Interior designers have fluttered over the industrial "high tech" look for some time now, and others have focused on the spare and bare minimalist approach to design, but a lot of homeowners have been busy creating less pretentious interiors in a style dubbed "the country look."
Country can best be described as a comfortable combination of informal, less prissy antiques and contemporary furnishings that convey a homey, old-fashioned feeling. It's a hot design concept that seems to have strong grassroots advocates across the nation. American Country: A Style and Source Book by Mary Emmerling is a best-selling design book and the national magazine Country Living is available on many area newsstands. Terence Conran, author and international retailer of home furnishings, has taken to specializing in sales of country print fabrics and bleached-wood, antique accent furniture to soften contemporary interiors. Laura Ashley, once a purveyor of old-fashioned/new-fashioned clothing, now promotes wallpapers and tiles in country patterns. And a new film, Country Gear, has been formed to meet the country look demand.
But country is not necessarily bought out of Conran's catalogues or from stores. People like quilt-maker and writer Ginny Beyer of Fairfax, Ann Creager of Capitol Hill and Rockville gardener Diane Lewis all evolved their own personal styles within the country look. In each case, the overwhelming impression is that one has been transported to a carefully thought out but still unpretentious environment.
Ginny Beyer's kitchen seems at first an unlikely place for a country retreat. The Beyer home is a classic 1950s modern, flat-roofed split level with a carport and big picture windows. Yet weavings and quilts dot the walls of the home, filled largely with the sort of anonymous furniture best described as contemporary unmemorable. The furniture, with a few dramatic exceptions, forms a backdrop for the colorful artwork in the home.
The kitchen, once a Formica-clad monument to modern housewifery, has been artfully altered. The room already had a brick fireplace and the rest is an expression of Beyer's desire to have a personal, comfortable retreat. "After all," she says, "I spend most of my time in this room." Beyer began by removing all the Formica doors from her cabinets. She asked furniture designer Peter Kramer, who specializes in a kind of country look, to create new doors for the cabinets. In the meantime, she stained the framework a teal blue. The doors fashioned by Kramer have incised designs and delicate hinges that have an almost whimsical quality. To reinforce the handmade motif, Beyer had a special hood made for the stove top and covered it with ceramic tiles.
An old-fashioned, worn butcher block rests on sturdy legs opposite the work area and beneath an iron pot holder. In a corner, next to a big modern picture window, is an old trestle table with a simple set of appealing, used Windsor-back chairs. A braided rug lies in front of the fireplace and copper pots sit on the mantle.
The comfortable feeling of the Beyer kitchen is shared by Ann Creager's rough-hewn Capitol Hill dining room. The ground floor room is the first room entered in the narrow, spare home. Ann's former husband, Bill Creager, who restores Capitol Hill houses, worked on it with her, stripping off the old plaster walls to reveal the raw brick beneath. They then removed the plaster ceiling and the lathe work and left the old joists, filling in with real plaster. The raw brick does not have the feeling of cliche that many restored warehouse buildings in town convey. Instead, it reinforces a rustic feeling. To further that, the couple installed an old door and used old rough joists from elsewhere in the house to make built-in bookcases along the wall around the door. The oriental rug, the dark stained floors and the candles suspended above the simple table give the room a coziness that is in keeping with the house's 19th-century vintage.
The country look extends to the outdoors as well where wildflowers have made the leap from meadow to suburb and city. Like Diane Lewis, who has been plucking blossoms from country and woodland settings for most of her life, a number of homeowners have taken to planting the roadside plants in gardens. The flowers pictured here include cinquefoil, rose campion, showy evening and primrose. As a child Lewis spent "many summers transplanting wonderful wildflowers from the woodlands, and I guess I just wanted to continue that feeling in my own home." Lewis lectures on wildflowers at Brookside Gardens and is recognized as an expert on local varieties.
The current retailing boom in the country look, for both outdoors and indoors, is a more conservative design trend that may be just beginning to blossom.