Colonial history finds congenial home in Keymar

FOOD & HOME

August 28, 1994|By Jill L. Zarend-Kubatko | Jill L. Zarend-Kubatko,Contributing Writer

At first glance, the Keymar home of Bill and Dot Strauss is unassuming -- a typical Colonial.

Once inside the 1750 clapboard house, however, visitors are greeted by an interior quite unlike that of the average Colonial.

The once-run-down dwelling -- without working electricity and heat -- has been turned into a showcase for collectibles and antiques, some dating to the 18th century.

Just inside the door and above a narrow, wooden stairway leading to the second floor hang 16 Currier & Ives presidential lithographs, collected by Mr. Strauss.

Displayed in the entrance hallway are more Currier & Ives lithographs of presidential families, such as Lincoln's and Washington's. Above them hangs a Betsy Ross flag replica. Up the stairs is a star light fixture that once hung outside the old Watergate Restaurant in Washington.

"I just love stars and red, white and blue," Mrs. Strauss says.

James Kramer, an artist, friend and editor-at-large for Country Living magazine, liked the home's patriotic flavor and pitched it to the national home magazine's editors. The editors were so impressed by the home's painstaking detail that they chose to showcase it in a recent issue in an eight-page spread called "At Home in Maryland."

Once a four-room log cabin, the dwelling is located off Francis Scott Key Highway in Carroll County. It was once part of a working farm of about 2,000 acres belonging to the family of Francis Scott Key, and it's near the historic marker for Terra Rubra, the birthplace of the country's songwriting patriot.

Additions such as the master bedroom and living room were built in 1791. The kitchen was added to the home in 1840, as was a small stairwell leading to a hallway and the guest room upstairs. A summer kitchen unattached to the home and part of the original 1750 design was connected when a library was built in 1990.

The Strausses used to drive by the home on their way to shop for antiques in Pennsylvania from their home in Montgomery County. "I always loved it," Mrs. Strauss says. "It did look its age, though."

A month into Mr. Strauss' retirement, his wife spotted the home for sale in a local newspaper. They bought the 18th-century Colonial in December 1989. From that moment on, it became their project.

"We always wanted to have a real old house," Mr. Strauss says. "The whole undertaking has been a challenge."

Mr. Strauss, a retired electrical engineer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, worked almost non-stop on the house for five years -- from the restoration of the clapboard under vinyl siding, to complete rewiring, to redoing a powder room tucked beneath the stairway, to painting and stenciling rooms, to peeling away layers to expose original logs in the kitchen.

"Everything had to have something done," Mrs. Strauss says.

A mother of three and a history buff, Mrs. Strauss says she and her husband began collecting antiques when the couple married 46 years ago. They have acquired coverlets, dolls, china, 18th-century to Victorian-era children's shoes, petticoats, brass candlesticks, samplers, stars, red, white and blue items, old linens, riding boots, needle cases and pin cushions -- to name a few among their many possessions.

Before buying their present house, the couple had restored two Victorian homes, complete to period furniture, one in Montgomery County and the other in Frederick County. They sold the homes and the Victorian furniture to make way for the "really old" items to fit the character of their Keymar house.

These items are placed throughout the home with thought and consideration. A collection of sponge-ware dishes is displayed in a corner cupboard in the library. A hutch in the same room is home to ironstone plates, platters, tureens and other pieces.

The dining room showcases a collection of 18th- and 19th-century Canton dishes on the fireplace mantel and inside an 18th-century walnut cupboard. Upstairs in the guest bedroom, 19th-century china-head dolls are placed lovingly in a pine schoolmaster's desk. Every item looks as if it belongs.

Mrs. Strauss' favorites include the collection of English Staffordshire figures displayed in a corner cupboard and on the fireplace mantel in the living room, and her antique dolls in the "doll room."

"We've collected just about everything there is to collect," she says. "It's a matter of preference and taste. You collect the things you love."

As the Strausses slowly filled their homes with antiques, special pieces gained histories of their own.

In the mid '70s, while driving their 1972 Town and Country wagon around New England during a two-week shopping trip, Mr. Strauss recalls, they stuffed seven Windsor chairs, a Persian carpet and several herb plants inside the large car. A 12-foot-long Shaker school bench was strapped on top.

"You couldn't see out the window," says Mrs. Strauss.

"I had to keep stopping to water those plants," adds her husband.

During a plane ride home from England once, Mrs. Strauss placed a majolica cheese dish between her feet to protect it. "My legs were in the same position for eight hours," she says. "When I got off the plane I could hardly walk."

During a flea market stop in Lewes, Mrs. Strauss came upon an 18th-century blue and white Canton dish sitting on a table amidst other collectibles. "I paid $3 for it," she says. "It was the best buy I ever got." A Canton dish today, she says, would be about $100.

The Strausses plan to restore a bedroom floor, and they want to transform the old summer kitchen into a guest house. "My grandchildren will fight over who gets to stay there," she says, holding her "baby" -- a Yorkie named Oliver -- in her arms.

"The only thing I can say about our home is, it's livable," Mrs. Strauss says. "It's easy for us to take care of, and we just love it here. All of our work was worth it."

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