SINCE furniture manufacturers, stores and model rooms seem to have moved to the country this season, it's time to note that one person's country may be another's Far Out.
To some, a country house has a keeping room with scrubbed pine tables, dimity curtains and rag rugs. To others, a country house can mean a 100-room palace with gold leaf and a royal suite.
Most people in Washington think of Plains, Ga., the Jimmy Carters' hometown, as pretty countrified. But it's too crowded for the Carters, who have just started to build a log cabin in the north Georgia hills.
When I was a little girl in Georgia, country to me was Faceville, where my grandfather lived. My uncle Bill Booth used to say that Faceville had to count the pigs to get up to a population of 100.
What's country changes as the years go by. In the 1880s, the Queen of 16th Street -- Mary (Mrs. John) Henderson -- built her castle on Meridian Hill, on 16th Street, thinking of it as country. Then she built the town out to meet it.
Today, upper 16th Street where I live seems deepest country to me -- all those raccoons, cardinals and weeds -- compared to lower or even mid-16th Street.
The English, with characteristic understatement, call the principal seats of their nobility "country houses," though they would be considered palaces in any other country. When British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was building the majestic British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, he thought of it as an English country house, no matter how grandiose.
Lady Mary Henderson (no relation to the earlier one), the wife of the British ambassador, is currently redecorating the house, using the top British designers and the best of English fabrics and furniture, to bring it nearer Lutyens' ideal. When she first came to the house, she redid the guest bedrooms over in Laura Ashley's country fabrics and Liberty's flowered chintzes.
The ballroom, one of the largest in Washington, though it is going back to Lutyens' grey art deco glass panels, will still keep that just-a-step-away-from-the-garden feeling so important to the British.
The French, wisely, have the word chateau, which certainly implies a good bit more than just a country house. The Romans basked in their villas with the accompanying (always a good idea) vineyards.
It's said of the Furst and Furstin of Lichtenstein that before World War II they had a "principality on the Rhine and a kingdom in Bohemia." Their Bohemian (Czechoslovakian) lands have been threshed by the sickle, but they still keep their principality on the Rhine in Lichtenstein.
To the Lichtensteins, who have two or three palaces in Vienna, their small but ancient castle in Vaduz is their country retreat -- to the Lichtenstein citizens, it's the capital of their country.
When the princely children were small they played croquet in the bailey.
They grow daffodils in the moat. And they keep their Da Vincis in the wine cave and their Franz Halses in the tower. The armor collection, since Lichtenstein has never signed a disarmament agreement, is oiled and ready in the keep. Some years ago, a visitor admired a well-scrubbed table in the kitchen where pie crust was being made. "Oh, that old thing," said Franz Joseph, the Furst, "we've had it since the 13th century."
One of the last remaining pockets of country done up in the grand style is found in this area, in Middleburg and the villages around it. Palatial houses, fox hunting, riding meets, all the pleasures of the English countryside are still to be found on the expansive estates.
Philanthropists Paul and Bunny Mellon think of their home in Middleburg as their country place. That's where they keep their smallest Degas on the inside of the cupboard. They live in their cottage and keep most of their art in the big brick house.
Mary Emmerling, who put together the book "American Country," keeps her collection of country in her New York apartment. Thea Westreich and John Newcomer have a big show coming up in March of weather vanes, surely a country item if there ever was one, now transmuted into a high art form by their beauty, rarity and the current interest on the part of dealers and buyers.
Architect Arthur Keyes and his wife, who have a fine contemporary house built on a hillside overlooking Rock Creek Park in Washington, retreat to the country on weekends just upstream on the Potomac in Maryland.
In any case, country isn't always the same. Woodward & Lothrop's Al Marzorini, furniture vice president, and Wayne Breeden, interior design director, were inspired by an antique cock weather vane at an Annapolis antique show to use "Country Graces" as the theme for Woodie's downtown model rooms. Jack Dorner, the home store fashion director, worked with 13 Woodie's interior designers on six model rooms.
