One of the more frustrating things about renovating an old house is finding appropriate replacements for missing pieces.
If you have a lot of money, you can usually find craftspeople who will replace missing ceiling molding or restore a parquet floor. But most rehabbers don't have a lot of money.
If you have a lot of patience, you can comb antique shops, architectural salvage purveyors and junkyards for the right parts. But most people would rather finish the house in less than a decade.
The products are out there -- moldings of wood, foam and cast resin, wood flooring and wainscoting, reproduction Victorian tiles. . . . In fact, a trip through the recent Home Builders Association of Maryland trade show demonstrated more and more companies are turning out historically sensitive and stylish products. There were more than 200 exhibitors at this year's Builder Mart, held March 19 at Timonium fairgrounds, and about 4,700 people visited.
Here's a brief roundup of some we liked:
*"Victorian" tiles. The Victorian Collection by H & R Johnson gets our personal "best of show" award. It's based on styles of Minton Hollins, a British company that was in the forefront of tile design around the turn of the century. The tiles, which are made in the United Kingdom, come in several floral designs and six colors. Each color comes in seven sizes, including four with floral or geometric relief designs. The colors are Victoria blue, deep green, burgundy, china blue (light blue), apple green and white. George W. Sasser and Sons, Inc. of Owings Mills displayed the tile in stunning combinations of florals and bands of color that would look great in an old-fashioned bath or "country" kitchen.
*Polymer moldings. High-density polymer moldings from FYPON, of Stewartstown, Pa., resist water, insects, ultraviolet light, vermin, fungus and solvents and won't warp, rot or crack. They can be used inside or outside and come in a huge range of products and styles: moldings, door and window trim, window heads, keystones and arches, shutters, brackets, gable decorations, louvers, balustrades, medallions, caps and bases, railings, newel and porch posts, balls, knobs, acorns, urns, pineapples, rosettes and (we swear we aren't making this up) bips and nips.
*Wood moldings. More manufacturers are showing more elaborate milled-wood moldings. Ornamental Mouldings Limited of Ontario, Canada, offers ceiling medallions, mantel shelves, chair rails, door casings and intricate cornice moldings. You shouldn't have to look a long way from home, though; local mills have also discovered the rehab market. Milton W. Bosley & Co. of Glen Burnie and Chesapeake Moulding and Millwork, Inc. of Millersville offer reproduction styles and custom millwork.
*Interior architecture. Mantlecraft Inc. of Florence, Ala., offers hardwood wainscoting and paneling systems in a variety of styles and finishes. A particularly handsome design is a fireplace surround, designed to match the mantel, with pilasters and panels on the wall above. DLH Woodworking, Inc. of Glen Burnie specializes in custom wood and laminate "built-in" cabinetry, including bookcases, base cabinets, mantels, raised panel wainscoting, countertops and file cabinets in a variety of finishes, including some stunning faux designs.
There were other products we admired that would work in just about any house. One was a home electronics network from Square D that links audio, video and telephone equipment throughout the house. The system uses an open-wiring format and a special panel box to coordinate devices you already own. It can include television monitoring of the front doorstep or the kids' room, can deliver theater-quality sound to any room, and can allow you to pick up the phone and page the family for dinner. It was designed for new construction, but would also be easy to install if you're rewiring an old house.
Another interesting product, from Generac Corp. of Waukesha, lTC Wis., is a home generating system, about the size of an air-conditioning compressor, that comes on automatically if the power fails, and shuts off automatically when the power comes back on. It offers from 8,000 to 20,000 watts and is powered by natural or LP gas.
This is only a tiny sample of the intriguing products and services promoted at the Builder Mart. While the show is a treasure trove of products, few people know about it because it's not marketed to the general public. At $35, the ticket price is somewhat steep, though a bull and oyster roast is included in the price.
It might still be a worthwhile trip for serious rehabbers. Even though some of the exhibitors sell only to the building trade, knowing a product is out there at least means you can ask your contractor about it.
And in case you were wondering, bips and nips are FYPON's names for the finial-like decorative devices used on cornices and brackets.
Next: Answers to reader questions.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.