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Stargazing

You know you've seen them. They're everywhere. Those large metal stars, hung on doorways, mantels, and porches, have become as plentiful as the stars above, creating little suburban galaxies and urban constellations all across Massachusetts.

Officially known as ``barn stars" or ``architectural stars," these objects were originally used as decorative wall anchors on old barns and farmhouses and often represented the mark of a builder. Over time, however, the stars took on a more aesthetic purpose and were adopted by the Amish as a symbol of good luck for the family and crops of the farms they adorned, said Eric Mann, owner of New England Country, a custom home and furniture builder in Sterling.

``I think they are popular again because the stars are a throwback and have a good, `old-time' story associated with them," said Mann. `` `Old' is the new `new.' "

The fact that the stars bring good fortune -- according to folklore -- is probably a huge factor in their newfound popularity, Mann said. Who couldn't use a little extra luck?

Barn stars are fairly inexpensive and easy to get. Some are handmade and sold at cool, niche craft shops while others are mass manufactured and hawked by large retailers and bargain outlets.

Christi Dean recently purchased a barn star as a gift for her boyfriend at an antiques store in Gloucester. ``The people at the store told me they started as Chinese good luck stars and were later adopted by the Amish with the same meaning," she said. ``We hung the star in our home in Western Massachusetts. It's yellow, tattered, and very striking."

Heidi Pribell, a Cambridge-based interior designer, said barn stars can be used to create a variety of looks from fanciful to formal, depending upon how they are molded and shaped.

``I've seen them used in repetitive patterns in urban environments, as well as in reserved country settings," she said. ``For example, the plain five-point star can be used to create a Western ranch-look, whereas a more elaborate -- and rare -- six-point star can be used to bring more formality to a space."

For Melissa Bruno of Belmont, the stars were not only within her decorating budget but also a cool craft project. ``Because of my pieced-together furniture choices and a large shingled wall on my porch, there weren't too many decorating options that would have fit in the space and still looked great," she said.

Bruno bought her barn stars at the Christmas Tree Shops and the Ann & Hope Garden Center in Danvers and then antiqued them with interior Pittsburgh paint and a fine - grain sand paper block. ``They turned out great," she said.

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