English Accents

Article excerpt

PLUMP NEEDLEPOINT pillows fill a chintz-covered sofa. Whimsical decoupage plates line a pine cupboard. A colorful quilt spills from an old trunk. An elegant mahogany desk stands next to a bay window.

It's hard to imagine horses having their dinner in such a place, but they did.

And now designers have turned this former stable into a gem of an English country-style retreat - the 1994 Designer's Showcase House in Ladue.

One step past the white picket fence into the brick courtyard, and you will forget you're in the middle of a bustling suburb. The gray-shingled house, trimmed in white, punctuated by dormer windows and shaded by big, old trees, is nestled among flowering shrubs and colorful garden paths. A screened porch looks out onto a wide lawn. A flagstone walk leads to a small swimming pool, a cool, blue oasis under a weeping willow tree.

The Designer's Showcase House is presented by the Realtor's Housing Assistance Fund, a nonprofit arm of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, and is co-sponsored by Gundaker Realtors and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Proceeds will benefit the homeless of the St. Louis area. The house is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m daily through May 30. Admission is $10.

The response from designers was heartening, according to Linda Penniman, co-chairwoman of the event. She has been working on the project since November. "We got so many responses we had to choose by lottery; twelve people wanted the bedroom," she said.

Thanks to the diversity of the designers and their eclectic tastes, there is something for everyone, said John E. Whitney, co-chairman of the project. "I think anyone can come and take an idea away," he said.

Though it took designers only a few weeks to work their magic, it took decades for the house on High Downs Lane, a narrow, gravel road next to Ladue Junior High School, to evolve into the rambling English-style cottage it is today. The building originally was a barn and stable owned by Ruth and Ir Stevens, who lived in a larger house at the end of the lane.

During the Depression, the Stevenses were forced to sell the big house and turn the stable into their home, according to Mary Randolph Ballinger, sales representative for the house. Presently owned by Beatrice von Gontard, the house is for sale through Edward L. Bakewell, Inc., priced at $695,000.

After additions by various owners over 65 years, the rooms, porches, gardens and paths meander over the two-acre lot. Halls, stairs, landings and alcoves provide nooks and crannies that can't be designed into a new house.

On a tour of the woodland garden, designed by former owner Frances Hensley, Ballinger pointed out tiny blue forget-me-nots, purple tradescantia, hostas and ferns, trillium, white violets, wild phlox, lily of the valley and sweet woodruff growing along the grassy paths under the shady trees.

The original formal rose garden at the front of the house has been renovated by Matthew Moynihan and Associates, Inc. Moynihan was planning to use big, ornamental pots of colorful amaryllis and other potted plants, taking his cue from what is blooming in the original gardens while the house is open during the tour.

"It's a lovely space, and the furniture and pots and garden ornaments really dress it up nicely," he said, referring to pieces like a sculpture of the four seasons and an 18th-century, shell-shaped bird bath.

Here's an overview of what was finished (and what was planned) when we peeked into the house a week or so before it was open.

Sunny, yellow-striped wallpaper brightens the formal living room designed by Carter Noel and Shellie Baur, of Select Designs, Inc. Sofas covered in yellow-and-rose-flowered chintz are piled high with fluffy pillows. In one corner is an unusual mahogany and satinwood Carlton House desk with a hinged writing easel. An inviting seating area is tucked into the wide, bay window. …