Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Style Guide: German Folk Art

Wall murals, colorful folk art, and an eye-catching mix of antique and reproduction furniture distinguish an 1808 Maryland dwelling.

Like most restoration projects, this 1808 house is a work in progress -- with one thing leading to another. After transforming the barely habitable structure into a comfortable home, its owners set about adding period touches to the interior. The husband, a painter and craftsman, created panoramic 19th-century-style murals on the dwelling's walls and continues to restore antique furniture and produce replicas of the Pennsylvania German folk art and household items he and his wife admire.

In order to display his work as well as to capitalize on their joint passion for antiques, the couple opened a shop, Spring Blessing, in their home. The store specializes in primitive American antiques and reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century furnishings.

Have a look around this Maryland home, which has been lovingly restored both inside and out.

Living Room

Although the house was in disrepair when the owners purchased it, the living room's original heart-pine floor and vernacular Federal-style mantel, window surrounds, and chair rail had survived in fine condition. The wing chairs, which they design and sell in their antiques shop, are upholstered in colorful vintage wool blankets.

Paired with Queen Anne side chairs, a c. 1750 hickory tavern table occupies one corner of the room. Modeled after a common decorative item in the home of 18th- and 19th-century Pennsylvania Germans, the reproduction "bird tree" on the coffee table provides a perch for hand-carved songbirds.

Dining Room Fireplace

Before mass production made patterned wallpaper widely available, rural early-19th-century homeowners sometimes hired itinerant artists to paint picturesque murals on the walls of their homes. In keeping with this tradition, the husband composed an evocative portrait of a Mid-Atlantic seaside village above and around the dining-room fireplace.

The soft, modulating tones of the painted wall reflect the colors of the view outdoors. In the summertime the fireplace is filled with a large vase of flowers. Large wingback chairs beckon visitors to sit and rest.

Dining Room Wall

Painted by the homeowner in the vibrant, realistic style defined by such 18th- and 19th-century American muralists as Moses Eaton, Sr., and Rufus Porter, the dining room's maritime scene was modeled after an example the owners admired during a visit to the Shelburne Museum near Burlington, Vt.

Dining Room Detail

In addition to the painting of the wall's Maryland townscape, the husband crafted a diminutive stone springhouse and a clapboard Saltbox, displayed here on top of a 1780 dower chest.

The squat cobalt jar holds showy branches clipped from a Judas tree. The wall painting, miniature buildings, and flowering branches combine to create a wonderful vignette of American folk art.


Located at the back of the house on the basement level is the dwelling's original kitchen. It is furnished with a mid-1700's Austrian dough table and three-legged Moravian chairs.

Although no longer used for food preparation, the kitchen still has its original cooking hearth, which the couple restored using old bricks. A painted c. 1750 cradle sits in front of the window. The husband used Gilbert Stuart's 1795 portrait of George Washington as the model for his rendering.


Hand-painted Hungarian dinnerware dresses the picnic table, which has been positioned pondside for an alfresco supper. Home to an assortment of creatures, including bass, bluegills, and frogs, the hand-dug pond reaches a depth of 11 feet in some spots.

Elsewhere on the property, sheep graze lazily and an original smokehouse holds period smoking equipment. The bucolic, relaxed environment is a perfect setting for a country home that continues to evolve.

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