BOLD STROKES The countryside around Jim Turner and Dede Delaney's 80-year-old house is flat and bleak -- empty of the landmarks of urban life they left behind when they moved from New York City to Craddockville on Virginia's Eastern Shore. But the place was exactly what they told themselves they were looking for -- an old house with character, some land and no neighbors. With fingers crossed, they headed south. "We decided to see if we could do it," says Turner. "Move away, pull the IV, not be chained to the hectic world -- not even watch TV." Their new landmarks were convenience stores and mobile homes. The nearest Italian restaurant was 15 minutes down the highway, and the local movie theater operated only on weekends. At first Turner and Delaney -- he'd been booking rock bands and she was a textile designer -- were too stunned by their radical life change to deal with their dilapidated property. They tried to ignore the house's cheap brown paneling and tacky dropped ceilings. But about three months into the experiment, they began to take pleasure in the sound of the wind whistling over the bare fields and decided it was time to settle in and put their imprint on the place. Their tools: cans of brightly colored paint and Delaney's textile-trained eyes. First, they attacked the eyesores, tearing out the false ceilings, which probably had been installed to control heating costs. They demolished the wallboard that turned larger spaces into small bedrooms, and ripped up the shag carpeting. Infusing the house with their own personalities took longer. Delaney started out by painting the walls of the front hall a gentle yellow overlaid with a dove-gray stenciled pattern. A tentative, but significant, statement of ownership. "That's when I said, Okay, I can live here,' " she recalls. Delaney continued to paint as Turner tore down. At times, hunks of plaster came off with the paneling, and the house was a mess. And since they had started on the ground floor and worked their way upstairs, plaster dust spread over what they'd just completed. But eventually blocks of color marked the house as theirs. They took their cues from the landscape around them, which had seemed so lonely when they first moved in. Now they found in it shades they'd barely noticed. "The color here is luminous," says Turner, now an actor. "The green of the winter wheat looks poured out of a bottle -- like a Rothko. In spring the orchard is full of peach blossoms, and in summer the local farmers' fields are full of tomatoes and squash and cucumbers and cantaloupes." Delaney, who has since become a designer for a local mosaic maker, picked up on those hues, exaggerated them and applied them all over the house. Once-drab spaces are drenched in saturated color and ornament. Walls, floors, friezes, furniture and curtains are permeated with the purple of eggplants, the orange tones of peaches and squash, the red of tomatoes. Nine years after the couple bought the house, it looks like no one else's. Unexpected color and pattern are everywhere -- striped floors, multihued furniture and kitchen cabinets, curtains painted with chevrons and diamonds. Spaces flow easily into one another. And light floods in where low ceilings used to block it. Would they do it again? Maybe. "But this time," says Delaney, "we'd work from the top down. SALVAGE OPERATION
All that was left of Dan Sellers's 1887 town house in Baltimore was a gutted shell and a resident turtle named Buzzy. "It was a wreck," he says, "but it gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted." Sellers didn't have much money. But his wife had a good job, and he had the professional skills to take on the plumbing, plastering and reconstruction. He began working on the house virtually full time. Some supplies he could afford to buy; others he salvaged. When he quit his job as a mount maker at the Baltimore Museum of Art, for example, he took with him 300 feet of solid blond oak that was being discarded. "It was so ugly, I knew it had to be interesting," he says. And a friend found him some huge slabs of green marble from a dismantled Baltimore bank. His vision for the place came from the 1950s character of the oak, the sleekness of the marble and the Art Deco lines of several fireplace mantels he'd collected. The image that guided him as he measured out the spaces was of a grand old ocean liner. He and his wife also needed a minimalist backdrop for their collection of one-of-a-kind textiles, discarded furniture and outsider art -- works by untrained artists usually crafted with salvaged materials. They had an instinctive affinity for these artists' quirky, original visions. "I like their bluntness and simplicity and innocence," he says. "Their work isn't contrived." Although the couple, who are now divorced, were forced to split their artworks, there was plenty left for each of them. He treasures his -- especially his large collections of carved animals and a stash of folk paintings by unschooled Jamaican artists. In anybody else's house, these groupings might look like escapees from a museum or gallery. But overlooking Sellers's red leatherette chairs, or nestled next to a fireplace adorned with a string of chili pepper lights, they seem right at home. INTERTWINING ROOTS Stephen and Ellen Mautner inherited almost all their furniture. Some couples might feel burdened by that -- particularly those who, like the Mautners, come from very different backgrounds. But each of them has a healthy respect for the past, and for the history their furniture has witnessed. "We both like to have old things around," he says. In an only-in-America saga, Stephen's family pieces made their way to Washington after spending years in Austrian salt