The Hannigans' place on the Chesapeake is a wonderful house, in ways that have nothing to do with the glitz and gloss, marble and moire that characterize the places usually seen in coffee-table design books. It is proudly a summer cottage, comfortably funky rather than showplace-perfect. Is the teal-green paint on the shutters beginning to peel? Are there dog hairs on the rug? These are the kinds of thing that friends -- if not Architectural Digest types -- can take in stride. And after hanging around John and Marilyn Hannigan's house for a couple of hours, surrounded by fresh white wicker, antique quilts and vintage decoys, you'll feel like a friend.
Actually, the house, on the eastern bay, is featured in a new coffee-table design book. But "American Country Classics" (Clarkson Potter), like all of Mary Emmerling's books, is not only about splendid interiors, but about about enviable ways of life. The golden retriever chasing a tennis ball across the lawn, the American flag ruffling in the bay breeze, the old-fashioned swing on the wraparound porch and the bunches of hand-gathered pink hydrangea on the tables are as important to the Emmerling gestalt as the country antiques.
Some of Ms. Emmerling's subjects are her friends, too; among these are the Hannigans, who also made an appearance in 1987's "American Country Cooking."
"She probably doesn't remember, but we actually worked together at Lord and Taylor in Chevy Chase when we were in high school. She went to B-CC [Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School], and I went to Western in Washington," says Marilyn Hannigan, who owns Cherishables, a Washington antique store. "She went to college, then went to New York and worked for all of the magazines, and finally wrote 'American Country.' She listed [Cherishables] in the book, and we became friends pretty fast."
Cherishables, in the Victorian neighborhood of Dupont Circle, sells 18th and 19th century American furniture and decorative accessories, specializing in Federal pieces and quilts. Mrs. Hannigan calls the Cherishables style "high country," and its mixture of elegance and homeyness is characteristic of the couple's Bethesda home as well.
But the summer house had different decorating requirements, in order to capture a mood appropriate to water and sun and lazy weekends far from the city.
The Hannigans were not really looking for a second home when they went to visit friends on the Eastern Shore in 1983. The friends suggested they have a look at the cottage which, thanks to high interest rates and a slow real estate market, had remained without a buyer for some time.
They came. They saw. They were charmed.
"That was a Sunday evening, and we bought the place the following Saturday. We immediately felt it was our kind of place. Marilyn didn't even want to wait until Saturday," says John Hannigan, who works for James Rouse's Enterprise Development Co.
The house, he explains, was built in 1909, and was the summer home of the Rice family of Baltimore, owners of Rice's Bakery. The family slept in the main house, and a smaller cottage behind it held the kitchen and dining room, and living
quarters for the help.
Few changes were made over the years. Electricity was installed, and an indoor bathroom replaced the old outhouse; a rudimentary kitchen -- a stove and small refrigerator -- was added to the living room. But the country retreat had never been treated to updated amenities, and in 1983 looked much as it had 70 years before.
Which was fine with the Hannigans. But work, both structural and cosmetic, was still needed. Among the first things the couple did was to paint the dark brown wood paneling a rich cream, and take the dark brown wood furniture that came with the house to a local auction. The auction netted them $1,500, which paid for a living room's worth of rattan furniture from the 1920s, and enough white paint to give it a bright new look.
"We just let the house dictate what should be done," Mrs. Hannigan explains. "I brought some of my antiques down, but wood, and formal anything, just looked wrong. This is a summer cottage, and it just screamed for this kind of furniture. For me, rag rugs and lots of blue are what worked."
The rest of the three-bedroom house came together gradually, as the couple found pieces and incorporated them into the decor. The bedrooms all have painted iron beds and plenty of cozy charm, but each has an individual look. One is crisply nautical, with a navy and white quilt, pinstriped curtains and ship prints; another features lace curtains and pale yellow bouquet-print chintz on a fancier, brass-trimmed bed. A third sports flower-sprigged fabric and shelves laden with books, games and the jigsaw puzzles Mrs. Hannigan enjoys.
A sunny hallway, which stretches the length of the house, serves as display space for a variety of cherished collectibles, including a 19th century album quilt (probably Maryland-made) and a shelf full of rabbit collectibles.