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Purely Primitive
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
HOME FEATURE DECEMBER 2019/JANUARY 2020
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Winterset homeowner chooses a decidedly different color palette for Christmas.

Last year, after 44 years at one acreage near Winterset, Barb Mapes and her husband, Dean, moved to another acreage in the area. “This house has a more open floor plan, so I had to decide new ways to decorate for the holidays in the new spaces,” says the creative homeowner.

Her approach to decorating—and the total approach she loves—focuses on items with a primitive feel. The look includes dark colors, wood pieces, texture, quilts, and repurposed items. “For me, dark colors are calming. At the holidays, I usually go with dark cranberry and forest green instead of bright red and green.”

Her love of primitive style dates to 1976, when she took her first quilting class. Ultimately she started designing patterns to sell at craft sales and by mail. Her work focused on items with darker colors, and she found her niche. In 1994 she opened the Picket Fence gift shop on the Winterset square, which she ran until 2005.

Now she does long-arm quilting for others and usually completes about 70 quilts each year. Her daughter-in-law, Jo Mapes, family and consumer science teacher at Winterset High School, has taught a quilting class this past year, so Barb volunteered to quilt the finished products for 25 young quilters.

On the lookout

She loves to peruse antiques and vintage shows, garage and estate sales, along with any fabric store she can find for primitive fabrics and wool to create projects. “I use lots of black in my work because it makes all other colors pop,” she says.

At the front entry a table displays a white wooden goose with a grapevine wreath around its neck.

Barb’s welcoming living room features four classic chairs arranged in a circle for good conversation. On the coffee table in their midst is a cheese basket holding greenery as a base for angels made of rocks and concrete. A tall and skinny tree is festooned with garlands of raffia. Over the mantel is a framed piece Barb made with BELIEVE in fabric letters.

Throughout rooms she uses boxes, such as cheese boxes and partitioned ones, as artwork arrangements on her walls. She thinks some of them were trays in old trunks in previous lives. Even around a contemporary wall-mounted TV, a group of boxes makes a vintage frame. She uses small details such as an Old World Santa and a vintage tree on a tiny table as eye-catchers.

Santas on display

Open shelves hold all types of Santas for the season—standing, sitting, tall, and skinny—along with bottle-brush trees for accent. On another set of open shelves Barb displays her collection of Wachtersbach Christmas stoneware pieces in the festive Christmas Tree pattern. Interspersed are little buildings and bottle-brush trees.

A round table in the kitchen holds a vignette of old lace, ribbons, greenery and berries, and a gift bag. Nearby on the kitchen counter an old Santa watches over a tiered tray of holiday goodies. The dining table displays a festive setting of more red pottery with white accents. Just for fun, a shiny silver ornament rests inside each wineglass.

Three fabric wall hangings with trees and stars add primitive color to the dining area, and a dry sink is trimmed with greenery and lights. A whole grouping of wooden stylized Santa Claus figures in various sizes lends a whimsical touch.

White ironstone

In a hallway alcove of shelves, a collection of white ironstone pitchers in various sizes is accented with greenery. It’s a lovely visual spot to display a classic collection.

In the master bedroom a box holding five white candles makes a subtle holiday statement with mini lights.

When Christmas decorations come down, Barb adds numerous snowmen in various media to the scene to celebrate winter. She follows that with patriotic red, white, and blue wall hangings and accessories throughout summer.

In the fall, of course, another set of fabric wall hangings and accessories heralds the change of seasons. A large double closet with shelves holds all her handmade quilts and wall hangings for the year’s seasons.

And what about spring? “Well, no, not really,” says Barb, the lover of dark colors. “I don’t do pastels,” she says with a smile.

 

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