AMERICAN ESPRIT

A fresh vision and a love for French culture inspired Lillian and Ted Williams, classicists and home restorers, to return an abandoned folie in Normandy, France, to the condition that made the structure a "jewel in a wheat field" during the halcyon days before the French Revolution. The Chateau de Morson, built in 1750 for the Marquis de Morson, is one of the few remaining folies in France. The gentlemen’s getaways were frequently a target for revolutionaries seeking to destroy any lingering symbols of the aristocracy. The folies not ruined by political action have been ravaged by the elements, Lillian Williams notes: "This house was not built to survive 200 years, it was built as a whim." The Chateau de Morson is unusual not only for its survival in the face of adversity, but also for its location in the Normandy countryside–most folies were found on the outskirts of Paris and Bordeaux, perfect locations for city-dwelling gentlemen to escape for an afternoon’s dangerous liaison.

When the Williamses entered the abandoned dwelling in Normandy for the first time, they saw a dramatic parlor with 14-foot ceilings and graceful glass doors overlooking fields of wheat. Struck by the beauty, they instantly decided to purchase the nobleman’s playhouse. "It took us 20 seconds to buy and 10 years to restore it. If we hadn’t bought it, it would have fallen down," Lillian says.

As Americans in France, the Williamses join the ranks of legendary interior designer Elsie de Wolfe and novelist Edith Wharton as Francophile owners of folies. What is taken for granted as a French ruin by many natives is rediscovered as a treasure with the fresh, appreciative eyes of Americans, Lillian observes. "I think the Americans have made their impact," she says. In the American style, the couple also brings the do-it-yourself ethic to the Continent. "We used more of our imagination and less of others’," Lillian explains. The walls are hand-painted and fabrics are selected based on her studies of ceramics and extensive knowledge of 18th-century art and textiles, which she uses to design fabric and wallpaper for the likes of Manuel Canovas. A large amount of the repair and refurbishment work on the manor was completed by Ted Williams.

Following the original intent of the frolicsome folie, Williams has decorated with a collection of game tables.

Other items include hunting horns and dueling swords. "I’m opposed to dueling, but I like to think these were used to protect the honor of a lady" she says. The game tables serve many purposes today, just as they did in the home’s first heyday The cabriole-leg pieces serve as dining and recreation areas for the Williamses throughout the house in 18th-century style. "Living in this house is like living in the 18th century," Lillian notes.

IT’S A CLASSIC: The curvy, cabriole-leg table was a must-have in wealthy 18th-century French homes and remains popular. It was originally designed as a table for gaming and dining. Here, the cabriole–a stylized form of an animal’s leg–is featured on a table en crachoir: a piece with a deep rim edge, meant to keep games and food from slipping off the table.

IT’S A CLASSIC: The fauteuil chair first appeared in France during the Louis XV period in the 18th century. The open-sided piece, created to suit the fashions of the day, was an instant success and quickly became a fixture in formal rooms throughout the nation. The upholstered chair, now an international favorite, can be identified by its deep, rounded back, spacious seat, and cabriole legs. Frequently, the fauteuil features padded arms, as seen here.

Shared history

It’s no surprise that this elegant Greek Revival house, built at the crest of a hill, looks a little familiar. Created by North Carolina residential designer William Poole, the house was inspired by Melrose Plantation, a circa 1849 historic home in Natchez, Mississippi (see "Melrose Plantation," page 66, February/March 2000). "My intention was to convey the feeling and charm of the original house," says Poole, "to maintain proportions but not scale."

The new version artfully disguises 21st-century amenities and achieves the goal of planting a question in a visitor’s mind: Is it new or is it renovated? "It’s an historic house for today–an old house for people who don’t want an old house," says interior designer Roger Higgins about the new home located in The Governor’s Club, a golf-course community near Nashville, Tennessee.

Indeed, the new house, which is more than 6,000 square feet, was downscaled about 20 percent from its historic sister. While not meant to be a copy of the original Melrose, the new home retains the unmistakable air of the old. Authenticity is woven through the house in such telling details as thick crown moldings, deep window jambs, and 11-foot ceilings.

The furnishings were also chosen to underscore the feeling that the home has a rich history. "There’s not anything that’s too perfect," says Higgins, who worked with his partner, Ann Shipp, to create interiors that perpetuate the old-house feel. "You go into so many new houses and they just look like big new houses. My thought on this was, because it was based on an historic plan, there had to be some nod toward an historic interior," he adds.

