Christmas at the Inn (inside)

colored_xmas_lightsOnce the outside was taken care of, we could turn to the inside, which is much more fun in my opinion.  At one point you could not even walk through the hallway or dining room because of the Great Christmas Storage Bin Explosion.  Glitter was everywhere– is everywhere still!  (Seriously, how do you get rid of loose glitter??) Having bins and bags and boxes of holiday decor, some of which I had never seen, meant opening everything all at once and seeing what was inside.  Some of it was fantastic and some of it (I’m thinking of you, melted pink candle stubs), were not really usable anymore.

With all sorts of options and choices at my fingertips, I set about making the suites somewhat understatedly decorated and the public rooms overstatedly Christmased. With the holiday music on full blast–because what is the holiday without John Denver and the Muppets singing “12 Days of Christmas??–I put out the gnomes from Scandinavia, the smokers from Germany, Santa and his flying reindeer from Iceland, and everything else we have collected over the years.

Each suite has a wreath or a swag on the door and a poinsettia in the room, plus one of the drawings of the holiday card.  Usually its one of me and my cat, Jackie, because of the ones with Will and I are hanging on the hallway, mixed in between our canvas travel photos.   Capitol_wreath



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These gnomes are from Scandinavia, called Tomte in Swedish or Nisse in Danish.  Tomte are mythological creatures associated with Christmas and are usually about 3 feet tall or shorter, always have a long white beard, and wear a conical hat.  According to legend, they love buttery porridge and watche over the house (or farm) in which they reside.   They are some of my favorite holiday decorations and I am reminded of our trips to Denmark and Sweden everything I see them.  And, if you look closely at the photo with the travel photos, you can see the Inn’s holiday card and our holiday card for this year framed on the wall.


What is the holiday without the Nutcracker?  These nutcrackers are placed throughout the Inn and are just about 3 inches tall.  They remind of my sister and brother-in-law, who, when living in San Francisco, worked the Nutcracker Ballet.  His job: to make the Christmas grow at the end of Act I.  He would have to sit inside the tree for the entire first act, waiting for his cue of Herr Doktor Drosslemeyer casting a magic spell on the tree to make it grow.  I can’t imagine sitting in a tree trunk for that long for one action, but he did it, year and year.

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The banister is always fun to decorate and this year, I did it without lights but with flowers, beads, and topped with a beautiful golden song bird.  Also, hanging from the bottom of the banister are several bits of string, waiting to hold Christmas cards that we receive.  I love displaying everyone’s cards and making them a focal point on the stairs is a great way to do that.

Antietam_Suite_fireplaceI think that my favorite suite to decorate this year was the Antietam Suite– it has so many options with that fireplace!  I have birds and mice, wreaths and foxes tucked on the mantel.  I particularly love the birds, with their faux fur scarfs.  wreath_closeup dressed_birds mouse_fox

In the sitting and dining rooms, we have garland, stockings, a Christmas ficus, bouncy birds, and smokers.  Technically these are räuchermännchen, a traditional German decoration that also is an incense burner. The incense smoke curls out of the mouth and since each of the characters has a pipe, it looks like they are smoking.  I have two of mine from the Christmas markets in Germany and one from a year-round holiday store in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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And finally: our Christmas Tree.  A real one gotten from a local market, it’s a Canaan Fir, which I have never had before.  It is quite pretty and just under 7 feet tall.  I love decorating a real Christmas tree, even putting on the lights– and we all know that lights are never fun.  We have several of the yearly White House Christmas ornaments and one guest just gave us the 2016 one: a firetruck from the Herbert Hoover Administration.  We were quite touched that our guests gave us this present.


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And a post script, what house doesn’t have a bonsai Christmas?  When I was putting the finishing touches on the tree, Will snuck off and decorated one of his bonsai trees, complete with miniature ornaments and presents under the tree.


From Will, Stirling, and myself, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a marvelous New Year.  May 2017 bring you love, happiness, and peace.


Christmas at the Inn (outside)


It’s our first holiday season at the Inn and we have had such a  fun time decorating.  Some decorations were left in the basement; we had several bins of stuff; and my friend’s lovely parents donated a TON of decorations to us as they are downsizing.  Without their additional items, I would have been out on a buying spree!

We have never really decorated the exterior of our house before, so being up on the roof to hang wreaths was a first.  Untangling boxes and bags of garlands and strings of lights was also a fun way to spend a windy afternoon.  However, we think that the outcome is pretty spectacular.

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And much to Will’s chagrin and my absolute delight, I put up the wooden reindeer, complete with tartan scarfs.  I put them in the back yard, at least, so you can’t see them from the road.  We were trying to keep the front yard classy.  Every time I see them. I giggle.

