Beams in standard lengths are basis of revived system

A HOUSE BUILT THE COLONIAL WAY

March 24, 1991|By Carleton Jones

There's one thread of emotion and longing that runs through (( most all of America's homeowning dreams.

Be like something else remembered, it says. And build like the old days.

It's been so for the longest time. Those Colonials who landed on the first shores wanted timbered ceilings and heavy, sturdy, danger-repellent cottages furnished with chests and tables of a century earlier. The 18th century wanted Georgian elegance; the early 19th, the gloss of London class; the late 19th, the gorgeous, palatial look of kings and countesses.

That such longings in reverse are not dead can be instantly proved by a glance at America's most recently built housing stock. By and large it's alive with the cliches (on the outside, at least) of earlier years . . . shutters, chimneys, bays, porches and even Victorian jigsaw -- all facade and all the collective distillations of time, visually expressed.

Under the skin, such homes are usually anything but re-creations of earlier America.

On the contrary, one home that is a re-creation has just been finished by Dan and Sharon Mitchell of Cecil County. This couple's contemporary-styled house on an 8-acre waterfront lot near Warfield on the Eastern Shore is actually a structural throwback, and a delightful and light-filled one, to the days of Colonial architecture.

This wavering wash of light-toned walls, Oriental rugs and finely crafted, simple furnishings is actually held together with huge white pine timbers, 12 by 12 or 6 by 6 inches thick and 4, 8, 12 or 16 feet in length. The module must be rigidly maintained to achieve the result planned by the Timberpeg housing system.

"With Timberpeg, you have to work within certain geometric constraints. If you want to make a place larger, it has to be a 4-foot addition," says Dan Mitchell, 47, a manufacturer's agent for a nursery business. Whatever else you do inside, like stealing a foot from one room and adding to another, must balance out on the exterior dimensions of the home.

At the Mitchells', the 4-foot integer is rigidly observed and even the sliding glass doors that front two facades are 8 feet high, as opposed to the standard 74 inches.

Once the richly heavy, restfully solid beams are in place "some people want stain and some people pickle the beams and some even paint. We're just going to let it get darker over the years," says Don Mitchell. He adds that at points of wear, like beam surfaces that will touch people's hands, the wood has been given a light polyester coating. Timberpeg homes are built by a firm that works only from ground level up, after a home's foundation (built to Timberpeg specifications and more heavily engineered than average) is in place.

Before moving to Cecil County the couple had some notion of what a solid, all-wood house would be like. "We had built a house a lot like this one before -- in Kennett Square, Pa.," says Mr. Mitchell.

That helped out with furnishing, too, for what they brought along was perfect for wide-open, 9-foot ceiling areas that flow together simply and in light tones. Over the tongue-and-groove yellow pine floor are Oriental rug reproductions and one fine original from the Middle East, a Bokhara, used in the formally treated living room. In decorating the place, says Mr. Mitchell, "we tend to be sparse and avoid bright colors and stagy effects."

The home's most spectacular feature was not on the original plan. Dana Miller of Fletcher, N.C., a sales representative for the New Hampshire-based Timberpeg system, suggested opening up the first floor's rather small (in floor area) family room just off the center hall. The fireplace-equipped area now has a 2 1/2 -story spectacular loft effect, accented by a tall chimney piece and graced with one of the ship's models that Mr. Mitchell builds from time to time as a hobby.

Many of the things the Mitchells had collected over the years, including a fine genre portrait of Great-great-aunt Susie of Cumberland, a member of family, superbly framed in an antique molding, fit the house's tawny, blond look perfectly. "The frame is worth more than the picture," says Mr. Mitchell of the piece, which has the place of honor in the front hall near a spiral staircase. In another setting, one of the fireplaces is highlighted by a hanging of an old muzzle-loading rifle that belonged to Mrs. Mitchell's great-grandfather.

Most other paintings in the place are of modern origin, including works of Tom Bostelle of Lenape, Pa., who is represented in Washington's elite Phillips collection. If there a single drawback to the all-timber type home and its openness when treated as it is here, it's the relative lack of wall space. "I'd like to have more wall space, but we ran out," Mr. Mitchell says.

"The dining room is very Shaker," says Mr. Mitchell. It is composed of serenely elegant modern wooden chairs of Windsor style, with an appropriately broad style of antique table, the suite, including an elegant china cabinet with solid doors, all done by Douglas Mooberry of Unionville, Pa.

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