Higgins has deftly placed period antiques amid beautifully crafted reproductions–many pieces from Henredon’s Natchez Collection–and new upholstery. An element of surprise, too, is at work within these walls. The family room, for instance, gets a fine, antique Heriz rug, while the Neoclassically inspired living room is grounded with a seagrass rug.

The end result is pared-down classicism, achieved through the strategic use of color and grand gestures, such as a series of vintage prints hung as a dramatic group in the living room and wide-plank pine floors used throughout most of the main level. "The use of heart pine gives it a warm, used character right from the get go," says Poole.

Despite traditional details, the interiors stray from the past due to clean and contemporary furnishings. While many 19th-century homes would have had heavy draperies and carpets, Higgins kept window treatments simple and floors bare except for a few judiciously placed rugs.

"A complete lack of window treatments looks like you just moved in," says Higgins, "but there doesn’t have to be swag and jabot, velvet and trim, and 14 layers. Some houses are so full, they’re hard to live in," he continues. "Leave a little room for you in the house."

Understated colors, used in unexpected ways, also provide an exciting touch. Pale celadon ceilings in the kitchen, living, and dining rooms give depth to an otherwise forgotten surface, while in the home’s formal areas such as the entry, powder room, and living room, smart black defines the baseboards. "Everybody freaks out until they see them," says Higgins about the baseboards, which incorporate a favorite Nashville painting technique that smartens rooms.

In the family room, a glazed finish on the walls provides depth. "It looks like someone’s been in there smoking cigars for 40 years," he says.

Nashville builder Stan Pope, who served as general contractor, took the concept of authenticity to heart and even made a trip to Natchez to inspect the original Melrose "to see what Poole was seeing." For that reason, many details often installed as traditional tokens on new houses are real on this home. The widow’s walk is functional, not a flimsy fake. The transoms that top many of the interior doors on the main level are just like those in the original house, down to their "X" motif.

"It’s an authentic house, yet it’s still light and airy, which is what people want today," says Pope.

"This house is very much what I like," says Higgins, "which is less stuff, the correct stuff and better stuff.

Healer’s Garden

One winter day nine years ago, Pete Hedrick looked out at the ice and snow that covered his yard and had a vision of what the space should be. Having just purchased his Federal-style home in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill historic district after living for years in a 15th-floor high-rise condominium, he admittedly knew little about gardening. Sitting in the home’s demilune conservatory room, he painted a watercolor rendering of how he thought the outside areas should look.

When spring rolled around and the ice melted, Hedrick launched a campaign to turn his plan into reality, and soon discovered he needed more than good decorating sense to prevail. "Originally, I saw the garden as a design project, but I read so many garden books that my interest soon became equally balanced horticulturally and designwise," he says.

It took Hedrick, a family practice doctor, the first summer to clear masses of ground ivy leaves, cinder blocks, and debris from the property. Then he began to formulate his plan, based on classical garden design–characterized by symmetry, balance, and axial geometry–and garden styles seen in Provence and the Mediterranean, which utilize clipped hedges and topiaries. He created a skeleton, or fixed space, for each portion of the garden "so it looks good in the winter," and then added focal points with strong shapes and geometric order. With his favorite color, blue, often taking center stage, he added plants, statuary, and fountains.

Hedrick’s love of tropical plants did not coincide with the region’s cold winter weather, so he decided to change the look of his garden each season. During the summer, tropical plants fill the yard, then hibernate in the conservatory during colder months. Pansies and heartier plants fill the garden in fall and spring.

The overall effect is a pleasing mix of classical elements and relaxing informality, one that perpetually draws passersby to sneak a peek through his garden gate. "It especially seems to appeal to French visitors, who say they rarely see a garden like this outside France," he says. Hedrick’s garden has attracted more than the casual guest: It has garnered first prize in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s annual city garden contest in the mid-1990s. The garden will also be on view during the Chestnut Hill Business Association’s Garden Festival on May 6.

GOODNESS GRACIOUS

Table settings have changed during the past five centuries, transforming over the years from simple wood or earthenware plates, few utensils, and rare metallic serving or drinking vessels used for basic dining to highly decorated porcelain services, multiple crystal glasses, and specialized flatware for elaborate entertaining. It is only natural that as dining rituals shift, tableware adapts to changes in foods and fashions.