All of them are country, all are different. Kay Flickinger and Rebecca Prillaman made their room look like a gabled cottage with pitched ceilings and beams. The walls are stuccoed -- not a bad idea if your plaster's bad. The Tomlinson sofa and Chapman Welsh dresser are both massive pieces that have a comfortable feel to them.
Barry Morris, Joanne Folks and Carol Bladergroen did a room that shows you don't have to move back to the 18th century to live in the country. Their room mixes country and contemporary with a Forecast silk sectional sofa on a Galleria needlepoint area rug with a Peter Danko of Alexandria bentwood rocker and Baker Windsor chairs.
The English country library, as we have seen, manages to be both formal and country at the same time, a mixture not easily obtainable without some generations of property entailing. Bryan Hoover designed a English library with a Wellington Hall library wall, a Weiman chaise lounge and a Chapman chandelier.
Amish quilts, a sunburst of color, escape the bed to be hung as the art objects they are in a country dining room by Gary Lawrik and Dorothy Green. The dining chairs are by Flair, the dining table by Nland and Demmard, the hunt board by Wright Table Company and the lucite pedestal by Percission Plastics.
Middleburg was the inspiration for Gale Haywood and Virginia Gorry in their model room. Against Reagan red they used Tomlinson furniture set against a bold Galleria tartan rug.
French country is another territory from Fragile French, as Sally Senner, Felicita Amaral and Jack Spate showed in their model room. Tomlinson's country French furniture is set against Scalamandre fabrics in a room meant to suggest a country barn remodeled for people.
Touches of Country
Bloomingdale's White Flint model rooms use touches of country in several but not all of their model rooms. Designer Susan Pennington, who is the regional director for interior design, used antiques from Cynthia Fehr and Miller & Arney of Washington, Bruch Coleman Perkins, Sporting Gallery and Chase of Middleburg, Cranberry Box, Kensington Galleries and Phyllis Van Auleen of Kensington to set against the newer and slicker furnishings by Tomlinson, Highbrighton, Devenshire Collection, Swaim by John Mascheroni, Henredon's Bantry Bay collection and Bloomingdale's own direct imports.
In one two-level dining/living room (a few steps can make quite a difference), Pennington uses a scrubbed pine desk and a Swiss-style carved chair against a sophisticated channel-stitched sofa. In an otherwise very contemporary one-room apartment, bare dried branches are twined into sculptural shapes for ornaments. Fishing nets hang from the ceiling, a lobster cage serves as a table and a chair/table antique is a focal point in a whitewashed room setting. In a very slick library, reminiscent of England, sporting and flower oil paintings and baskets of flowers soften the room.
Country in Town
If you'd like to have the best of country in your house, even if it's a town house actually in town, consider these ideas:
* No Fragile French. Any chair you'd be afraid to have anyone actually sit on should be banished either to the attic or sent home to mother. The first point of country is to be comfortable.
* Leave the high gloss polish on the shelf. The well-scrubbed look is what you're aiming for. Even Mount Vernon has recently discovered George Washington scrubbed his floors instead of finishing and polishing them. After all, the second point of country is to save work.
* Use deep, vivid colors, again as Washington and the 18th century did. All that natural wood needs some cheering up. White, however, as in ceilings and walls and curtains, is an excellent contrast to wood. White is light, and that's another needed ingredient for the country look.
* Furniture, objects, curtains should not be rigidly organized into balancing groups or lined up like soldiers about to march. The idea of country is hang loose, be casual, think informal, we're here to have fun.
Crafts of 1982 are as decorative as those of 1782 and a great deal cheaper. Today, shops such as The American Hand, Cherishables, Country Sampler, Appalachiana, Country Living, Country Sampler, Appalachian Spring, Made in America and the American Spirit are full of crafts. You can have everything in the rustic style, from brooms to quilts. The last indispensable part is to use as much handcraft as you can afford.