Small House In Kent County Harbors Big Design Surprises

April 21, 1991|By Beth Smith

The brick facade of the Eastern Shore house is authenticall 18th century and quite handsome. The back lawn, meandering down to the Chester River in a landscaped pattern of roses, rhododendrons and boxwoods, is captured by a custom-made white picket fence.

But the interiors of George and Jane Dean's newly restored home, which will be on the Kent County House and Garden Tour, are the creme de la creme of the redo. Decaying old rooms have been turned into lovely little gems of sophistication and design, accented with just the right -- of friendly charm and family comfort -- from the Charleston woven basket in the kitchen to the museum reproduction settee in the living room.

Basically small -- two rooms on each of the four floors, a porch and a sun room -- this Chestertown house has living spaces that seem to be created independently. Yet the interior has a consistency of quality -- from the paint on the walls to furniture -- that bridges the disparity between rooms and creates a decor that sings with style.

The guiding force behind the interior design is Janet K. Richardson, A.S.I.D., of RHA Limited in Baltimore. In the mid 1980s, while working for the H. Chambers Co., Ms. Richardson designed interiors for other Dean projects -- the restoration of Chestertown's Imperial Hotel and its accompanying carriage house.

Then, about five years ago, the Deans bought the historic brick house -- a Colonial Dames of America plaque on the exterior dates it from 1726. George Dean had wanted a place on the water since trying to buy Knock's Folly, a pre-Revolutionary War house on the Sassafras River in Cecil County, a deal that didn't come together.

"When the Deans first approached me about working on the house," recalls Ms. Richardson, "they were very explicit about how they wanted it to look. They wanted the formal living room to be authentic to the period, to look like it might have looked when the house was built in the 1700s. They wanted the library to be comfortable, to look like a room containing furniture and accessories that had accumulated over the years. And they wanted the dining room to be contemporary, with the kitchen high tech."

Ms. Richardson had to start from scratch because the Deans, who had lived for years surrounded by family heirlooms and antiques, had given most of their furnishings to their five children.

"George and I had inherited a lot of family stuff," says Jane Dean, "so we really hadn't bought anything much ourselves. When we bought this house, we decided to start out fresh. We gave away just about everything we had and started over."

But, before the Deans could begin concentrating on the interior, they watched one restoration problem lead to another. While the dirt basement was being dug out to make room for a new kitchen and dining room, shards of pottery and pieces of Canton china, plus lots of ancient chicken bones, were discovered. Unfortunately, one thing was missing -- the house's foundation.

When a new roof was about to go on, rotted beams and rafters were uncovered. Then the two chimneys at each end of the house collapsed. In the end, all the Deans had from their original house was a good deal of the brick exterior, a few interior walls and the floors on the fourth level. The building had to be practically rebuilt, including adding a foundation, at a cost per foot that, says Mr. Dean, "no financially sane person would begin to consider."

The restoration project took about four years and included a completely new heating system, new plumbing and all new wiring.

"Actually," says Ms. Richardson, "the foundation for the design plan was an antique Oriental hall runner that had been in the Dean family. The predominant colors were burgundy, cream and blue on a camel field."

The designer went to Alex Cooper in Towson and found two Persian Serapi carpets that complemented the runner. The rugs set the color scheme for the formal living room and the library.

In the living room, the mustardlike ocher in the carpet design is echoed on the paneled fireplace wall with its hidden bar and closet, the window shutters and the woodwork. It is also the color of the wool damask used to upholster the settee, a custom-made piece based on one the Deans like at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But they asked Chestertown cabinetmaker Frank Rhodes to make the small sofa less ornate, a style that they feel is more in keeping with the simple plan of their 18th century home.

The library is bathed in rust -- a primary color in the Serapi rug.

"The interior wall in this room is made up of boards from the original house," says Ms. Richardson. "What we did was have a custom paint created to match the rust-colored linen velvet on the Brunschwig & Fils love seat. Then we rubbed the pigment into the wall boards, which allows some of the original wood to show through, giving the wall a sort of grained texture."

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