- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The end tables in June Shea’s Fairfax Station home are an old sewing basket and a toy chest. She says she sees hidden potential in things.

Finding new uses for old items is part of the eclectic “American country” design that has become popular with many people, says the owner of Shea Studio Interiors in Springfield.

“People want to take the old and incorporate things that are new and fresh,” Ms. Shea says. “If they have a house that is old, or pieces that are old, they want to respect the integrity of those pieces and that house, but they want to bring it into the 21st century, where they live.”

American country design is all about personal style. The hallmarks of the trend are creating a home that’s causal, livable and relaxed.

In contrast, French country design is feminine and floral, Ms. Shea says.

“With American country, there is more freedom to put your own input on it,” Ms. Shea says. “French country is more ‘matchy-matchy’ with chairs with curved backs and coordinated fabrics.”

Antiques make up the heart of any American country setting, says Michael Ogle, interior designer with American Garage Antiques and Design in Los Angeles.

They usually are one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces, he says. Some key features in country furniture are dramatic cutout wood skirts and high-cut feet.

Modern furniture all looks the same, he says.

Antique painted furniture is one of the most popular aspects of his business, he says. Many people like the cheerful feeling associated with the bright furniture. Further, the wear and tear on the objects cannot be re-created.

“You wonder whose house it’s been in and who opened and closed the doors,” Mr. Ogle says. “It’s gone through generations. That’s what makes these pieces so wonderful and sought-after.”

Wooden signs, keys or folk-art objects are good accent pieces for country homes, he says. The feel of the entire home should be uplifting.

“It’s more than just filling space with a nice-looking chair,” Mr. Ogle says. “Each piece is almost an individual piece of artwork. It sits on its own merit.”

Many times, the items in the home are connected to the past in some way, but they are not limited to period pieces, says Sandra Soria, executive editor of Country Home magazine, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa.

People want to have houses that say something about their history and what they love, she says.

“‘Country’ is more a philosophy than a decorative expression,” Ms. Soria says. “It’s much more soulful. I think that’s what really rings a bell for people these days, having a home with meaning.”

Displaying handmade items is another big part of the approach to decorating, she says.

The country motif is simple and uses natural materials, says Mary Douglas Drysdale, creative director of Drysdale Inc. in Northwest. Plain tends to be better, she says.

A few years ago, Ms. Drysdale owned an 1824 stone home on a farm in Lancaster, Pa., where she came to love irregular and imperfect things.

“They are perfect in another way,” Ms. Drysdale says. “Instead of looking for the slickest plaster and skin coating over drywall, the surfaces would be rough, worn and uneven. There is a beauty in that.”

Today, she owns a Federal-style house with a pond in Middleburg, Va., where she has a Scottish table from the 18th century, quilts, painted chairs and fireplaces.

Although it’s easier to create a country design in a rural setting, it can be replicated to a degree in an apartment in the city.

“It’s not about high-end, upscale design,” Ms. Drysdale says. “It’s about weather vanes and log tables. It’s not about having the most expensive cording or drapery treatments. It’s about being who we are and not just what we do.”

Creating a melting pot of interesting pieces is ideal, says Katrina Swann of Annandale, who is a client of Ms. Shea’s. Mrs. Swann inherited furniture from her family that Ms. Shea worked into a bedroom and bathroom suite.

“I’m traditional, and I’m eclectic,” Mrs. Swann says. “My house is a reflection of me. All of one continuum is boring. I like bits of this and pieces of that.”

In addition to the furniture, most of the accessory pieces are from her family, Mrs. Swann says. The bedroom is decorated with autumn colors, including soft peaches, greens and golds.

She has French double glass doors in the bedroom that open to a bathroom with black marble sinks on brass legs.

The country feel is apparent in her kitchen, where she has oak cabinets that match with a dark oak refrigerator. She has granite countertops and diagonally laid hardwood floors.

She has arranged knickknacks in the space between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. She also displays Hummel figurines and silver pieces.

“It’s interesting — until you have to clean it,” Mrs. Swann says. “My kids say that I cannot get one more thing to put in the house.”

Even the outside of a home can reflect the country theme, says Bruce Wentworth, principal with Wentworth Inc. in Chevy Chase, Md. The organization specializes in home remodeling.

Many homes in the metro area are in the Colonial style. Additions are often used to extend these houses. Some new homes are built to replicate the older architecture, he says.

“We try to integrate the new with the old in a sympathetic way,” Mr. Wentworth says. “The architecture and interior design should flow. It can be disjointing if you’re in a house of historical character and walk into a house that’s decorated differently.”

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