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A San Diego Couple Takes Delight in the Charm--and Peculiarities--of Centuries-Old Furnishings

November 09, 1986|VIRGINIA GRAY | Virginia Gray is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

Fay Jaramillo doesn't merely collect Early American country antiques; she puts them to use, in every room of her house. With the exception of a few items (everyday dinnerware, bath fixtures and floor coverings), virtually all the furnishings in Fay and Gil Jaramillo's 2-year-old stone house in San Diego County are antiques.

"Living with furnishings that are 200 years old can be a bit trying, but it's worth it," Fay says of a collection that includes primitive cupboards, Windsor chairs, hutch tables, treen ware, pewter, hogscraper candlesticks and more.

"Some older Windsor chairs get brittle and require repair. And I may have to lubricate the gliders on a sticking drawer with a bit of soap or have them planed by a cabinetmaker.

"Most antique tables have worn very evenly, but sometimes I'll find a beautiful example that wobbles slightly," she says. "I consider such imperfections a very real part of their charm."

Despite the minor problems that antiques present, Fay Jaramillo refuses to buy reproductions. "I'm a purist," she says. "I like authenticity. Wood cannot be aged artificially to appear 100 years old. And each piece of antique country furniture is one of a kind. Similar things were made, but there are no duplicates. There's practicality and integrity built into these articles."

The one-of-a-kind nature that makes antiques so attractive can also be one of their drawbacks. The Jaramillos' Windsor chairs, for example, vary in size, and several are too small to be used for everyday seating. "It seems that, on the average, people weren't as large 200 years ago as they are today. So I use the bigger, more comfortable chairs for seating and the others as accent pieces."

The couple faced another challenge when they bought their antique bed frames. The original side rails, which were too short to accommodate today's longer mattresses, had to be replaced.

Even the bedcovers need special care. "Linens, lace, quilts--all antiques, of course--require delicate hand-washing and ironing," she says, "but I don't mind because they're such treasures."

When she buys a piece that's been stored for a long time in a barn, smokehouse or attic, it often needs cleaning to bring out the natural finish and to eliminate any odor. "I'll just use a mild soap and a little water--never oil or polish, which can alter the patina," she says.

"I can't believe that anyone would defile a valuable old piece like this early pine hutch table (in her kitchen) by stripping off the original paint. Actually, I would have paid more for the piece had the original finish been left intact."

The Jaramillos' love of antiques extends beyond furnishings. When planning their San Diego house, they bought and carefully dismantled two pre-Civil War barns in rural Illinois and shipped the barn siding and huge hand-hewn beams to California. "We did this because you really can't duplicate the look, and there's no source for old wood here," Fay Jaramillo says. Cleaned barn siding has been used to panel the walls of their "keeping room," and beams have been added to ceilings as trim and are used as mantels throughout the house.

In the kitchen, simple white cabinetry and maple countertops provide a background for antique kitchen implements, breadboards and baskets. Despite the age of these items, Fay never hesitates to press them into service. The kitchen's crowning touch is a large cast-iron stove (dated 1893), which has been refitted to burn natural gas.

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