mines, where they'd been hidden during World War II. Ellen's heirlooms returned to the East Coast from Kentucky, where her ancestors had migrated after the Civil War. Now ensconced in a red brick house in Chevy Chase, his Austrian pieces -- an intricately painted cabinet, a formal settee -- look like natural partners to her Windsor chairs and Native American beadwork. And the Mautners, who met in Chicago and married there in 1986, have rarely thought about whether their families' relics would match. "Decor has never been an issue," Ellen says. Stephen's family furniture was crammed into his Chicago apartment when he and Ellen met. "That's why I married him," she says, smiling. His inheritance is heavy with history. His father, one of four children from a successful Viennese industrial family, had been educated in a Catholic school. But, in fact, the family came from a long line of middle-European rabbis. So in 1938, soon after Stephen's parents were married, they fled Austria. The family's furniture was hidden for safekeeping during the war in the salt mines in Grundlsee, a resort town in central Austria where the family had a summer home. As relatives were rounded up and sent off to Dachau, Stephen's parents went on a tortuous journey through eastern and central Europe, and later Lisbon and Havana. It was not until years afterward, when they were established in New York, that they retrieved their furniture from Austria. In 1973 they returned to Austria to live, dividing their sturdy furniture between Stephen and his brother, Hans. Ellen grew up closer to her heritage. She describes her ancestors as "adventurous gentlemen-farmers and West Pointers" in Kentucky. Raised just outside Chicago, she summered with her family in Kentucky at her great-grandfather's 25-room antebellum house. The furniture there was ample, but so is the family; she is one of "11 quarrelsome grandchildren." Although she now has a considerable amount of family china, furniture and memorabilia -- including blue-and-white Canton porcelain, photographs and Native American art -- it made its way to her bit by bit as family members realigned, moved into smaller quarters or died off. The Mautners carried their diverse collections with them eight years ago when a job he landed in Rockville brought them to the area and a small house they describe as "the only one in Chevy Chase we could afford." They tore out its vinyl wet bar and the concrete steps between the living room and the family room, and built a two-story addition with a new kitchen, bedroom and bath. They finally had a home big enough for their inherited treasures. But arranging them wasn't easy. The house wasn't particularly symmetrical; it presented continual challenges. "It was an incredibly unruly house, and we had all this incredibly unruly furniture," says Ellen, who put it all together with the help of friends, who regularly rearranged her furniture until she got the look she liked. "I've never matched anything. I've just brought together things I've liked and crammed them in." The only problem is what to do when new pieces filter down from their families. Last year, the couple managed to squeeze in a painted cabinet from Stephen's cousin and a French clock from Ellen's mother. But Ellen's great-grandparents died a couple of years ago. And some family members are fussing over what to do with the four-poster beds, mahogany breakfronts and Oriental carpets that still fill their Kentucky home. "I don't know what's going to come of it," she says, "but I'd manage to find room somehow." Judith Weinraub is a reporter for The Post's Food section. CAPTION: Soon after they moved in, Jim Turner and Dede Delaney transformed their run-down Virginia farmhouse. Turner tore out doors and walls to let the light in, and Delaney infused the front hall with high-spirited color. CAPTION: "In the living room, left, the couple ripped out wallboard and the false ceiling to make storage space. They enlivened the room with colorful fabrics, watercolors by Washington's Y. David Chung and curtains hand-painted by Delaney, a former textile designer. The porch, above, radiates color. CAPTION: The couple's conquest-by-color extends to the smallest details and farthest corners of the house: highly decorated floors and doors on the sec- ond floor, opposite and below; lively hand-painted curtains and a frieze inspired by African art, above left, that Delaney fashioned in the dining room; and a fancifully painted bedroom chest, above right. CAPTION: When Dan Sellers remodeled his Baltimore town house, he created a cool backdrop for a collection of discarded furniture, opposite, and outsider art. Sellers likes to group objects thematically: funky art on his Americana wall, below, or a chorus line of modern chairs that stretches away from one of the old fireplace mantels he's collected. CAPTION: In Ellen and Stephen Mautner's Chevy Chase house, pieces they've inherited join contemporary upholstered furniture and a handful of antiques they've bought themselves. Ellen's family tree, above, goes back as far as the 17th century. CAPTION: The couple's most recent family acquisition is a painted cabinet, far left, that belonged to a cousin of Stephen's. Like so much of his inherited furniture -- and like the family itself -- the cabinet followed a circuitous route from Austria to Maryland. CAPTION: Photographs, left, contrast the lifestyles of the couple's ancestors in 1914. The prize bull belonged to Ellen's family in Kentucky; the stately scene beneath it records the wedding of one of Stephen's great-aunts. The cabinet was hidden in an Austrian salt mine during World War II. Below, a portrait of Stephen's mother occupies center stage in the living room.