New Spaces For Old Treasures

October 09, 1994|By Beth Smith

When Jim and Carol Trela decided to build a house, they had two important requirements for the design.

The house had to have the right spaces to showcase their old furniture -- 18th- and 19th-century antiques collected during the last 20 years. It also had to incorporate century-old doors, mantels and other architectural elements, which the Trelas had amassed and were eager to recycle into their new home.

"These old things have a craftsmanship in their construction that can't be matched anywhere," says Jim Trela, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "They have a mellowness that gives them so much warmth and character."

Their collection influenced their house design. For example, the dining room had to be big enough to accommodate an American-made, 1820 mahogany pedestal table, which seats 14 people. Also, the kitchen needed a stretch of uninterrupted wall to support a large cupboard more than 200 years old, and a second space to build in a 250-year-old cupboard.

As for the house that would accommodate all of these antiques, the couple wanted to build a traditional model that was open, airy and spacious. Mrs. Trela, an antiques dealer who specializes in 18th-century furniture, believes newer houses, with their larger rooms, natural light and wall space, are better than older houses for displaying antiques.

"We were moving from a beautiful 18th-century house that we had very carefully restored over 11 years," says Mrs. Trela.

"I loved that house but I knew I didn't want to live in a copy of it or a copy of any other 18th-century house.

"We needed more space," she says. "Our sons were growing and they wanted to have friends over for parties. An 18th-century house is not the place for teen-age get-togethers."

The Trelas weighed their options carefully, and first considered where to build the house on 35 acres of rolling farmland they own in Baltimore County.

After two years of debating among themselves and making many visits to the property, they chose a site high on a cleared knoll that offered vistas in every direction. The house catches not only the prevailing breezes, but streams of sunlight.

For more than three years, the couple considered house plans. They finally settled on a brick, two-story Colonial with a full basement, center hall and chimneys at each end of the house. While not a pure Georgian, the house has a formality that traces its style to English architecture of the 18th century.

"Once we knew we were going with a center hall and two chimneys, the rest of the basic plan fell into place," Mr. Trela says. "We spent most of our time working out the interior details."

They are quick to give recognition to Baltimore architect Bruce Finkelstein, who went over their design, pointed out potential problems and fine-tuned their plans.

"For instance, I had originally wanted glass doors between Jim's study and the living room," explains Mrs. Trela. "But Bruce reminded me that I like windows and doors without draperies."

After taking a hard look at both rooms, Mrs. Trela gave up the door. She decided she didn't want guests to sit in the formal living room, with its collection of fine antiques, and stare into Jim Trela's work space, with its profusion of books, papers and computer equipment.

Mr. Finkelstein also helped them to avoid building a center hall stairway that would have been too steep. He suggested placing an open landing near the top of the stairs, a landing with just enough wall space for an 18th-century linen press.

The Trelas have only praise for Fallston builder Jim Paglia, who oversaw the project. "He was the first person here in the morning and last person to leave at night for over six months, " says Mrs. Trela. "Whatever we asked him to do, he did."

One of his challenges was installing Mrs. Trela's collection of 18th-century cupboards into walls throughout the house, including a brick wall in the kitchen. The wood cabinets were used for storage in Colonial kitchens and bedrooms. Two centuries later they are serving the same purpose for the Trelas.

The house is full of furniture that still functions, hundreds of years after it was made. Some pieces, such as the 18th-century highboy, Martha Washington chair and Sheraton settee in the living room, and the Federal period sideboard in the center hall, are elegant and refined. But many pieces are less formal in style.

"I only buy pieces that have been made by skilled craftsmen," Mrs. Trela says. A self-taught specialist, she examines a piece of furniture before buying it -- sometimes for more than an hour. She is frequently called on by clients to estimate the value of 18th-century antiques sold in New York auction houses. The pieces she chooses to have in her home reflect her intense interest in what has become her life's work.

Her sons, Eric, 23, and Tom, 14, have learned to live with and like 18th-century furniture. They have been doing their homework on slant-front, 200-year-old desks for years.

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