If you're used to show houses as simply glittering theater, the practicality of the rooms in the 1995 Decorator Show House of the Historical Society of Talbot County will surprise you. The Beeches, a turn-of-the-century mansion on Peachblossom Creek between Easton and Oxford, is full of decorating ideas you could use in your own home.
But don't let the word "practicality" turn you off. The rooms on the whole are imaginative and appealing (even though there are some clunkers, as there are in any show house). In fact, House Beautiful last week named the Beeches' River Room, the work of D.H.S. Designs in Annapolis, one of the ten best show house rooms in the country.
Designers Darryl Savage and Anthony Awkard visualized the River Room as a serene retreat. "We tried to avoid gimmicks," says Mr. Savage.
Of all the rooms in the house, this one reflects the current "greening" trend in interior design, the blurring of lines between indoors and out.
Much of the airy room is glass. Visitors look out onto a landscaped brick terrace, rolling green lawn, a swimming pool and Peachblossom Creek. The room itself is filled with fresh flowers and plants, and the designers incorporated architectural pieces and even marble statuary that you might expect to find in a garden.
While you probably won't place a terra cotta finial on your coffee table after seeing the River Room, you might paint the walls a pale, pale celadon. (Duron's Cottonwood was used.)
Looking for ideas on how to give a room a summery feel? Note the white pique slipcovers and white iron coffee table.
Not all the decorators had such a wonderful space to work with. Anyone who has ever moved into a house with counter tops that were difficult to coordinate with the rest of the kitchen will be interested in designer Rebecca Marquardt's solutions. (Her firm is Marquardt Interiors in Centreville.) The granite counters are mottled pink, black and gray. The carpet design and fruit border on the walls pick up the counter's colors, while the cabinets have been painted off-white.
The new owners of Beeches, Nancy and Dennis Callaghan, plan to move in as soon as the fund raising event is over at the end of June. Many of the designers took into account the couple's preference for beiges and other neutrals, so you won't, for instance, find gilding, elaborate stenciling or trompe l'oeil on the walls. In other words, these show house walls look like the walls in lived-in homes.
The designers also used some of the owners' furnishings in the rooms -- a handsome antique mirror here, a chest of drawers there. It's a good lesson in how decorators can mix and match old and new. Some rooms, like the living room, illustrate how well antiques and reproduction pieces can blend together.
The eclectic living room is the work of designer Katherine Lee of Katherine Lee Interiors in Clayton, Dela. She softens the formality of the period furniture with an emphasis on bright colors and floral patterns. Her advice to visitors: "Don't be afraid to mix colors and patterns or to mix old and new."
Conversely, the charming guest cottage shows how a color scheme can be unifying. The small living room, guest bedroom and miniature kitchen and bath are all done in blues and yellows -- the blue taken from the collection of Blue Willow porcelain on display in the living room. Combinations of blues and yellows are something you'll be seeing more of in coming months, if this spring's High Point furnishings market was any indication. Designer Kathe Waskin of Kathe & Company in Easton uses them to make the cottage's traditional furnishings look very fresh.
Upstairs in the main house several of the designers have created stories about their rooms, but they aren't so fantastical that visitors can't be inspired by the decor. For instance, the master bedroom, dressing room and bath supposedly belong to a bride and groom on their wedding night. The wedding dress lies on a chair in the dressing room, and wedding gifts are scattered in open boxes here and there. (As at most show houses, designers recoup some of the cost of their rooms by selling decorative accessories. The presence of scattered wedding gifts here gives the designers an opportunity to display their wares discreetly without cluttering up the design of the room!)
Rugged Roses, a design firm in Easton, did the bedroom in shades of neutrals with an interesting mix of styles and periods. Note particularly the Napoleon chairs updated with cream and khaki plaid upholstery. Animal prints are used to good effect around the room, cleverly tied together by the vintage picture of a tiger on one wall.
Don't let your daughter see the Young Lady's Chamber, or she'll want to redecorate her own bedroom immediately. The second-floor room is small, but it seems larger than it is because it isn't full of furniture. Without being fussy, the room is very feminine, with a white and pale blue color scheme, sheer curtains and lovely Victorian bedding. Off the room is a terrace with porch furniture; in warm weather it functions as a little sitting room for the bedroom. The designers are Belinda McClure and Elizabeth Hancock of Belinda McClure Interiors in Severna Park.
Altogether there are some 30 different design areas at the Beeches. Gardeners will appreciate the fact that five of these are outdoors. For instance, Jan Kirsh Alspach Landscape Design of Bozman, Md., has decorated the pool area with flower beds that include gorgeous blooms, colorful foliage plants, even surprisingly decorative vegetables like ruby swiss chard. The grounds of the Beeches are so beautiful that it's worth planning your visit to the show house around the weather.
The Decorator Show House on Old Country Club Road between Oxford and Easton is open through June 30, Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays. Proceeds benefit the Historical Society of Talbot County. Call (410) 822-0773 for ticket information and directions.