In January 2005, after 26 years of Annapolis living, Sydney Brookes answered what she called "the call of the country," placing an ad in the Tidewater Trader that read: "Seeking small, well maintained, updated, two-story home in or near Chestertown [in] nice, quiet neighborhood [with] garage ... perennials, wooden floors, open floor plan."
In August 2005, she moved into her dream home, which she lovingly - and laughingly - refers to as hodge-podge lodge, so named for its idiosyncrasies, both inside and out.
Built circa 1871, her farmhouse sits on a pie-shaped, lushly landscaped half-acre wedged between two narrow lanes about a mile from the Eastern Shore town's historic downtown. The 2 1/2 -story house has a back addition with a steeply sloped roof.
One room is "green wall, green wall, green wall, not green wall" and the sitting room is "knotty pine here, knotty pine there, there and not here ... . 'hodge-podge lodge,'" she quipped.
Brookes has filled the approximately 1,300 square feet of living space with scaled-down country furniture, hooked rugs, antique pottery, Shore-inspired artwork, books and flowering plants. There's no computer, and one black-and-white TV with broken knobs.
Brookes bought the house, which was in good shape, for $189,000, and has spent about $20,000 to paint, refinish the home's original pine floors, install central air conditioning, a kitchen closet and beadboard walls and build a one-car garage next to an existing outdoor shed.
The farmhouse's appeal lies in its simplicity and lack of pretension.
"A friend of mine said after visiting, 'I feel like I just left a wonderful dream,' " said Brookes, a traffic control officer for the town of Chestertown.
Dream or storybook, the feel is akin to another place in time. Just inside the back door, the kitchen is a homespun picture with carved oak cabinets, a Shaker-style table and an oak hutch with wooden pots stacked beside it. A wood-planked door to the laundry room bears a chomped-up hole at floor level where a variety of tiny critters have come and gone over time.
The kitchen's beadboard walls are adorned with several paintings, mainly of waterfowl and farm scenes, purchased over the years in the galleries of Annapolis. The gentle ticking of a wall clock is punctuated by the sounds of geese flying overhead and an occasional pickup truck or car driving by.
Dominating the living room is a brick fireplace with a thick-planked oak mantel that has been embellished with hand-painted birds and flowers by a long-ago anonymous artist. Atop the mantle, a wooden decoy and two glazed flowerpots offset a hung painting of a farmhouse room with back door flung open to a sunny yard.
In the living room, as well as throughout her home, Brookes' sense of scale is evident in her furnishings, drawn from the inspiration of her grandparents' Baltimore County farmhouse. Plaid club chairs rest upon round and oval braided rugs, creating conversation areas, while a slightly more formal camel-backed sofa is placed beside a scaled-down, maple Windsor chair.
Brookes' sun porch off the living room is carpeted with a variety of throw rugs. The room's southwestern exposure provides ample light for several geranium, aloe and cactus plants. At the front of the house, the sunroom's door opens onto a brick patio protected from the road by a wrought-iron fence.
The home's rear addition, built at some point after the original structure as a garage, now serves as additional living space in what Brookes calls "the back room." Here, a cathedral ceiling soars 25 feet high, supported by wall-to-wall oak beams. Daylight is abundant in this room decorated with oak tables, a chintz-covered sofa, and folk art on beadboard walls.
Brookes' second floor consists of her sitting room with balcony, bathroom and a bedroom dominated by a four-poster cherry bed.
Snug in her homey furnishings and surrounded by her books and plants, Brookes plans to enjoy her little farmhouse for many years to come.
"I wake up very happy [and] I go to sleep very happy in this house," she said.
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