A Split-level House Goes Early American


Updates Add Colonial Touches To Columbia Dwelling

August 23, 2009|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

Back in 1992, Jim and Toni Johns purchased a split-level home in Columbia. What they really wanted was an American Colonial design, more in keeping with their love of the period and all that evokes a Williamsburg feel.

But they settled on the split-level for two reasons: They loved the street name - Keepsake Way - and, more importantly, the fact that the home was built on beautifully wooded property abutting 400 acres of state-owned parkland that would never be developed.

And so it was settled. The couple paid $153,000 for the split-level built in 1980 and in very good condition. Then the cosmetic updates began.

"I reworked every room of the house," said Toni Johns, a retired administrative assistant.

She meticulously painted, hung wallpaper, and put ceiling molding and chair rails in the home's living room, dining room and bedrooms. Soon, each area of the home became a ready and appropriate backdrop for such pieces of furniture as a 212-year-old oak grandfather clock made in Wales by J. Smith Wrexham, several cherry wood armoires, Queen Anne-style chairs and a camelback sofa.

Once Toni Johns added her myriad Colonial accessories, the home took on the feel and the warmth of an 18th-century dwelling.

Candles in brass candlesticks are placed throughout the house, as well as homey quilts on the beds, Jacobean print pillows and matching drapes, framed crewelwork and a 180-year-old seaman's chest of intricately carved wood and inlaid mother-of-pearl. A copy of a Governor Winthrop secretary dominates a room the couple call the library.

The finished basement, once a "dark, dismal dungeon" according to Toni Johns, has been brightened with a multipaned back door to let in natural light as well as a wood-burning fireplace the couple added for warmth and ambience.

The backyard is a sanctuary with multiple plants and bushes placed around gurgling fountains. In the screened-in gazebo with her husband and two golden retrievers relaxing at her side, Toni Johns talks frankly about the house she has decorated with love and named Keepsake Cottage; the house in which she'll be carried out feet first.

"Everything I have in my home is like a treasure to me," she said. "I value all of it."

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Making a dream home

Dream element:: The Johns' Howard County home is set amid tall, old trees such as pine, oak and poplar. Woods as far as the eye can see are the backdrop for a beautifully landscaped garden that includes winding stone walkways, sculptures, running water fountains and a large gazebo for outdoor entertaining.

Design inspiration:: While the split-level style of the house is not necessarily compatible with Colonial decor, Toni Johns took it upon herself to redo rooms with crown molding, chair railings, oak flooring and tiles, as well as painting with Colonial Williamsburg color paints, making the home's interior suit her collection of period furniture, both antique and reproduction pieces.

Surprise feature:: In a home where every room is a tasteful representation of American Colonial style, the Johns' kitchen has been redesigned to recall that of a Tuscan country villa. Here, porcelain floor tiles are laid on an angle and distressed flowered tiles make up the backsplash. Bright pottery is placed on the counters and baskets of fresh fruit - including grapes -- grace the counters.

Personal touch:: Toni Johns' love of Early American is evident in every room, each built around a theme. For example, the guest room is a combination of floral fabrics and wallpaper as well as Old World paintings of children. "I built this whole room around my dad's painting," she said of a quaint oil rendering of colorful Gerber daisies hanging over the four-poster bed. The room speaks to soft pastels contrasted by cherry wood furniture.

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