The first thing you have to know about the place is that it's old. Built in 1715. George Washington would have to wait 17 more years just to be born.
And it's big. So large that the wings on each end of it are separate homes independent of the mansion. So big that it actually has two libraries and two solaria.
That's the little-known Bordley-Randall mansion, buried for literally centuries behind a curtain of private homes and businesses in Randall Court, a wedge-shaped cul-de-sac between Maryland and College avenues off State Circle in Annapolis.
Next Friday the curtain will go up on one of the old place's golden hours, a monthlong house tour sponsored by the auxiliary of the Anne Arundel General Health Care Systems.
"We've never been involved in anything quite like it," says the project's design coordinator, Liz Saunders, of E/I Design Associates, of Annapolis. "Once it was almost falling down. It really is remarkable. Now it's an incredible pleasure to see it come back," she says of the reworking of the stately but once creaky old home.
Seventeen redecorated rooms and areas like sunny corridors and porches of the Bordley-Randall will be open to the public for the first time that anybody can remember. The Maryland decorating community has fixed up the interior in lordly style and the charity tours the auxiliary will sponsor continue through Oct. 28 for the benefit of Anne Arundel Medical Center and its equipment needs and programs.
Mrs. James Olfson and Mrs. Stephen Hiltabidle are co-chairmen of the 1990 Annapolis Show House program and 30 design firms of the Maryland area have worked the transformation of the mansion into modern decorator terms.
"Essentially the designers have tried to maintain the historical integrity of the house, not by doing it as a preservation interior, but by adapting to the various periods which the house encompasses for today's living," Mrs. Saunders relates.
The drawing room of the house, long an Annapolis social center, has been decorated by the Saunders firm and features a Victorian "fainting couch" among other furnishings, portraits and artifacts of the mansion's owners of earlier periods. Partial guidance in furnishing central parlors of the exhibit has come from surviving 1850s photographs showing interiors as they were just before the Civil War. Incredibly, a complete house inventory from the 1720s is also in existence. Somewhat in the manner of families to the manor born in England, the Bordley-Randall house has sheltered about 10 generations but from six successive families. The last owners, Capt. and Mrs. Philip VanHorn Weems, bought the building in 1938. It became an Annapolis social center for Navy folk and friends just before and after World War II. Mrs. Saunders remembers parties, teas, receptions and balls held in the building. Her husband was the Naval Academy roommate of the owner's son, Charles Dodds, who was married in the Naval Academy chapel to Missy Weems, the captain's daughter. At present Philip VanHorn Weems Dodds (the captain's grandson) and wife, Susan, are custodians of the building for the Weems-Dodds trust, owners of the building. The Dodds operate a computer software firm. Over the past 18 months, the trust has been restoring the mansion's exterior.
It's the interior that has gotten the most recent attention.
Ranging widely through periods, and blending styles even in the same room, the decorator tour features historic notes like a draped ceiling of Empire days in a room also featuring a Weems Dodds heirloom, a desk by Potthast of Baltimore. (The ceiling job consumed 200 yards of chintz.) The master bedroom in the show home includes lavish Louis XV pieces from the Newport estate of the Woolworth family, with an Empire sleigh bed centering the formal ensemble.
Major rooms in the home's first floor include a music room, drawing room and large dining room. The drawing room features a large ottoman and an English-style painted iron tray as a coffee table. The dining room has an Ushak Oriental rug and a floral wallpaper print by Schumacher. The table setting is made up of Waterford glass and the Bombay china pattern by Syracuse. A large George III sideboard fills one wall.
The home's music room showcases a David Holmes harpsichord completed last year and equipped with a playing mechanism. Wayne Reynolds of Baltimore did the Adam-style gilt mirror for the fireplace and Valley Craftsmen of Baltimore executed the cornice frieze at the ceiling line. Tapestry florals decorate the walls and the chandelier is an Italian work in contemporary styling.