Today, there are thousands of tableware choices. Plates, flatware, crystal, and silver often depict motifs reminiscent of earlier times. Whether these objects copy an older pattern’s decoration or merely allude to a stylistic period, they provide inspiration for creative table settings that buttress gracious entertaining. By mixing antiques with modern patterns and reinterpreting the hallmarks of certain styles, the table settings shown here explore new levels of playful sophistication.

Old World style recalls late Italian Renaissance majolica; but ducal fortunes are not a purchase requirement, thanks to clever modern plates and accessories. Adding metallic flatware or linens enhances the mood. In our Gilded Age table setting, lavish 19th-century formal dinners are recalled. The progression through time continues via 20th-Century Classic plates with colored rims and an emphasis on white decoration.

Our Scenic Patterns present 18th-century toile dress fabric designs on the surface of porcelain plates. They are mixed with 19th-century English ceramics and monochromatic modern patterns. Today, the rule of matching all tableware items is often abandoned in favor of individual creativity.

Late 18th-century and 19th-century Neoclassical shockwaves continue to ripple in plate and flatware designs. From black and white to metallic platinum, nighttime Neoclassical dining has never been easier to achieve. Clean lines and restrained patterns are adapted to create additions to tableware’s repertoire. Combine these elegant pieces with precious objects and sculpture to create visual delight.

Chinoiserie, the European interpretation of Chinese style, is as popular today as it was in the 18th century Pomegranates–instead of floral centerpieces–and pagoda forms celebrate a Western take on Chinese imagery. Like the chinoiserie stylistic period, the look reinterprets decoration and form without regard to its original meaning.

Clearly, all periods and styles are potential subjects for fine table design. What has changed in recent years is a movement toward more creative and confident settings. How different elements of the past are combined and presented remains the choice of each host or hostess. New options include adding personal touches to the table, such as homemade napkin rings or placecard holders. Styles may come and go, but entertaining table settings always remain in fashion.

REINVENTING THE RANCH

It was the property–five pristine, tree–studded acres with a view that seemed to stretch to "infinity–that drew the couple to this location in Westchester County, New York. The house they weren’t so crazy about. "It was a very blah, 1960s ranch with skylights," says Leonard Woods of Kroeger and Woods Associates Architects, who worked on the redesign. "The exterior was a bland beige with white trim."

The couple had sold a quaint Country French-style house to purchase this one, and they knew their hearts belonged with that style of architecture. "The question became, ‘Can we create a Country French feeling within the existing massing?’ "Woods says. The answer was a definite "yes," and the solution for a transformation was much easier than the homeowners might have initially thought.

"We basically did three things," Woods explains. "We changed the exterior to stucco, redesigned the doors and windows, and added dormers. And we did this while retaining the original shape."

French doors along the perimeter of the house add country-villa flair while strongly tying together the interiors and the lush landscape. "They make the house look and feel open. You have this wonderful connection to the outside," Woods says. From the outside, the dormers create the illusion of a second floor. Inside, the addition gives a new look to attic-space guest rooms that once featured skylights.

The house’s floorplan was also relatively easy to manipulate to suit the homeowners’ needs. A dining room, laundry room, and hail were converted into an informal kitchen, family, and breakfast room. A combined living room and dining room space has a more formal feeling, but the French doors and the soothing, creamy tone on the walls makes it very inviting.

The existing interiors were void of distinguishing architectural features. In keeping with the newly designed exterior, the home’s rooms were fitted with new moldings, lavishly detailed doorways with gracious arches, and ceiling beams that immediately recall the charming interiors of a venerable villa tucked away in the French countryside.

The redesign of the house was essentially a collaborative effort among the owners, the architecture firm, and Susan Thorn, an interior designer who worked with the owners on their previous home. When Woods suggested arched doors between the breakfast room and the hall, Thorn found an old armoire in Maine and had the arched doors refitted for the doorway. "We fed off each other’s ideas," Woods says. Together, Woods and Thorn worked with computer design programs to arrange and rearrange furniture throughout the house. "We were able to use almost all of their existing furniture," Thorn says. "And, if it’s possible, it actually looks better in this house than the last one."

Some pieces were reupholstered for the new house, while other furnishings fit in well as-is. Susan had purchased a stately fireplace overmantel and surround for the couple’s last home. Upon selling the house, they reluctantly had to leave behind those pieces. Thorn was going to have the mantel replicated, but she was concerned that the elegant turnings and handsome cornice would not be the same. "Then the people who bought the house called the couple one day and said, ‘We’re not using the mantel. Come over and get it,’ "Thorn remembers. "She [the wife] literally raced over there in her car and got it." Now occupying pride of place in this living room, the overmantel and surround add to the Old World beauty of the house.

