Eleven rooms of Christmas 'A Dickens of a Show House' awaits visitors to Easton during the town's annual celebration of the holiday season.

November 10, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Dan Proctor of Kirk Designs in Baltimore always wanted to do a show house at Christmastime. He was fascinated by the possibilities of designing a room and then decorating it for the holidays.

But the Historical Society of Talbot County's "A Dickens of a Show House" in Easton proved to be a challenge.

True, the theme of the whole house was a Victorian Christmas. The house itself is a miniature but charming Federal-style home built in the late 18th century.

"But I think of Christmas as opulent, abundant and warm," says Proctor. "And the room [the front parlor] was at first definitely not that."

It, like all the rooms in the house, is tiny. The parlor could easily have been overwhelmed with period furniture, heavy draperies, a tree and holiday decorations.

Instead, Proctor has used two 19th-century love seats and other delicately proportioned antiques from Gaines McHale.

Forgoing a tree, he's decorated with evergreen garlands entwined with dried roses, hydrangeas, coxcomb and even pheasant feathers. In front of two windows he's placed topiaries draped with jeweled roping. And the room's color scheme of gilt, raspberry and forest green is seasonal in itself.

The Historical Society picked the theme for its show house to fit in with Easton's second annual "Dickens of a Christmas." The December-long festival was such a success last year that the current issue of Holiday Celebrations, a publication of Better Homes and Gardens, features it in a seven-page story with color photographs.

The Historical Society of Talbot County usually looks for large waterfront homes for its decorator show houses. But because this year's show house was to be tied to the historical festival, the society needed a home in downtown Easton.

The "Miss Mary Jenkins House," named after its last owner, seemed the perfect choice. It has been the property of the Historical Society since 1982 and is across the street from the society's headquarters.

The show house has only 11 decorated rooms, but it seems large enough when you realize it's just one event among many for visitors to Easton's Waterfowl Festival (which ends today), the Festival of Trees (Nov. 29-Dec. 3) and the Dickens of a Christmas festival. As for the problem of long waits -- only about 25 or 30 people are able to go through the house at one time -- show house coordinator Dorothy Moore isn't worried.

"People are used to waiting in line for these festivals," she says.

Even if a house has only 11 rooms, there is always a danger of monotony with one theme -- in this case, an old-fashioned Christmas. Every designer could have decided on a red and green color scheme, used period furniture or decorated his or her own Christmas tree in the Victorian style.

Luckily, it didn't turn out that way.

One of the designers simply ignored the theme. Bob Esterson of R. Esterson & Co., Easton, designed a French country bedroom in summery Provence colors with French antiques and reproductions, impressionist prints on the walls and a stuffed fox (because the orangy red fur went with the room's blue-and-orange color scheme!).

Still, there is Christmas in Esterson's design, with French "Joyeux Noel" cards, garlands and wrapped gifts.

"My wife is French," Esterson says, as if that explains it all.

The other designers have decorated for the holidays and given a nod to the Dickensian theme, but haven't worried much about whether their rooms are period-perfect.

The room most elaborately outfitted for the holidays is the dining room, with a silver, white and red tree, the table set for a Christmas party and a punch bowl and cups on the sideboard. The walls are red, which certainly contributes to the room's festive feel, with the saturated color toned down by black-and-white plaid curtains and pin-striped slipcovers.

The room is filled with 19th-century English pieces in oak and ash, but furnishings like the slipcovered dining room chairs seem very contemporary.

"I wanted to make it Dickensian, yet modern enough to live with," says designer Kathe Waskin of Kathe & Company in Easton.

A family room by Gretchen Brown of Oxford is a showcase for a nutcracker collection. Note the tables in the shape of drums (as in the Little Drummer Boy). The rest of the room is warm and cozy, with plaid flannel curtains and a collection of old quilts.

Easton designer Terry Hepler Price has hung the walls of the stairwell with folk-art angels. Not very Victorian, perhaps, but a decorating idea worth borrowing.

In the diminutive nursery, Ann Marie Doering and Lauren Kline of Easton's Rugged Roses have decked an evergreen with Lithuanian straw ornaments. This is a charming room for a 2-year-old, with a primitive 18th-century Irish bed dressed in black velvet, pink and white -- all bows and lace. Black and white velvet clothes hang on hooks nearby.

A 5-year-old visitor had only one thing to say when she saw the room: "I want it."

A Dickens of a Show House

Where: 30 S. Washington St., Easton

Call: (410) 822-0773

Admission: $8 at the door, open through Dec. 14: Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.

Directions: Take U.S. 50 about 25 miles south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Turn right at the Easton bypass (Route 322). Turn left at Glenwood Avenue to Washington Street. Municipal parking is located across the street from the show house.

Dickens of a Christmas Festival: A series of cultural and family events, including a holiday parade, during the month of December. For more information, call (410) 820-5170

11th Annual Festival of Trees: More than 30 decorated trees, gingerbread-house workshop and other events; Nov. 29-Dec. 3. Call (410) 819-FEST.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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