Annual Takoma Park home tour serves up a sampling of artful abodes

From countertops to cabinets, kitchens reflect owners’ tastes, personalities

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Click here to enlarge this photo
David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
Jill Feasley shows off her retro-style kitchen, which will be on display Sunday during the Takoma Park House and Garden Tour.

Jill Feasley’s house in Old Town is loaded with the turn-of-the-century charm that attracted people to Takoma Park, Washington’s original commuter suburb. But the heart of her two-story, four-bedroom Colonial Revival on Tulip Avenue lies in a later era.

Feasley and her husband, Kurt Lawson, bought the house 13 years ago from a family that had lived there since 1952. Originally built in 1905, the house was in decent shape, Feasley said, though after the previous owners raised eight children there, it needed updating.

And while Feasley and Lawson have taken great care to restore their home, which will be featured during Sunday’s Takoma Park House and Garden Tour, when it came time to work on the kitchen, Feasley found inspiration in an unlikely place: the stove and sink.

Both items reflect the style of the 1950s, leading Feasley to make a bold statement in designing her eat-in kitchen, which seems as though it were lifted from a streetcar diner.

The kitchen seems to embody the theme of this year’s house tour, ‘‘The Art of Living,” though Feasley, whose professional life is in nonprofit management, doesn’t consider herself a designer.

‘‘I think that the one thing that I was really struck by when we fixed up the house was how many choices we had to make about design, the appliances and stuff like that,” Feasley said. ‘‘You can see the house as just four walls, or you can try to look at it creatively as a space that you want to make your own, and that you feel good in.

‘‘And this room is definitely the heart of our home,” she said. ‘‘It’s where we spend the most time — I’m making dinner, the kids are doing their homework, the dog is begging for a belly rub. A lot of stuff happens here, and although I don’t consider myself an artist, I think you have to work to create a space that expresses your personality.”

The kitchen has several focal points, including the 1941 Roper gas range and a large double sink, neither of which show their age. The room also features an island with a Formica-topped counter, two vintage barstools and reproduction light fixtures hanging overhead.

If you go

The 33rd-annual Takoma Park House and Garden Tour takes place 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and will feature homes in the Old Town area.
The tour is self-guided, and programs and same-day tickets will be available Sunday at a Historic Takoma booth at Laurel and Carroll avenues.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the tour. Advance tickets are available at Old Takoma retailers American Crafts, Mark’s Kitchen, the Takoma Park⁄Silver Spring Co-op and Now and Then.
The house tour will take place rain or shine.

Perhaps more than anything, the tone of the room is set by the flooring, which consists of large red and white tiles set on a diagonal. Next to the large windows overlooking a deck is a yellow metal dining table, which the family owned prior to buying the house, and reproduction diner-style chairs covered with red and silver metal-flecked vinyl.

Even the whimsical wallpaper, with a pattern of tiny topsy-turvy coffee cups, and the General Electric schoolhouse clock above the pantry is reminiscent of a long-gone era. Many of the items, including the Formica and the retro-style beveled edging along the countertops, came from diner supply stores, Feasley said.

In putting together the room, Feasley may have taken the advice of the ‘‘Scientific Cooking Chart” found on the inside of her oven door that cautions, ‘‘Do not over crowd your oven.” She said she purposely put extra space between her oven and sink, which, unlike many kitchens, is to the right of the center window, to create additional counter space. ‘‘It’s a functionally designed kitchen.”

In setting the theme for this year’s house tour, Sabrina Baron, president of Historic Takoma, which hosts the event, said ‘‘The Art of Living” encompasses what city founder Benjamin Franklin Gilbert wanted to accomplish with his ‘‘Sylvan Suburb.”

‘‘That’s what he was trying to do — clean water, clean air,” she said. ‘‘And, of course, that’s what resonated with the [Seventh-day] Adventists, and that’s what resonated with the hippie and commune movement, and that’s still what’s resonating with people who are attracted to Takoma Park today,” Baron said. ‘‘Every house on the tour can evoke that question: What does ‘The Art of Living’ mean for me? And what is that art of living that these people have to share with me?”

At least one of the 14 properties featured on the tour this year seems to be a literal interpretation of ‘‘The Art of Living.” Jackie Braitman’s home on Willow Avenue, which Historic Takoma recognized with the Art McMurdie Restoration Award in 2005, is the ‘‘marriage of design, architecture and art,” Braitman said.

Braitman’s kitchen features stained glass, purple concrete countertops inlaid with stone and a bar covered with honey onyx and yellow travertine. The concrete backsplash incorporates Braitman’s glass sculptures, creating a mellow, flowing seascape complete with her own version of three-dimensional crystalline marine life.

An artist and architectural designer, Braitman said the house is an expression of her own creative vision, which, unlike a commissioned project, isn’t tempered by someone else’s expectations. ‘‘I don’t have anybody looking over my shoulder here,” she said. ‘‘... And part of what I wanted to do is show that marriage between classic lines and the modern.”

In addition to showcasing 14 of Old Town’s best homes and gardens, the 33rd-annual tour also will give the community an opportunity to ensure that B.F. Gilbert’s vision — and many of the things he left behind — are protected, Baron said. As Historic Takoma’s main fund-raiser each year, the house tour will help the group raise money for a permanent city archives and museum, an effort recently bolstered by state grants totaling $260,000.

‘‘We cannot possibly understand who we are right now and where we’re going in the future if we don’t know where we came from,” Baron said. ‘‘Takoma Park has such a rich history, and to make people aware of that is going to be exciting for everybody in the community.”