An Edwardian Showplace

October 06, 1991

Armed with sharply defined design ideas and a legacy of antiques from one of Maryland's most distinguished families, Benjamin Preston Rich transformed a pedestrian town house, circa 1969, into an Edwardian showplace -- in only 30 days.

For Mr. Rich, a sense of kinship with the past comes naturally. His forebears include Maryland's first governor, in the 18th century, Thomas Johnson; 19th century governor Elihu Jackson; and early 20th century governor Edwin Warfield, as well as Mr. Rich's maternal grandfather, Baltimore Mayor James H. Preston.

His mother was the only heir of the Preston family for five generations, and he was her only child. "So I inherited literally [everything from] the family going back to 1743," he says.

Inherited pieces range from a priceless mid-18th century Parisienne or molu desk and other important antiques to exquisite Oriental rugs. Family members were immortalized in paint by members of both the Peale and the Hallwig families, well-known Maryland portrait painters, and in bronze by one of the most important sculptors in Maryland history, Hans Schuler.

These treasures, kept in storage for decades, are in superb condition and go a long way toward establishing an Edwardian atmosphere. But it was Mr. Rich's understanding of architecture and his eye for detail that led to a successful Edwardian ambience -- and his formidable organizational skills that accomplished such a seemingly impossible feat in a mere 30 days.

During the planning phase, Mr. Rich took his ideas to interior designer Shari Semple of Papier Design Group. "I essentially wanted to reconstruct aspects of my grandfather's original mansion on Mount Vernon Square, which I'd always loved as a child," he says.

Construction was to include structural changes to the house, the remodeling of three bathrooms and part of the kitchen, the installation of wood floors on the two lower levels, and all decorative aspects.

Once plans were drawn and materials ordered, most of the construction was done by Baltimore construction engineer and craftsman Carlos Korenczuk. To speed the work, Mr. Rich donned overalls and worked alongside the crews, painstakingly gold-leafing moldings and directing traffic as his own general contractor.

Throughout, modern materials were used to establish a historically accurate look. Various layers of architectural molding similar to those common in Edwardian mansions were sculpted using 1-foot wide molding along the bottom of the ceiling, then along the ceiling itself. The molding is a material called Lincrusta, a heavy, difficult-to-apply British construction material similar to linoleum -- invaluable for its simulation of genuine period molding.

Bedroom ceilings were covered with Anaglypta, an architectural wallpaper that, when painted white, gives the plaster-like appearance of ceiling shadows.

Throughout the house, window draperies are styled authentically velvet and silk, with moire backing, according to Mr. Rich's design. Sheers are imported French lace. Colors everywhere are deep and jewel-like, with the ceilings of public rooms painted the same as the walls and accented with moldings.

Such a rapid, yet thorough transformation of a modern town house seems magical. Says Mr. Rich: "The last contractor moved out just two hours before the moving van came to the door."

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