Sweet home Blueprints: Near St. Michaels is the house known as "Candy Kisses," an unusual abode that seems to admit the Miles River through 33 sets of glass doors and even more windows.

Dream Home

February 23, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

ST. MICHAELS -- Hank and Jan Barth had a somewhat singular problem when they started looking for a new home: What do you choose when you live in a historic 42-room, 16-bath mansion already?

They found the answer near this picturesque Talbot County town: A French Jamaican house, known locally as "Candy Kisses" because its octagonal pods resemble the foil-wrapped candies made by Hershey.

When a friend who was also a Realtor in Maryland sent them a postcard with a picture of "Candy Kisses," the attraction was instant. The decision was not.

"The house looked weird," Mrs. Barth said. "We've always liked weird so we looked at it."

And looked and looked and looked.

"We came back 11 times," she said, finally deciding to buy it in 1986.

Even before settling on the house, they knew that they wanted to live somewhere in Talbot County when they retired from making commercial and industrial films. In the end, they were FTC persuaded by a variety of factors to buy the unusually designed house.

"It had some key things," Mr. Barth said. "We always liked bigger rooms rather than many rooms. We both like fireplaces, and we had them in both bedrooms and the living room. The third advantage was its proximity to the water."

Thirty-three sets of glass doors, and even more windows, bring the Miles River almost inside the waterfront home.

"The windows are like pictures," Mrs. Barth said. The oddly shaped rooms offered a decorating twist the couple found intriguing.

Another plus -- the Barths thought -- was that the house didn't need much work.

After spending six years restoring and renovating the mansion in upstate New York -- including moving their commercial film business out of New York City and into the ballroom -- the idea of a house that didn't require a lot of fixing up was appealing.

"We decided we didn't want a place that needed major, major work," Mrs. Barth said. "Little did we know. "

They moved in, did some repainting and repapering, had some repairs made on the roof -- and felt settled. Then they noticed a problem in the living room ceiling -- an octagonal dome that is 22 feet off the floor at its highest point.

"We worked so hard on this house but every time we got it fixed, the ceiling cracked," Mrs. Barth said. They hired a series of people to fix it, paid them large sums of money -- and then it would crack again.

The cracking continued for months, despite the best efforts of one woodworker after another.

Finally, they hired a local man, James Harvey, who owns James Harvey Millworks in nearby Bozman. Harvey makes all kinds of things in wood -- flooring, oyster tongs, even toy trucks.

And he fixed the ceiling.

"Everything he does is so exacting," Mr. Barth said with admiration.

Harvey and a helper built tiered scaffolding and rebuilt the ceiling, panel by painstaking panel, until it fit together properly, Mr. Barth said.

After a decade in the house, the Barths say, they have adjusted to the unusual shape of the rooms and don't even like to leave for vacation because they find the house so comfortable.

They've made some changes over the years.

The property they bought in 1986 was a double lot with a guest house on it. Her parents lived there for a while before moving to a nursing home, Mrs. Barth said. But, eventually, the Barths decided to sell the half of the property with the extra house on it -- a house that had become something of a maintenance burden.

"It was like selling a hernia," Mr. Barth said dryly.

Their own decorators

The decision allowed them to focus on their own house. Decorating it was something they wanted to do themselves.

"We've never used a decorator -- we've always done our own," Mrs. Barth said.

The idea of "matching" things doesn't appeal to them, he said.

"We find if you just choose what you like, it will all go together," he said.

"If you look at somebody's face, they have beautiful eyes and an ugly nose."

For the Barths, decorating a house is as individual as a human face -- favorite things are not always beautiful but they all seem to work together.

Meeting the challenges

The house presented some challenges -- little wall space for pictures because of the extensive windows, for example. The Barths just worked around it, hanging pictures where they could, having fun with unusual furniture arrangements made possible by octagonal rooms.

Much of the decorating was a matter of deciding what to keep and what to change, the Barths say -- the house had been used by its previous owner, an interior decorator, as a kind of show house for his work.

So an orange and purple paint scheme in the living room was replaced with cooler greens and lighter creams, giving the room a spacious feel.

Recessed fluorescent lighting showcases the ceiling that took so much time and money to get right.

The master bathroom, lighted by an enormous skylight over a shower area the size of a small pool, took some special adjustment.

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