Showhouse makes a bow to the 21st century

October 02, 2005|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT

Q: We have bought a real Italianate Victorian "pile," as the English say, mainly because it is in the right place at the right price. What's wrong is its condition. A lot of things need fixing, like the heating system and a lot of the wiring. We'd also like to enlarge and redo the kitchen, and redecorate the front parlor to remake this Victorian for a 21st century family. Advice will be welcomed.

A: Then stand back: do I have a story for you! If it's anything less than a two-day drive, grab your camera and head for New York's Long Island. There's a Victorian revitalization story unfolding this fall on the North Fork, in the small, charming town of Jamesport. It will not only inspire you, it will show you just how rewarding a thing well done can be.

The story's about an old Victorian house, spectacular when it was built (in the l860s by wealthy sea Capt. Jedidiah Hawkins), but haunting - quite literally - in its long decline when neighborhood children swore it was home to the ghost of old Jedidiah himself. Two of those now-grown children, builder Jeff Hallock and oncologist Dr. Frank Arena, have brought the old house back to life as the North Fork Designer Showhouse (, where the hands-on magic of some three dozen designers, landscapers and artists will be open for the public to peruse until Oct. 28.


One of those designers faced exactly your kind of problem when she set out to remake the front parlor. Teri Seidman was determined to avoid a "bustles and taffeta look," she says, opting instead to make the room "comfortable and appropriate for today, not a museum."

Here's how she did it. She leaned to the country side of Victorian - "less fussy than original Victoriana and less rustic than other country styles," says the designer. "Country Victorian combines the charm of the past with a modern sensibility." To wit: the original mantel mirror - brought home, goes the story, from one of Capt. Hawkins' seafaring voyages - and the elaborate plaster crown mouldings and ceiling medallion, reproduced inch-by-historic-inch, then painted and gilded.

But that's where the 21st century comes in. Seidman next covered the walls in teal silken grass cloth "the color of Long Island Sound," she says. Antiques coexist with a super-sized TV and an ultra sound system. The 12-foot-high ceiling is covered in a basket-weave wallpaper, and out on the verandah and side yard, outdoor-indoor fabrics and carpeting also sneak into the scene seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

"At first, I thought I would do deep Victorian, all dark, with peacock feathers, a real design history lesson," Seidman confides. "That would have been fun for me, but that's not what a show house wants to teach."

There are more decorating lessons in abundance to be learned from this and other designer show houses this fall. You can track them down on the Internet by clicking on such sites as, and looking under "Fall Showhouse Season." Just don't forget to take your spy camera for stealing the designers' secrets.

Q: I have a sliding patio door in my kitchen dining area that I don't know how to cover, or if I should cover. There are no homes in the rear of my house. I have two side windows that I have put wood blinds on. I really don't like a vertical blind. What other ideas might you have?

A: Because privacy control doesn't seem to be a major concern, I'd give some thought to window treatments that merely filter the view and still let the light come through. Some of the new window "shadings," as they're called, go well beyond the old verticals that you don't like (me neither!). Although they, too, feature vertical panes that rotate like blinds, in these updated versions, they are encased in sheer fabic so you get a softer look - with no clattering in the breeze.

One such shading, "Luminette Privacy Sheers" (by Hunter Douglas) comes in a range of colors and three different fabrics, including a sheer linen texture. Have a close-up look at

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

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