Finally, the grounds immediately surrounding the house were enlivened with a courtyard, a charming dependency building, and clusters of boxwood and leafy trees. "There’s a sense of formality," Woods says. "And it was done so well, you don’t sense the new versus the old."

Thank you, kindly

WHOEVER SAID IT IS BETTER to give than receive was not hunting for the perfect hostess gift! I love receiving party invitations, and I can spot those square envelopes the second I open my mailbox, even if they’re buried under flyers, magazines, and bills. But a few hours after receiving an invitation, a sort of panic can set in. What should I give as a hostess gift?

Certainly, it is customary to bring something the first time you visit someone’s home. I hate to arrive at the front door appropriately dressed but empty-handed. Somehow, it makes me feel like a child dressed in Mary Janes listening to my mother telling me that I wasn’t raised by a pack of wolves.

However, in this age of less formal entertaining, where invitations can be announced by the beep of incoming e-mail, I have tried to leave the traditional hostess gift standbys behind. Yes, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or a bouquet of fresh flowers are still classics, but I have discovered that I enjoy substituting traditional standbys with something different. First, I think about the personality of my host or the type of occasion I am attending. Then, ignoring my dusty etiquette book, I clear my head and invite creativity to inspire me.

My favorite gifts to give are care packages for the host or hostess to enjoy long after the table has been cleared and the guests have gone home. They might include a book I know the recipient will like, a candle or something small for the house, and even some tasty morsel that doesn’t have to be shared with guests.

Fun hostess gifts are endless. Great cooks appreciate the latest kitchen gadget and gardeners always seem to crave new gloves, shears, or even transplants from other gardens. Recently, I stole one terrific idea from someone at work and brought a small breakfast basket to a dinner party. The morning after a fairly late night, the hostess was able to enjoy muffins from a popular local bakery, a cup of tea in a pretty mug purchased at a flea market, and a tiny pot of jam.

I started a weekend at a friend’s country house with a bag of goodies from a city gourmet grocery that was enjoyed by all. During the visit, I noticed that my friend used charming vintage linens and mismatched cloth napkins at the table. I paired my follow-up thank-you note with a more personal gift of a vintage tablecloth for her collection.

For one recent gathering, I knew the hosting couple would receive enough alcohol to fill several Prohibition-era bathtubs. So instead of giving them a bottle of bubbly, I presented my hosts with the latest edition of a local restaurant guide. Since the couple loves to eat out and often entertains outside their home, this gift was quite a hit.

If I don’t know the hosts well, I do rely on a safety gift, such as a box of chocolates, combined with a small present for their children or pets. Fluffy, Fido, and Junior are often the keys to your hosts’ heart. If I know another invitee who has been to the home where the party is to be held or who is more familiar with the host or hostess, I always try to remember to ask for suggestions on what to bring.

Seasonal gifts–fresh local produce in summer or holiday ornaments and sweets in winter–are perennial favorites for hostess gifts. But out-of-season items ranging from sweet peas and hyacinths in December to pumpkin pie-flavored ice cream in May can be terrific points of conversation as well as thoughtful remembrances.

I have learned through trial and error that the act of giving a host a gift does not have to be complicated or expensive. Stepping out of the box of what is standard or expected can be fun, yet simple. It just takes some consideration and a bit of planning. Hostess gifts remain a gracious gesture between acquaintances that can deepen and reinforce existing relationships or begin new ones.

Now if I could only remember to send the thank-you note within a week of the event, I’d really make my mother proud!

California inside outside

PART OF THE ALLURE OF CALIFORNIA living is the ability to spend lots of time outdoors year round. Homeowners Michael and Yvonne Caan have taken this privilege to heart, creating an oasis of beauty outside and inside their Brentwood home.

When the couple bought the property about seven years ago, they recall that they were drawn to the house–a 1937 quasi-English-style ranch–and the half-acre property. "We liked the style, and it is on a nice corner lot," says Yvonne. But the Caans knew going in that they were facing an extensive remodeling project. "It needed a new kitchen, new bathrooms. Every room needed to be updated," recalls Yvonne.

Fortunately, the basic structure was sound. The house was designed by the late Los Angeles architect Welton Becket, known for his commercial work, including Schoenberg Hall at University of California at Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Music Center, and the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. The Caans’ house is thought to be the only single–story residence Becket designed.