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We added more candles in the windows, to make it different from the rest of the year, and Will wrapped every lamp post in lights.  By the end of the afternoon, even he–usually pretty grumpy when it comes to decorating– was totally into it and loving how the Inn looked.  We have gotten a few calls from neighbors about how lovely it looks, so we are pretty pleased with our first efforts of outdoor decorating.  Will is even thinking about next holiday and how we can improve what we have out this year!


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I will say that I do really love our digital camera.  One of the fun features it has is to highlighting a single color while making the rest of the photo black and white.  Focusing on the red ribbons on the wreaths and in the garland, it makes for quite dramatic photos.   And of course, no post would be complete without our obligatory photo of Stirling:

The obligatory Stirling photo


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Transformation: Potomac Suite

The bedroom suite we worked on last was the Potomac Suite.  I had left it for last of the three that we were going to renovated, thinking it was going to be the easiest since the main room has very little wallpaper.  Looks can definitely be deceiving.


The Garden Room, as we saw it when first touring the property

This was known as the Garden Suite.  At one time the ceiling was pink and matching flamingo pink curtains. The walls white and a wallpaper trim of greenery and flowers on the ceiling and the walls, highlighting the crown molding.  The curtains and tablecloths in the room were trimmed in the matching garland of flowers.

The ceiling had faded in color so much that it wasn’t until I stripped off the wallpaper that I really confirmed that it had indeed been painted.  And there has been a leak above one of the windows–long ago dried up– that needed some serious repair work.











The closet, sitting room, and bathroom of the suite had the same wallpaper.  The sitting was set up in a strange way that didn’t really take advantage of the space.


Desk area                   DSCF2906 (1)Garden Suite sitting room close up


I was able to quickly remove the trim in the front room– it came off easily in strips.  The ink and glue from the wallpaper paste left a greenish residue on the wall and ceilings that was washed off.  However, once the paper was removed from the area around a crack in the ceiling from a long-dried leak, the plaster came off in chunks and handfuls.  I was also able to see just how faded the ceiling was; I really think that it was once as pink as the flamingo curtains!

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While I washed the ceiling and the walls, Will removed all the crumbling plaster work around and above the window.  He replastered it, taking several days to build up the surface again.  It took massive amounts of Plaster of Paris, Spackle, and joint compound to repair the ceiling and wall.  It was days of application, drying, sanding, wiping down, and repeat.  At one point, during a final sand, Will emerged from the room entirely white: he was covered head to toe in plaster dust.  Unfortunately I didn’t think to get a photo– I was too concerned with getting him into the shower asap so none of the dust (or as little as possible) was tracked throughout the house.

Hoping that was going to be hardest part of the room, I turned to the closet and sitting area of the suite to remove the wallpaper.  I thought that with which the ease that the trim in the sleeping area came off, the removal of this paper would be a breeze as well.  Instead, several more days were spent tearing small, insignificant pieces off.



I used several different things to try to help remove the paper, and ultimately the best was soaking the paper constantly in hot, soapy water.  I had previously scored it and would spray it with fabric softener of WP Chomp. Then, I would resoak the area in hot, soapy water sprayed on with a water bottle and set to carefully ripping off the biggest segment of paper I could.  As you can see from the photo above, these segments were not very large at all.

Meantime, Will was ripping out the bathroom.  Another toilet removed and the built-in cabinet destroyed.  We then tore out the old stained linoleum flooring.  He made some repairs to the flange for the loo, as it seemed to have leaked at some point in the 30 years.  I got the paint brush out and gladly painted the ceiling.  We love the  Valspar Color Changing Ceiling Paint.  It goes on a pale shade of lavender but dries brilliant white.  Now, when painting over a slightly pink ceiling, the first coat of color-changing may seem silly, but it is so handy when doing a second coat.  You know where you been!  You can see spots that you missed.  It really makes painting ceilings–one of the worst things to paint in my opinion– much easier.

After the ceiling was done, I painted primer on the walls and trim.  The walls sucked up that primer so fastA30D07E1-5BF0-4177-8E6E-08E125875ADA that each place of the wall were I started was dry before I finished the other side of it. Then came time for the actual paint.  Will was a bit dubious of the my choice but I had told him from the beginning, I wanted this room to be a deep navy or dark blue.  I opted for the sleeping area to be Benjamin Moore’s Britannia Blue and for the closet, sitting area, and bathroom, I went with BM’s Mineral Alloy, as it was ever so much more light reflecting and those areas do not have a lot of natural light.


DBF16B6D-1331-4C47-9FA3-26548196C743With one coat the rooms were completely transformed.  They seemed brighter and bigger.  The trim and crown molding seemed to pop more. The room just seemed more settled and peaceful.

In the bathroom, we replaced the floor with grey tiles and added a new new toilet and vanity.  I scrubbed the bathtub tiles and sliding doors so hard I thought I might have removed a some of the surface!

We hung lots of maps and art that highlighted the Potomac River, which has a significant role in history in this area but as well as for Washington, D.C., a city that we love.

