Using furnishings old and new, Robert Hale and Tom Williams have given their rural rancher a bright, sophisticated look


April 21, 1996|By BETH SMITH

Two antiques-loving urban dwellers are ready to move out to the country. They see a 1960s contemporary rancher on 2 rural acres. It couldn't be more different than the 1812 Baltimore city townhouse they're living in. Do they cross it off their list or opt for a closer look? Seeing great possibilities in the rancher, interior designers Robert Hale and Tom Williams go for the closer look.

The men, partners in the Ruxton firm of Hale-Williams Interior Design, were intrigued by the small house they found on the edge of Green Spring Valley.

"It was love at first sight," says Mr. Hale, recalling that first visit to the house in the icy winter of 1994. Besides having a two-car garage (a dream option for on-street parkers), the rancher had something else the men craved -- generous-sized rooms. Though the house was not large overall, its five rooms were much larger than those in the men's Otterbein townhouse.

So they were impressed with the view that greeted them as they walked into the foyer of the rancher. "We just stood and looked at the 53 feet that ran straight across in front of us from the dining room to the living room to the den, and the first thing out of both of our mouths was 'party,' " recalls Mr. Williams with a laugh. "We both said exactly the same thing at the same time."

Known for throwing an occasional gala, the men immediately realized that the open expanse stretching out before them would be perfect for entertaining. "And I think we were also able to recognize almost immediately the good basic design of the house," adds Mr. Williams.

But not everything was to their liking. The focus of the living area was a floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace -- too rustic for their taste. They also weren't sure they liked the slate flooring and the brown-stained open beams in the public rooms. And the house needed updating. "When two designers buy a house, you can be sure they are going to change things and put their own personal stamp on the space," says Mr. Hale.

After briefly mulling over the pros and cons of buying a contemporary, they decided to go for it. "We knew we were at a point in our lives where we were ready to make some changes," says Mr. Williams. "Moving to the country was one of them."

They made a contingency offer on the rancher, sold the city residence they'd lived in for six years, and moved to their new house within three months of their initial visit.

Eclectic Style

Today, after a flurry of remodeling, much under the direction of builder Dwight Griffith, the Hale-Williams rancher has become a very personal living space -- the fieldstone fireplace has been replaced with a more contemporary version; the slate flooring stayed; the ceiling beams are now a pale greenish-white that coordinates with the newly painted walls and ceiling. The house reflects a bright, sophisticated look that blends a lot of diverse elements.

"I am not exactly sure what to call our personal style of decorating," explains Mr. Williams. "I suppose you could call it eclectic because we use furniture and accessories from lots of different periods. But I think the best way to describe our house is to say it is filled with a lot of things that we really love."

For a short time, the men talked about filling the house with brand-new furnishings. "We even discussed doing Barcelona chairs and a Mies van der Rohe look -- very 1960s -- but we decided we weren't quite there personally," recalls Mr. Williams.

"And," adds Mr. Hale, "like many of our clients, we really are quite comfortable with our own things. We didn't want to cast out everything and start over."

And so they didn't. They included wonderful antiques and traditional furnishings from their former residence in the design scheme of their new home -- a Chesterfield sofa, a Victorian chaise, a large Edwardian armoire, a hand-carved country chair from England.

A French loveseat was reupholstered in a colorful floral and is now the favorite nap spot of Byron, the men's 14-year-old English beagle. Their Biedermeier dining room set fit beautifully in their new dining room.

Many of the pieces in their home have sentimental value, such as the sofa in the den that once belonged to a friend who owned a ski lodge in Vermont; the trestle table where Mr. Williams builds model boats and planes; the hand-carved wood falcon that Mr. Hale fell in love with during a buying trip to Dallas.

But as much as they care for these objects, the men are moving in a new direction with their personal decorating style. Today when they go browsing in antiques shops or consignment stores, they are not looking for classic or traditional pieces. They are looking for art deco -- a style popularized in the '20s and '30s and best known for shiny metals, glass, lacquered woods, and plastics.

Biedermeier and Deco

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