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Bohemian Rhapsody
Shabby chic meets elegant antique in an Ellicott City barn guesthouse.

by Catherine v.O. Hoffberger
Photographed by Eric Salsbery

“I was looking for something different— somewhat vintage, cozy and fun,” says Leslie Lewart of the house hunt that landed her an 1850 stone-and-clapboard millhouse and barn in the eclectic enclave of Oella, Md.

Following a divorce in 2000 from her husband of 21 years, Lewart found the recently renovated house, which would be home for herself and her two daughters, much to her liking. “The house had been completely gutted and updated, but with its original integrity— beams, stone walls and fireplaces— left intact. I just had to make it pretty.”

That was easy work for Lewart, who has owned the Ellicott City home design emporium Rugs to Riches since 1992. The look the store is known for— shabby chic meets elegant antique— is seen throughout her home. “I filled my house with all of the things I love from my store, and set to the real project: renovating the barn,” Lewart recalls.

Once a shelter for horses and a carriage, the barn had in recent decades fallen into disrepair. But within a few months, the exterior was patched and painted, the barn was winterized, and French doors and new windows were installed.

The new layout consists of a large one-room living space with kitchen, and, down a short flight of stairs, a bedroom and bath. In the great room, a vintage, overscaled, flared-arm sofa mixes company with a pair of 1940s wing chairs, all swathed in rich, jewel-toned velvets. Lewart selected an apple-green paint for the walls, on which she placed an assortment of objects d’art, from an oversized clock face to painted tins. A coffee table and a large ottoman round out the vignette, which fits in the smallish room in a snug, just-right sort of way. “I like intimate settings,” says Lewart. “And I don’t like being eight feet away from the person I’m talking to.”

Porcelain lamps of varying vintage, crowned by large, heavy shades, and fitted with low-wattage bulbs, add a soft glow to the room. Says Lewart: “My lighting is always dim in living spaces. It is very soothing, very flattering… even the furniture looks better!”

Overhead, the ceiling is an eye-popping shade of raspberry, and the original beams are painted a flat black. Heavy, rough-hewn antique shutters— imported from Transylvania— are fitted on the inside of the windows, adding to the mood.

In the kitchen area, a bright floral valance hangs above the porcelain farmhouse sink, its sparkling crystal trim catching the light. The windowsill beneath is home to Lewart’s collection of antique milk glass containers.

The guesthouse is used primarily by Lewart’s two daughters, ages 20 and 23, on weekend visits from New York and Los Angeles, and is occasionally offered to weekend renters. “I wanted the barn to have kind of a lake look, but with a bit of fantasy,” says Lewart. “A home should offer its owner and visitors a break from the everyday.”

Lewart relied on the help of friends made through her store— Ellicott City jacks-of-all-trades Fred Hann, Rocco Guarino and Jim Deemer. Carpenters, painters and sometime-plumbers all, they contributed to the heavy lifting, including the installation of a stairway leading down to the bedroom.

More sumptuous fabrics and glittering crystal are found in the boudoir, which has a dreamy, Alice in Wonderland-like quality. A reproduction iron bed is layered in colorful sheeting and quilts from Peacock Alley, Pinecone Hill and Shabby Chic— all brands carried at Lewart’s store. A large floor lamp stands beside the bed, casting soft light through an oversized linen toile shade onto an antique dressing table. The surface of the table is littered with new— but nicely distressed— brushes and mirrors. “I do love antiques, and both my sister and mother are antiques dealers,” says Lewart. “Finishes are very important to me. But if I can find a good reproduction, I’m thrilled.”

In the bathroom, the headboard of a pink Russian crib stands over the commode. Oddly, it seems just the right touch.

“Whenever I work with a client, I think ‘where is their emotional chord? Why have they picked these items? What does this mean for them?’” says Lewart, a decorator by trade, but a therapist by training. “The bohemian thing definitely hits an emotional note for me,” she continues. “I have so many things, which fit together in a very eclectic way. It all works because it is comfortable for me. This is what creates a home.”

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2003

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