In the dressing area, we hung our Barbados map and a print of the George Washington house in Barbados, the only country our first president visited.  He was there as a teenager, accompanying his half-brother to the island as part of a medical treatment.  While on Barbados, young George first heard the phrase “Taxation without Representation”, as the planters there were in a tax fight with the mother country, England.  He saw working garrisons for the first time and he contracted small pox, which give him immunity and allowing him to survive the spread of the disease that was running rampant in the army during the American Revolution.


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The end results of all of this work? Amazing.  The Potomac Suite is my second favorite room.  I am thrilled at its transformation.

Room Transformation: Edmonds Suite

As you know, we have been renovating the Inn ourselves, focusing on the bedrooms and suites.  When this house was originally turned into a bed and breakfast in 1983 by the Fairbournes, they spared no expense when designing and decorating the rooms.  The quality of the items and materials is apparent because everything still looks pretty decent nearly four decades later. Still, time does wear on things and styles do change.  We wanted to make the rooms fresh and clean and definitely more modern.  We did the renovations ourselves, partly because we could and partly because we couldn’t find a contractor that would fit within our time line.  We have done something in every single rental suite and I am going to show you the before and after photos of the rooms.

That being said, the first room to show you is what we now call the Edmonds Suite, and it is the room we have touched the least.  It was formerly called the Rose Suite– named for the wallpaper–and the decor is so over the top and so Victorian that we opted to keep this room pretty much the same.

Rose Room before

Rose Room before

Edmonds Suite now

Edmonds Suite now








Rose Suite's bay window

Rose Suite’s bay window

Edmonds Suite bay window

Edmonds Suite bay window










As you can see, we really only moved furniture around and cleaned the walls and drapery really, really well.  We created more of a sitting area in the front room.  In the back sitting room, we again cleaned all the walls and drapery as well as rearranged the pictures on the wall (eventually the wallpaper will be removed in this area).

The biggest change in the Edmonds Suite was the bathroom.  We removed the old built-in cabinet vanity and replaced it with a vanity that looks more like furniture.  We stripped the wallpaper and opted for a bright, pale cream that coordinates with the creams in the wallpaper in the sitting and bedroom.  We updated the toilet to a dual flush toilet– and one without a wooden seat!  We regrouted the tub and replaced the shower head.  The tiles and tub were scrubbed within inches of their lives and literally changed colors: the tiles are gleaming white now and not a dull, nasty beige color with years of dirt and soap scum on them.

Rose Suite bathoom

Rose Suite bathroom

Edmonds Suite bathroom

Edmonds Suite bathroom


The second biggest change for this suite was the name change: the Sarah Emma Edmonds Suite.  Most bed and breakfasts name their rooms to reflect the era and area.  For an inn located in the midst of a Civil War battlefield, we did want to acknowledge that history but focus it on women.  Most people immediately think of Clara Barton when you say “women in the Civil War”.  We wanted to recognize someone else– someone with a more a tie to Antietam.  Hence, Sara Emma Edmonds.  She was a spy for the Union Army and enlisted as “Frank”.  Her biography, and her autobiography Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: The Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battlefields,  are completely fascinating and is available in the suite to read while visiting.  She wasn’t the only woman spying for her side– there were several others: Belle Boyd, for example, spied for the Confederates and her house is located in Martinsburg, WV (about a 25 minute drive from us). We have placed several historical works in the Edmonds Suite to give our patrons an opportunity to learn about these women and others.  This room name is a small tribute to their extraordinary contributions to the Civil War.












Stirling in the azaleas

Stirling in the azaleas

Hello and welcome to the Inn at Antietam! We are Miriam and William Cunningham, the new owners, and we look forward to sharing our stories with you.

Miriam (me) is originally from Kentucky and moved to DC to attend graduate school in European History. William was born in England and moved to the USA after he finished university. A mutual friend introduced us while watching a world cup soccer match. We dated, we married, and we adopted our puppy: Stirling, an English Shepard collie dog.

We moved to Sharpsburg from Washington, DC, earlier this year, after living in the city for twenty-plus years. We love the District, but we were ready for something new and and different. Miriam wanted to run a bed and breakfast and William wanted chickens. So, here we are. William is continuing his employment as a program director for a conferencing company and Miriam will be making breakfast. Chickens still to come.

The Inn at Antietam is a beautiful old Victorian house, originally built in 1906.  In 1983, it was first turned into a bed and breakfast.  We are the third owners and we will continue the tradition of offering comfortable, pleasant accommodations with a delicious homemade breakfast.  We are currently updating and renovating the suites while keeping the beautiful charm of the house, the garden, and the back fields. You can follow all the changes and renovations through this blog.  We will also feature things to do in the area, not just the Antietam National Battlefield and National Cemetery which are our adjacent neighbors.

We hosted several overnight visitors for long term stays to our home in Washington and now we cannot wait to welcome you to our new home, the Inn at Antietam!