Over a period of four years, Yvonne, who is originally from Sweden, personally redecorated the house room by room. Using the experience she gained remodeling other homes and a keen sense of design intuition, she chose fabrics and furnishings that reminded her of English interiors she had seen while abroad. The English Country style also complements the couple’s collection of Swedish and English antiques.

One project Yvonne decided would be better off in the hands of a professional was the landscape and garden design. Realizing that the grounds surrounding the house needed to be completely reworked, she turned to Diana Green of Green Print Design in Santa Monica. Green’s additions include a knot garden in the side yard and a small pool backed with a white-painted pergola poolhouse in the back yard. Covered with flowering vines, the pavilion has turned out to be the perfect place to enjoy year-round outdoor living.

North Carolina by the sea

QUIET AND PICTURESQUE cotton fields and gardens, fishing villages, and the sea-swept beaches of the Outer Banks fill the scenic still life of North Carolina’s northeast corner. Enjoy an education and fresh seafood at villages redolent of pre-Revolutionary times and visit the beach where the Wright Brothers first successfully launched their aircraft in 1903. Or attempt to solve the mystery of Roanoke Island’s ill-fated "Lost Colony" of 1587. The tour begins in Greenville.

GREENVILLE, ROBERSONVILLE, AND WILLIAMSTON

Music fills the summer air during "Sunday in the Park" concerts at Greenville’s town common on the banks of the Tar River. View North Carolina’s famous local pottery at the Museum of Art, then head outdoors to the East Carolina Village of Yesteryear’s 19 preserved buildings dating from 1840 to 1940. For a history lesson on Williamston and Martin County, pay a visit to the Federal-style Asa Biggs House, circa 1831. Tour the Morningstar Nature Refuge, home to trails and an observation tower. The refuge’s trails and facilities are open by appointment. Greenville-Pitt County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and East Carolina Village of Yesteryear, (800) 537-5564, www.visitgreenvillenc.com. Sunday in the Park, (252) 329-4567. Greenville Museum of Art, (252) 758-1946. Martin County Travel & Tourism and Asa Biggs House, (800) 776-8566, visitmartincounty.com. Morningstar Nature Refuge, (252) 792-7788.

WINDSOR, EDENTON, AND HERTFORD

Windsor is home to North Carolina’s answer to Britain’s Windsor Castle: This Windsor Castle was built circa 1858 and joins the circa 1803 Hope Plantation in the local historic home lineup. The Hope Plantation is home to three dwellings: the former residence of Governor David Stone; the 1763 King-Bazemore House; and the Samuel Cox House (a farmhouse which was built around 1800 and moved to the plantation in 1970). Also at the plantation, the history of local Native American and African-American populations is the focus at the Roanoke-Chowan Heritage Center. The Roanoke/Cashie River

Center is a pristine look at what the region was like before it was settled. The park’s observation deck and boardwalk trail provide an observation point of the area’s natural wetlands. Nearby, one of the nation’s last two-car inland river ferries, the San Souci Ferry, crosses the Cashie River for a free, four-minute ride initiated by honking your car horn at one side of the banks. Gardeners will enjoy Edenton, the setting of the Edenton Tea Party–a boycott of the East India Tea Company’s products by Colonial townswomen. Ideal for plant lovers, the 1758 Cupola House and its Colonial Revival garden heirloom plantings set an historic mood, putting visitors into the Colonial spirit. In Hertford, visit the state’s oldest brick house: the Newbold-White House, built in 1730.

Historic Hope Plantation, (252) 794-3140. Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce, (252) 794-4277. Roanoke/Cashie River Center, (252) 794-2001. Historic Edenton, (800) 775-0111. The Newbold-White House, (252) 426-7567.

ELIZABETH CITY

Founded in 1757 on the Albemarle Sound, Elizabeth City is home to five districts on the National Register of Historic Places, including the largest grouping of antebellum commercial buildings in the state. The Museum of the Albemarle covers history, art, and artifacts of the region. Pick up locally produced artworks at the Pasquotank Arts Council Gallery and Shop.

Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce and Mariners’ Wharf, (252) 335-4365. Historic Neighborhood Association, (888) 936-7387. Museum of the Albemarle, (252) 335-1453. Pasquotank Arts Council Gallery, (252) 338-6455.

