main portion of the cottage, filled with museum-worthy objects.

"I'm a borderline hoarder, but I do have paths around things," said Griffith, a retiree of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation. "Almost everything [here] came from an English country cottage."

Squidgy, her 17-year old miniature poodle, now deaf and blind, stands by her side, using only his sense of smell to follow her about the room. Sonny, her Amazon parrot, squawks in his cage. He is normally allowed to fly about freely.

The room is filled with old wall art, some of which are faded pieces of needlework and framed paintings; others are bold portraits of 19th-century dandies alongside silhouettes and sconces.

As the room comes into full view, she says by way of hurried and rehearsed explanation, "Let me make it clear: These are antiques, I did not shoot them! After all, museums have them."

"Them" is a collection of animal taxidermy on a wall between leaded glass windows; and one specifically, a shoulder-mounted zebra.

"It's quirky, I know," she said.

It's more the variety of collections that could be considered a bit offbeat. Surrounding cottage-style furniture with needlepoint pillows plumped up on mismatched upholstery is an old, primitive-style hutch filled with pieces of Staffordshire ceramic worthy of display in a fine case. On the stairway to the second-level bedroom, bath and dressing room are 11 theatrical tinsel paintings from the 1880s.

"My favorite room is the living room. The red walls show everything off in a great way, and it is certainly the most comfortable room," she said.

A pair of antique French doors open to a connecting room between the cottage and the one-room log cabin. Here, bookcases line one wall and are brimming with old china, porcelain and old books. On the opposite wall filled with framed prints of rare birds, a wooden curio cabinet containing a collection of miniature books sits on a 19th-century oak secretary. One of Griffith's most prized possessions is an English history book dated 1630.

"I love my books, and I certainly hope I never have to move them all," she noted. "That is why I am partial to the miniature book collection. In addition to their aesthetic value, they will be easy to move."

The connecting room, with its curtained entrance opens like a stage set to the one-story, 16-by-16-foot restored log cabin. A fire roars and crackles in the open hearth. A chintz-upholstered wing chair and an overstuffed sofa sit beside and in front of it. More old books, lamps and pieces of English ceramic are placed on distressed tables that, in another life, gleamed in mahogany. A wide-plank butchering table circa 1850 rests in an opposite corner, providing a cozy place to sit and enjoy coffee and chats with friends.

Squidgy, aware of his surroundings, jumps on the couch by the fire.

"My house has evolved, certainly, but with little planning," Griffith said. "It has just been what seemed like a good idea at the time. I love my house, but have you ever tried to heat a log cabin?"

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