By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Country Sampler is a popular magazine for homeowners if they are searching for window treatments, bedding, rugs, linens, artwork, lighting, accessories, or just about anything “country” – an inviting style that speaks “come in and make yourself at home”! Even folks who aren’t looking to make a purchase will find ideas and inspiration … and certainly, their holiday issues can stimulate lots of creative visions! Often, just looking at the pictures is a thought-provoking adventure.
The November 2016 issue of Country Sampler showcases some festive holiday homes decked for the Christmas season, and in that issue is an 11-page spread featuring a 107-year old home owned by Harrison County native Linda (Fields) Balta who now resides in Vancouver, Washington.
Linda, a graduate of Notre Dame High School, lived in Clarksburg until she was 22; then she married and moved to Chicago where her husband Bob originated. There, they resided for 15 years, raising their two sons, before relocating again to the state of Washington.
“When we first moved to this area, Vancouver, which is located on the Washington-Oregon border, was a little bedroom community of Portland and very small; however, things have changed quite a bit. Almost half a million people live here now,” Linda explained.
She and her family have been Vancouver residents for 31 years now, and they have moved many times … each time redoing the home they purchased, making it “their own style”.
The 107-year old home they have lived in for the past five years is a 3,800-square foot home that offers a view of the nearby Columbia River. Linda says this house always “spoke to her”.
“It caught my eye when I first drove by it,” Linda stated. “It was run down but I always thought it could be so cute if someone fixed it up and loved it a little. I believe it was karma! We were not planning to move, but a realtor had purchased that house himself and fixed it up to flip it. We looked at it, bought it and moved in within three weeks!”
Then the work began. Although the realtor had done a lot of work, some things just didn’t suit Linda. For example, new carpeting had been installed throughout the house, but Linda felt that a house this old HAD to have something interesting underneath. So, yes, they ripped up all of that brand new carpeting and found the original hardwood floors.
“We did a little light sanding but left some traces of paint and some of the imperfections. For me, that is part of the home’s charm,” she added.
The kitchen as well was not to her liking! “It resembled a man cave with dark cabinets and dark flooring, and I couldn’t live with that,” she said. “So not much time passed before my husband starting tearing it up! He can do almost everything, so we made it much lighter and brighter, put in a farm sink, new countertops and new flooring. It is kind of reminiscent of the 50’s era and features a bold red soffit that is broken up with lots of black and white signs made by my son.”
Those signs are particularly eye-catching if you’re familiar at all with Harrison County! One signs spells out “Clarksburg” … another says “Tomaro’s Bakery” … and there is a framed black and white picture above the counter that identifies it as the “Ellis Restaurant”!
“I wanted my kitchen to reflect my roots,” she described. “Much of it is a tribute to my family. I have wonderful memories as a child of going to Tomaro’s Bakery every Sunday after church for fresh pepperoni rolls! My mother’s sister was Lucille (Mrs. Sam) Ellis, and my grandfather operated the projection room at the Ellis Drive-In theater on Bridgeport Hill. My father also worked at the Ellis Restaurant off and on for years. My kitchen resonates all of these great memories of growing up in Clarksburg!”
The Country Sampler feature captures all of these kitchen images of Linda’s roots. But their main focus was her holiday style. She admits that it was probably a little out of their realm to feature her home in their magazine because she is not really country or primitive. She says she is a mix of lots of styles – a little bit shabby chic, a little beachy, a little vintage, a bit of farmhouse style …. an eclectic blend.
“But I do go ‘over the top’ at Christmas time with decorating,” Linda says, “because you can do so much! I typically start Thanksgiving weekend and although I have everything in place in about a week, I continue to change things around and tweak things right up until the week before Christmas. Luckily, our house has a large storage room right off the living room and that is where I store all of my holiday décor; it is very easily accessible.”
Linda says she goes outside the box with holiday colors too! “I don’t stick to the traditional red and green. I throw in some turquoise and white. It’s a little different but because our home has a view of the river, I try to bring the water inside by incorporating turquoise, lots of seagrass greens, pale blue, etc. I guess our home is kind of ‘beachy chic’ – even during the holidays,” she continued.
She has been known to have a tree in every room! Some of them are smaller ones, though, with just one large MAIN tree. And she does LOTS of wrapping too – some packages have gifts inside and others are empty – propped up just for looks! And yes, she does all of this just for her family because she likes doing it.
“I never did decorating professionally, but it has always been a passion of mine. For a few years, I had an antique business and bought and sold antiques. I have several antiques in my home and a few old family pieces. But that was it for me career-wise. I was blessed to be able to stay some with my boys and I enjoyed making a beautiful home for my family. That was what I loved doing,” she said. “I think if you surround yourself with beauty, you feel better. I came from a home like that. My mother, my aunt and my grandmother always had beautiful things and I am a product of that.”
Linda recalls a neighbor who cleaned out her basement and found an old vintage green, glass-doored cabinet. She was going to throw it away but offered it to Linda, telling her she might be able to fix it up and do something with it.
“I cleaned it up a little but did nothing else to it,” she said. “My neighbor’s junk became my treasure and it fit perfectly above my living room fireplace! I am a big fan of taking something old and giving it a new use. It is cost effective and so much fun.”
She says things travel all over her house! She has taken an old bedskirt and covered a love seat with it; she collects old linens and finds that they serve many purposes; she has moved an old duvet cover from a bed and jazzed it up to look charming on her sofa.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make your home inviting and pretty,” she says. “I have found lots of vintage treasures at flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales. My style used to be more sophisticated, but now I’m more casual. I enjoy giving old things a new purpose!”
Linda’s home displays much of her history and her roots. Imagine her delight last month when, shopping at a garage sale in the state of Washington, , she came upon a pitcher that had been made at the McNichol China factory in Clarksburg, WV years ago! Her roots seem to find her even 3,000 miles from her West Virginia ‘home’.
Her talents, too, are recognized! Although she never pursued a career in decorating, her homes through the years have appeared in several magazines – three times in Romantic Homes, a feature in Cottage Style, and several others before this latest spread in County Sampler. Decorating is a labor of love for Linda Balta and obviously her flair is worthy of the attention she has received from highly recognized publications!
“Appearing in County Sampler was a thrilling experience,” she concluded. “And most heartwarming for me was the fact that I heard from a few old schoolmates from back in Clarksburg because of that feature! It managed to take me ‘home’ again.”