OUTER BANKS: KITTY HAWK, KILL DEVIL HILLS AND NAGS HEAD

The Outer Banks of North Carolina, home to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, boasts some of the nation’s most lovely and historical sandy strips. Preview the region at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center. For the adventurous, Kitty Hawk Kites offers beginner and advanced programs in hang-gliding (solo flights rise no higher than 5 feet to 15 feet above the sand dunes). Pay your respects to true daredevils at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Reconstructed buildings replicate the site of the first flight on December 17, 1903. The 150-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse has warned ships off Nags Head since 1847 and now features exhibits and a shop in its Keeper’s Quarters. Climb the 140-foot sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park and be rewarded with a spectacular view of the surrounding islands and ocean.

Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, (800) 446-6262, www.outerbanks.org. Kitty Hawk Kites, (800) 334-4777. Wright Brothers National Memorial, (252) 441-7430. Bodie Island Lighthouse, (252) 441-5711. Jockey’s Ridge State Park, (252) 441-7132.

MANTEO, ROANOKE ISLAND

Manteo, on Roanoke Island, was home to the 1587 English colony of 116 people who mysteriously vanished, a puzzle that remains unsolved to this day. The town, intended to be Sir Walter Raleigh’s "The Cittie of Raleigh," is today home to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site with a restored fort, a re-created furnished gatehouse in the style of a 16th-century orangerie, and lingering questions about what happened to the original inhabitants. Catch the Waterside Theater’s summer production of The Lost Colony, directed this year by Broadway star Terrence Mann. The musical by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Green first opened in 1937, making the play the oldest outdoor theater production in the nation. Then visit the 10-acre Elizabethan Gardens, a living memorial to the lost settlers. Designed in 16th-century style, it features a fountain, statuary, native plantings, and a gazebo. Also, enjoy living history interpretations, offered during the summer, aboard the Queen Elizabeth II, a 69-foot replica of a 16th-century square-rigged sailing ship, which represents the ships used by Sir Walter Raleigh to transport settlers to the New World. The boat and an information center can be toured year round. The island is also home to a large summer arts festival. For a glimpse into the region’s aquatic history, the North Carolina Aquarium features the creatures of the state’s rivers, marshes, and reefs.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, (252) 475-1500. Waterside Theater, (252) 473-3414. The Elizabeth II, (252) 473-1144. North Carolina Aquarium, (252) 473-3493.

ENGELHARD AND BELHAVEN

A scenic drive from Roanoke Island to Belhaven passes through the fishing village of Engelhard, settled about 1650, where commercial fish and shrimp boats anchor in its picturesque harbor on the Pamlico Sound. Six miles further down the road is the hamlet of Lake Landing set on Lake Mattamuskeet with an historic district beginning about three miles west of Engelhard. The houses and other structures date to the early 1800s. Stop by the Belhaven Memorial Museum to see Eva Blount Way’s eclectic collection. Currently housed in the top floor of Belhaven’s town hail, the late 19th-, early 20th-century display started as a button collection and expanded to include early American kitchenware and off-beat items ranging from a button collection and Civil War memorabilia to a flea circus and an eight-legged pig. Initially put on display as a World War II fund-raising effort, the exhibit has become a local curiosity that attracts fans of the weird and wonderful.

Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, (888) 493-3826. Belhaven Memorial Museum, (252) 943-6817.

DINING, SHOPPING, STAYING ALONG THE WAY

GREENVILLE: Woodside Antiques (252) 756-9929 Now and Then Designs, (252) 756-8470.

WINDSOR: Bunn’s Barbecue (252) 794-2274 King Street Bed & Breakfast (252) 794-2255.

EDENTON: Captains Quarters Inn (800) 482-8945 or (252) 482-8945 ELIZABETH CITY: Colonial Restaurant: (252) 335-0212 Cypress Creek Grill (252) 334-9915 Culpepper Inn: (252) 335-1993. Mama Kwans (252) 441-7889. NAGS READ: First Colony Inn: (800) 368-9390. MANTEO, ROANOKE ISLAND: Trapquil-House Inn: (800) 458-7069 Roanoke Island Inn (252) 473-5511; seasonal opens April Anna Livia’s Restaurant: (252) 473-3753

TAKING THE TRIP: From GREENVILLE take Route 13 for 3 miles to Route 903 and travel 16 miles to ROBERSONVILLE Drive in miles on Route 64A to WILLIAMSTON Take Route 17 for 18 miles to WINDSOR 23 miles to EDENTON 13 miles to HERTFORD and 16 miles to ELIZABETH CITY On Route 158 drive 49 miles to KITTY HAWK. Take Route 158.5 miles to KILL DEVIL HILLS 4 miles to NAGS HEAD, and 10 miles to MANTEO ROANOKE ISLAND, Follow Route 264 for 48 miles to ENGELHARD then 47 miles to BELHAVEN.

