Country Chic


A promising design project always presents a puzzle at the beginning: a mishmash of elements until the perfect colors and shapes emerge. In sizing up the redo of a century-old farmhouse in Sparks for a young couple looking to create the perfect country getaway, Baltimore designer Charlene Petersen of Cashmere Interior didn’t wait for the usual visual patterns to emerge. As soon as she got a sense of their different styles, she knew the challenge was bigger. “If a home reflects a marriage,” she remembers thinking, “then I’d better find ways to marry their styles and make a home that suits them both.” 

Call the country retreat she made from their various preferences and personal collections “eclectic” but that would be too predictable for the clever melding she engineered. “He’s an entrepreneur who loves the rustic beams, plain wood cabinetry and age of the house,” Petersen says. “She’s a former magazine photo editor and quintessential New Yorker who’s always on-the-go and loves entertaining with a touch of glitz.” The key to a design that worked for them both was grounding, and in some places showcasing, feminine furnishings, such as a crystal chandelier and furniture with flamboyant curves, in the solid wood-and-stone architecture of the farmhouse.

With only 18 months allotted from start to finish, Petersen divided the project into thirds and worked around the couple’s visits from their Baltimore condo home base. The largest piece of the puzzle was the great room they designated for extended family, as many as 15 relatives visiting on holidays. The wife was eager for a cozy, easy-care gathering spot beneath a vaulted ceiling and three walls of double-height windows. She acquiesced to Petersen’s suggestion for plaid curtains and beige walls and then watched, delighted, as patterns and textures came together to tame a huge central seating area.

Petersen channeled plenty of feminine vibe for the living/dining rooms in the house’s oldest section where double parlors probably once stretched across the front. She found the perfect area rug in a collection the husband bought on his Mideast travels, a Boccara that looks deeply brown in one light and tantalizingly purple in another. Aside from providing Petersen with the perfect yin-yang color palette for the couple, it fit perfectly under the dining table.

In the dining room, Petersen smartly centered fabric with a bold, embroidered medallion on the chair backs. “That enabled us to use a less expensive fabric on the seats where you get stains,” she says.

In the living room just opposite, Petersen gave a nod to that age-old fabric of country elegance, French toile. On closer inspection, though, the sofa pillows aren’t the usual French derivative. “It’s a Manhattan scene,” Petersen says, laughing. “Our fresh take on tradition.”

Pulling shades of lavender or pink through the master bedroom and the wife’s office was a no-brainer given how much it romanced the house’s earthy roots. The husband’s study and a home theater are deep-hued and weighty by contrast. To switch from water buffalo horns, rustic wooden shelving and leather upholstery in his study to pink upholstery and mirrored cabinetry in hers was not a stretch for Petersen. “You walk into the house now,” she says, “and you immediately sense personalities not bound by rules but celebrating the life they share together both in the city and country.”

5 Great Ideas From Designer Charlene Petersen

Ground Yourself. Rugs and window treatments create the foundation of a great room design. Start with these two elements and, if possible, splurge on them—don’t make them an afterthought. 

Edit the Extra. Many rooms are crowded because we just don’t know when to stop. Upon supposed completion of your room, take a step back, look objectively and delete at least one thing.

Change Your Pattern. Scale is the most important thing to get right when mixing patterns. Same-size patterns will get too busy. So put some thought into mixing styles and sizes.

Remain Neutral. If you like to buy home accessories or change them up seasonally, stick with a neutral palette for your backdrop. Shifting pillows, throws and accessories can splash new color and activate style shifts.

Furnish with Care. Do not buy furniture unless you a) love it and b) it fits perfectly in your home. More often than not, clients ask me to make a room design around a piece of furniture they regret buying but feel too guilty to change. 

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