Homeowners' love of flowers and plants crops up everywhere in remodeling project


April 24, 1994|By Elizabeth Large

The modest front of the house in a Baltimore County development doesn't prepare the visitor for the magnificent gardens in back. One certainly doesn't expect to find a '37 Lincoln and a '48 Cadillac limousine (both in mint condition) in the garage. And the interior of the house, with its lush floral motifs and cherished antiques will be particularly surprising.

It's a small home, full of luxurious details. After a quarter of a century in the same space, the owners decided to redo it from top to bottom rather than move into a grander home. They asked interior designer Thomas Houck to work with family antiques, incorporating them into rooms that also reflected their love of flowers and plants. "The house had been decorated in bold colors," Mr. Houck says. "This time around we decided on a lighter, airy look that would be timeless."

The couple are owners of a company that represents nurseries throughout the United States. The plantings in their yard include spectacular flowers, what may be the largest collection of Japanese maples in a private garden, and a rare species of redwood tree.

Throughout the house, the outdoors is brought indoors with flowery wallpapers and fabrics by Brunschwig & Fils and Scalamandre. The floral design on a custom-made floorcloth in the kitchen is a dogwood blossom the husband developed and patented.

Local artist and landscape architect Wayne D. Hand painted the trompe l'oeil garden in the small foyer. It depicts the couple's actual plantings in lush profusion. A salamander lazes in the sun, and a trompe l'oeil marble bench "supports" a real antique gold-framed mirror.

Mr. Houck began his redecorating project in the living room, opening up the small room by picking up the cream background of the Oriental rug for the upholstery, silk draperies, lampshades and walls. With its marble fireplace, the room is white-on-white with a few darker accents like the mahogany grandfather clock. It manages to look both formal and comfortable. Such well-loved treasures as a piano lamp bought by the wife for 75 cents at an estate sale live comfortably with valuable Chinese and Japanese antiques.

The elegant wallpaper of the dining room is a reproduction of 18th-century Chinese panels; its birds and flowering branches are set on a gold-leaf background. (The colors will be used in a custom rug by Prism that hasn't arrived yet.) The ornate oak table with cabriole legs fits comfortably in the tiny room; but it PTC has 12 leaves that the homeowners use for large parties, extending the table into the living room. Cabinets hold the wife's extensive silver overlay and glass collections.

The room that best illustrates the designer's ability to work with his clients' favorite objects is the downstairs study. The husband himself found the massive, ornate oak mantel at an antique shop. His beloved desk is just as large. Somehow they both work in the tiny room, which is also filled with his handsomely displayed collection of marbles in all sizes and colors. The result is cozy, comfortable and loaded with charm.

Upstairs much is done with very little space. There's a master bedroom, with a four-poster bed that the husband's mother bought for $7, and a French mantel his wife found at an antique shop. The other rooms include two bedrooms that once belonged to the now grown-up daughters; a son's bedroom that's been divided into the exercise room and the wife's study; two bathrooms; and a large closet converted to a tiny sewing room.

Throughout the upstairs, floral patterns and creams and whites predominate, except for one bathroom. The wife loves red, so Mr. Houck designed this one room with dark red wallpaper. The curtains and shower curtain are a vibrant floral print in bold reds, greens and black. The room comes as a total -- and amusing -- surprise after the delicate flowers and calm colors of most of the rest of the house.

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