The long and the short of it

Bobby Short and the dot.com world have one thing in common: They desire instant gratification. However, the ways in which that satisfaction is sought differs dramatically. In a world where often-detached social contact is referred to as "face time," Short is an anomaly: His interaction is exclusively face-to-face. The singer/pianist/entertainer, who has been performing for more than 62 years, obtains his delight through the audience’s response to his work. "There are theories about entertainers being lonely souls," says Short. "This is not the case for me. I enjoy what I do. I do it for myself I like making people happy."

Short has been dispensing his brand of happiness as the resident "saloon singer" at Manhattan’s Cafe Carlyle, where he is in his 32nd season. The entertainer, who describes himself as "intense, proud, and sentimental," has been credited with keeping the art and craft of cabaret singing alive. His repertoire of more than 400 songs includes a litany of tunes from Cole lamps made from handsome objects she’s found. Candles, she notes, are always apropos in dining rooms.

Moss stresses the importance of working a room in profile, as well as in plan, from the get-go: "I always say to my clients, ‘Picture yourself standing around a cocktail party elbow-to-elbow, when no one can see anything on a table top. What are they looking at? You’ve got to think about moving the room up. You want movement.’" Hanging an intricate chandelier, like the one made of antlers at the Oren-steins, is one way So is massing artwork to dominate a wall behind a bed or over a fireplace–she does both in the Roosevelt house. The use of commanding curtain treatments, at windows or to crown beds, also does this job for her.

Movement and mix are interlinked, and key to the success of her style. "I think there’s not a room I’ve done that doesn’t have mix, whether it’s country of origin, period, wood vs. painted finish…whatever. All those things that have come together from different places give a room patina, give it excitement," she says. The range of elements she assembles are consciously balanced by classic shapes, whether custom-made or antique. "A classic is something that has good lines. But it also works over and over again, no matter how you treat it, color it, or paint it." The trefoil ottoman in the Orenstein living room is one of her favorite examples.

One of her colleagues calls Moss "the new old guard." Her taste is refined, That she lives the life for which she decorates lends validity to her choices. She’s a contemporary woman who grants herself free access to a multiplicity of traditional styles (antique and reproduction) and the right to combine them within one house or within one room. "It’s all about the mix, not about the match," quips Moss. "You have to throw things off a little… by planting a simple geranium in an extraordinary 18th-century Limoges cachepot, or by standing a little American 1930s chair next to a Regency cabinet of great value."

GRACIOUS LIVING IN GEORGIA

When Rives and John Houser discovered Thomasville, they found a charming community with beautiful old homes and a penchant for preservation.

During the late 1800s, Thomasville was a world apart from most other Southern rural towns. Touted as "the best winter resort in three continents" by Harper’s pace of big-city life. Traveling from Chicago, Boston, Weekly magazine, it served as a mecca for wealthy northerners seeking to escape the chill of winter and and points in between, visitors arrived by rail to enjoy a sportsman’s paradise and a thriving community filled with stately plantations.

Thomasville’s days as a celebrated resort ended long ago, but very little has changed in the past 100 years. Handsome 19th-century homes edge shady, oak-lined streets, while the countryside serves as a renowned pleasure ground for quail and fox hunters. It was this old-fashioned gentility that attracted Rives and John Houser 20 years ago. The preservation-minded couple lived in Jacksonville, Florida, at the time, and discovered Thomasville while returning home from an opera performance in Atlanta.

"We came in, drove around, and found this house buried in trees," John recalls. A week later, the Housers surprised themselves by returning to the area and buying the Dillon House, an 1898 Classical Revival home in the Dawson Street historic district.

The Housers had fallen in love with the gracious proportions of the interior. Highlighting the floor plan is a massive central hail that opens to the primary living and entertaining areas. "It’s the widest hall in all of Thomas County" Rives claims. "They used to have little dinner dances in the hall, with music on the porches." The house wasn’t without problems, however. An old potbellied stove stood as an eyesore in the hail, and the exterior lacked architectural detail.

"The house was essentially a farmhouse," John says. "We liked the plan, but it was very plain." To offset the simplicity of the structure, the Housers dressed up the exterior with dentil molding and an elegant front door flanked by side lights. Though John is a civil trial lawyer by trade, he carved much of the woodwork that embellishes the interior of the home. "He’s a Renaissance man," Rives proudly explains. "He learned to carve, and he’s done all kinds of marvelous moldings."

