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Family Togetherness Starts with the Dining Room Table

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The library’s bookcases are topped with busts of famous figures in the arts and history.

At Rosemary FitzGerald’s house, everybody has a seat at the table.

Her home was designed around the dining room, with a table that can readily accommodate 16 people.

“I want to have my extended family at the table, everyone together,” she says.

Rosemary and her husband, Kim, built the house 10 years ago with family in mind. It started with the ideal location, a sylvan setting in Landenberg, Pa. One daughter, Colleen Civiletti, lives next door with her family. Her other daughter, Kate FitzGerald-Wilks,
lives four miles away with her family.

“We are together all the time, three generations, and we never get tired of it,” Rosemary says.

The FitzGeralds removed a modular home from the site and built a traditional two-story stucco house from the ground up, contracting with Doutrich Homes of Paradise, Pa. 

In designing the interior of the house, the couple reinterpreted the classic center hall layout, creating a modified open floor plan in the main living area. Instead of walls, spaces are defined with columns.

“We had built several houses over the years and learned something new with each one,” Rosemary says.

The FitzGeralds also are blessed with a pro in the family. Kate is a gifted designer, founder of Timeless Design by Kate FitzGerald-Wilks.

“It’s a wonderful process, putting a house together,” Rosemary says. “Katie helped us with everything, from planning the spaces to the detailed finishing touches.”

 

The Ideal Plan

For the FitzGeralds, the ideal home includes both places to congregate and spaces to enjoy private moments.

A 3,000-volume library is clubby and cozy, a retreat for reading. The bookcases that line the walls are topped with busts of famous figures in the arts and history. 

The room has a timeless, well-traveled look, with an inviting leather sofa warmed with intricately patterned tapestry pillows. The gleaming hammered-brass tray that serves as a cocktail table was crafted in India. Kim FitzGerald’s interesting collection of spears and harpoons are displayed on the wall.

A second-floor master suite is a serene sanctuary, with an adjoining sitting room. A massive, four-poster bed faces the fireplace outfitted with a gas log so there’s no need to haul wood to the second floor.  

“It’s so cozy to have the fireplace going when I get into bed,” Rosemary says.

In the gathering spaces, the mahogany dining table is set up with three leaves, at the ready for large family dinners.

What is underneath the table is important, too. Rosemary chose a table supported by a pair of pedestals instead of legs.

“A pedestal table is wonderful when you are seating lots of guests because no one has to straddle a leg,” she says.

A mahogany breakfront cabinet made in the 1920s was discovered at an antiques sale in Baltimore. The piece is spacious enough to display Rosemary’s collection of crystal and salt and pepper shakers. She appreciated its elegant brasses and dentil moldings. But the cabinet’s graceful facade was chipped and dinged. She turned to New Life Furniture in Newport to restore the finish to its pristine condition.

“They made it look new again, without stripping away its sense of age and charm,” she says.

The dining space is open to the living room, where a pair of sofas flank a large stone fireplace. With curved seats and arched backs, the sofas are formal in shape and style. Down-wrapped cushions and soft, chenille upholstery add a relaxed touch.

“It’s formal but not fussy,” Kate says.

A Sense of Place

Throughout the home are touches that celebrate its natural setting. There’s a shimmering statue of a stag on the dining table, inspired by deer that graze outside, and a painting of a woodland scene over the mantel. Pheasant feathers are tucked into arrangements of dried flowers.

Windows are dressed in draperies in a muted beige-tone floral print, a cotton-linen blend by Thibaut, which has been producing classic patterns since 1886. The earthy tones are a subtle link to both the stone fireplace and stands of pines outdoors.

The slant-front secretary desk of Honduras mahogany is a faithful reproduction of a desk owned by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The original is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.

Longfellow likely kept books, paper and writing instruments in his desk. Rosemary uses her desk as a display case for her extensive collection of blue-and-white china and pottery, including a small vase-like vessel that was her grandmother’s toothbrush holder.

Her first collection is a set of blue-and-white Spode plates depicting scenes from her alma mater, the University of Maine, where she and her husband were college sweethearts. The plates were a wedding gift from her favorite geology professor.

She recently bought what she hopes will be the first in a collection of burled bowls crafted by Tom Mumper, a celebrated woodturner in Wilmington who has crafted pieces for the king and queen of Sweden.

“This bowl was made from a tree that was more than 300 years old,” she says. “I love the way the woodworker made the bark part of the design.”

Two sets of French doors lead from the living area to a deck furnished with inviting settees that give the space the aura of a hip, open-air lounge.

“My daughters and I love to sit outdoors and enjoy cocktails together,” Rosemary says.

 

Tips From a Pro

Having a daughter in the design business offers a distinct advantage in shopping for high-end furniture and accessories.

“Katie can make a dollar stretch farther than anyone I know,” Rosemary says.

A favorite destination is Farmville, in central Virginia, home to Green Front Furniture, a 1 million-square-foot, two-block emporium of deals on antiques and quality home goods. 

That is where the designer found the pair of expensive mahogany lamps with bronze bases and finials that her mother had admired.

“The only difference was that these lamps were priced at hundreds of dollars less,” Kate recalls.

From Left to Right: Colleen (from left), Rosemary and Kate cherish togetherness. The family enjoys shuffleboard tournaments. The FitzGeralds find many of their one-of-a-kind pieces and antiques at auctions.

Going, Going, Gone to the Auction

When the FitzGeralds are looking for one-of-a-kind pieces and antiques, they often head to the auctions. Among their favorite destinations are H.S. Hill & Son Auctioneers in Landenberg, William H. Bunch Auctions and Appraisals in Chadds Ford, and Briggs Auction in Garnet Valley.

Three generations often go to auctions together. Rosemary was sitting with her teenage grandson when the fast and furious bidding began on a massive circa 1890 French buffet and hutch that is intricately carved with dragons.

“I was determined to have it, so I held my number up and never put it down,” Rosemary recalls. “My grandson whispered to me, ‘I don’t think you’re supposed to do it that way,’ but it worked out fine.”

Today the piece serves as a distinctive back bar in a lower-level great room. It’s a relaxed, casual space that reflects the personality of the family that enjoys the space.

The rendering of an English farmyard was brought across the pond by Kim FitzGerald’s grandfather. The collection of Royal Doulton Toby mugs on the mantel was started by Rosemary’s mother. Mounted moose antlers are a reminder of the family’s camp in Maine.

The expansive sectional sofa is the perfect perch for watching the big game. Microsuede slipcovers have the double bonus of being soft to the touch and resistant to stains. A
coverlet is stitched in a patchwork of earth-toned tweeds and woolen plaids accented with tiny collar buttons. Rosemary discovered the handsome and pragmatic piece of fabric art at the Delaware Center for the
Creative Arts.

The FitzGeralds also enjoy family shuffleboard tournaments. When the table isn’t in play, it can be topped with a custom board and transformed into an instant buffet.

“It holds lots of food and plates, which is really great for a party,” Kate says.

A vintage player piano is the catalyst for family sing-alongs. 

“I hearken back to my childhood in my tastes, and gathering around the piano was very important to our family,” Rosemary says. “I love it when we all get together, play the piano and sing to our heart’s content.”    

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