Carleton Varney, president of the New York Dorothy Draper decorating firms uses country style in his 1795 Dutchess County farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley of New York State (see story on page 1).
He and his wife, Suzanne, and their children retreat on weekends and for vacations to that rural setting, surrounded by 200 acres. His wife claims he is always out "decorating the land," as well.
His hollyhocks and zinnias and marigolds, his cornfields and bean and tomato patches show off well from inside or outside the house.
The country look in decorating, he says, is warm and natural, mellow and pretty. It includes natural materials like stone, stucco, brick and wood beams, as well as barn siding, plank floors, calico and patchwork and hooked, braided or rag rugs.
For the Varneys, their informal country mood is in sharp contrast to the far more restrained feeling of their nine-room city apartment, which is kept uncluttered and easy to maintain.
"At Hillandale, we let our pack-rat and collecting inclinations show," Varney says. "We do all our entertaining there, serving buffet usually, but seating people at a gateleg country oak table surrounded by high-backed chairs."
Every wall in the house is painted a warm soft canyon tone, called Navajo clay. Wood floors are covered with natural sisal squares. All sofas and chairs are slipcovered, in cotton prints and coordinated plains designed by Suzanne Varney. An old wooden hayfork hangs as sculpture on one wall and primitive paintings on another. Fold craft includes an old wooden horse and a wooden swan. The only truly modern piece of furniture in the place is a steel and glass coffee table in the living room, which is a concession to easy cleaning.
The Varneys have been restoring their old house for nine years. They do it piece by piece and little by little.
They have been changing the windows, for instance, for seven years, looking for just the right old shutters. They look out for old hinges, cabinets with glass doors and old crockery that they can make into lamps.
The Varneys do the auction circuit -- summer sales in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Buying American country antiques is a better investment today than buying stocks and bonds, according to this designer.
Because their farm is near the site of an old Indian settlement, the Varneys have handsome Indian baskets, clay artifacts and a frame collection of Indian spearheads.
On their hunting forays to auctions and antique shops, the family also watches for slightly damaged patchwork quilts and torn and faded Oriental rugs to cut up into covers for toss or floor pillows. And Varney considers an old church pew or an old wrought iron park bench as real "finds."