Today, nobody would mistake the Dillon House for a modest farmhouse. Filled with the Housers’ outstanding collection of 18th-and 19th-century antiques, American paintings, and fox hunting memorabilia, it is a tribute to the town’s elegant style of living.

From 1870 through 1900, Thomasville reigned as an exclusive winter playground for some of the wealthiest people in the nation. They came to hunt, play golf, and soak in the natural beauty of a town nestled in the pine-filled woods of southwest Georgia. "B.F. Goodrich, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Alexander Graham Bell–you name them, and they wandered through here," says Tom Hill, curator of the Thomas County Museum of History.

Established in 1826, Thomasville plodded along as a sleepy little village for 40 years. But the town was blessed with several virtues that would put it on the map–a mild climate, the railroad, and a local doctor who wrote a pamphlet extolling the area as a health resort. People suffering with pulmonary ailments soon arrived to take in the pine-scented air, and pleasure seekers weren’t far behind. Between 1870 and 1900, a building boom produced 15 hotels and 25 boarding houses. "While the rest of the South was in abject poverty, we were having millions poured into the city," Hill explains.

The most remarkable fact about Thomasville is that its citizens welcomed northern tourists only five years after the Civil War ended. Tom Hill recounts the words of one local observer who attributed the town’s success to simple business acumen: "We soon found out that a Yankee was worth two bales of cotton, and twice as easy to pick."

The soil around Thomasville is among the richest in the country, and the area had long been a repository of grand cotton plantations. After the Civil War, however, the price of land plunged to $3 an acre–a bargain for tourists who were whiling away the, winter season in hotel rooms charging from $4 to $11 per night.

Wealthy industrialists of the time, including Ohio’s Howard Melville Hanna, snapped up acreage and transformed plantations into family retreats.

Thomasville’s days as a famous resort ended at the turn of the century, when Florida became a premier winter destination, but it has yet to lose its charm. In the 20th century townspeople hosted Dwight D. Eisenhower, who visited five times during his presidency and Jacqueline Kennedy, who spent six weeks at a local plantation following the assassination of her husband.

Today’s visitors stroll through the restored downtown area and take leisurely drives through historic districts lined with 19th-century homes. Popular sites include Pebble Hill, a 3,000-acre property that served as a hunting plantation for the Hanna family, and a rose garden featuring more than 500 flowering plants.

TIME TRAVELS

When architect Allen Shumake first saw his Dawson Street bungalow, he assumed that it was a 19th-century house. It does feature quarter-sawn heart pine floors as well as mantels, doors, and windows from the antebellum period. "Even the framing of the house is 1850," Shumake says.

The bungalow was actually built around 1921 out of materials salvaged from an antebellum home. Honoring this history, Shumake and his wife, Gina, have furnished the interior with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries, 1920s pieces, and modern-day reproductions crafted from heart pine.

CLASSICAL CHARM

Mercer Watt grew up in Virginia and, "always wanted to have a Virginia house." To create the atmosphere of the Old Dominion in Thomasville, Watt and her husband, Vance, turned to the late EdwardVason Jones, the renowned architect who created period rooms for the White House and the U.S. Department of State. Jones’s solution was to design a gracious Georgian home based on the late-8th-century William Finnie House at Colonial Williamsburg. He also aided the Watts in furnishing the interiors and selecting old longleaf pine for the doors and flooring.

MELHANA PLANTATION

Perhaps it’s fitting that the first screening of Gone With the Wind occurred on the grounds of Melhana Plantation–it is now a gracious inn that would have made Rhett and Scarlett feel right at home. Developed in the 1820s, Melhana was originally part of a much larger plantation that prospered before the Civil War. Its glory days, however, began in 1896, when Howard Melville Hanna purchased Melhana. The wealthy Ohio oilman expanded the main family residence and his son, Howard Melville Hanna, Jr., added Georgian Revival outbuildings to the property during the 1920s and 1930s. The Showboat movie theater built by the younger Hanna previewed Gone With the Wind because a wealthy area resident had helped finance the film.

In 1994, Charlie and Fran Lewis purchased 40 acres of the Hanna retreat and transformed the property into an inn. Today, guests can relax on the veranda, stroll manicured grounds shaded by live oaks and magnolias, or enjoy an afternoon of riding, tennis, or croquet. Gourmet Southern dinners are served at the inns Melhana’s Restaurant. Call (888) 920-3030 or (912) 226-2290. www.melhana.com.