The first room you enter from the front of our house is The Long Room.  But we never use it that way.

In my grandmother’s day, the front door was never opened.  You see, in 1952, ten years after she and her young family moved to Clifton on the Monocacy, with its fields stretching behind the house, down to the Monocacy River, and its tree-filled front lawn creating a foreground for its spectacular mountain view, a cement factory was built DIRECTLY across the road from her front door.  Not only did this factory block her view, it blighted the bucolic landscape and belched an insidious, fine grey dust over everything.

She removed her comfortable chairs from the front porch, closed the front door, and never used it again.   When I was a little girl, a chair sat in front of the door, as if it were a wall.

So The Long Room became a room at the back of the house, the last room you entered before heading upstairs.  It was a hallway, but it was no longer central to the house.  Thus this long room, big enough to accommodate high school dance parties hosted by my father and uncle in the 1950s, became a forgotten room.

In here, grandmother would house her favorite, delicate things:  a blue velvet ‘square’ chair, her German porcelain candelabra, books, a grand piano (which neither she nor my grandfather could play).  It was lovely, comfortable, as was everything my grandmother put her finger to, but it was also a room of unnecessary things.

Due to the forgotten nature of this room, when I was a little girl, we children spent a great deal of our time in here.  This is where we had our Parcheesi and Hearts tournaments. (Parcheesi is a board game touted as the game of Royal India, and Hearts is our favorite card game.)

But the one activity that consistently brought the entire household into this room was when my sisters, my cousin, and I would put on our theatrics.  They were always staged on the first landing of the front stairs, a perfectly sized stage for four young thespians.

These were sophisticated affairs which included original scripts (written and directed by us), costumes (items found in closets), and elaborate props (the piano stool as a dining table, a jump rope as a microphone).   Popular songs of the day were usually included, a cappello.  Our audience was always appreciative, and left us feeling remarkably talented.

And just a note on this room, that I realize only as I write this:  this was a room filled with finer things, items my grandmother held in esteem.  And yet we were never made to feel that we could not be in there.  We sought out the room for our games and fun.  To this day, when we set the ‘young people’s table’ for our big get-togethers, that table is set in The Long Room, on its deep, wool oriental rug.  That’s just how it was.  So consider Grandmother Thomas’ example when you get the impulse to say that a certain room is off-limits to children.  Consider what you may be denying them, and yourself.

antiques, vintage, decorating The Long Room, redefining home

Looking toward the front door. The table is from Chip’s great-grandparents, and supports up to three large leaves, making it perfect as our second dining table for our big holiday feasts. The chairs are a gift from my parents. My mother acquired them in the 70s, but they date back to the Civil War era. I recovered them in a Waverly toile when we first moved here in 2001. The piano is not used often enough, but I dearly love to play when I get the chance. The bench is a gilded frame a found somewhere, and upholstered in a vintage textile from Hungary, which I found at the huge Round Top, Texas antiques market about eight years ago.

Long Room landing, redefining home

Moving south (toward Buckeystown) from the front door, you see the widest use-able space in the room. This is where my grandmother had one and a half walls of book cases, with a baby grand piano in the center, and a gallery of pictures above on the walls. I found this stunning European bookcase, with all its original brass keys, in a tent in one of the many fields that comprise the Round Top, Texas antiques week. The minute I saw the piece, I knew exactly where it belonged. We keep games in the bottom, books and beloved objects in the top. The french chairs are another gift from my parents – really from my mother, who has a near-fetish level of love for chairs. This sickness she has passed on to me, along with some of her favorite indulgences. These chairs have their original needlepoint upholstery – over 100 years later. Finally you see the ‘stage’, with its curved steps and imposing columns, leading to the second floor.

Victoria waterlilies, victorian stairway,

Continuing along the south wall, the stairs consume a large portion of the room. The carving and detailing on the ballisters, newel posts and paneled wall are exceptional. Chip is convinced that this should all remain unpainted wood. But I keep arguing that the room will be so beautifully lightened by painting it, and that the workmanship and detailing will be so much better displayed if painted . . . On the wall going up the stairs is a pair of late 19th/early 20th century colored lithographs of Victoria waterlilies. These images, found by the amazing girls at Silk & Burlap were acquired fewer than 5 years ago, yet they speak to my family’s history as owners of Lilypons Water Gardens, and my early professional life spent their creating catalogs and producing special events.

the closet under the stairs

And this brings us to one of the more magical parts of the room. Harry Potter’s got nothing on us! This is the end of the room, farthest from the front door, the end of the heavy wood paneling, and the coolest door in the house – ‘the closet under the stairs’. That’s what is was always called. Coats were hung in here in the winter, but it’s most important function was to hold all the games, baskets of toys, cars, jacks, and blocks. Looking back, it was certainly this space, this intriguing entrance, that was the lure which drew us into The Long Room so regularly. Note the detailed carving and workmanship around the door and on the paneling (which, of course, would look AMAZING painted. Just sayin’)

With the next installment we’ll finish up this largest room in the house, and I’ll share with you my inspiration for freshening the space.

Thanks for reading,