A place in the country Antiques: After years of collecting for their business, Gaines McHale's owners find a home for their personal treasures.

July 05, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff

The setting sun is painting a molten orange stripe across the silvery sheen of the Choptank River near Trappe, and the motorboat, briefly, idles in the water. From here, Ingleside Farm's place, firmly rooted in the traditions of the Eastern Shore, is perfectly clear.

This would once have been the main entrance to the house, as the river was once the main thoroughfare for social and commercial affairs.

The land slopes gently up to the 150-year-old dwelling, painted in creamy yellow with white trim and black-green shutters. Four tall chimneys surround the widow's walk on the roof. It is gracious rather than imposing, more farmhouse than stately manor.

And for Jean McHale, of Gaines McHale Antiques & Home in Otterbein, it was the house of her dreams -- the one where she could put all of her furniture, the treasured pieces collected over the years of shopping and buying for the business, where she could use her imagination to restore, refurbish, polish and pamper the old house until it glowed.

She spotted it 2 1/2 years ago while on a business trip, the perfect antique house for a lover of antiques -- a place where 18 years of practicing the antiques business could be put to real-life use.

"From the minute I saw it, I knew it was meant to be mine," she said. "It called to me."

McHale was absolutely certain, but she had to convince Michael, her husband and partner in Gaines McHale, to sell their place in Homeland and commute to the Eastern Shore.

"I was completely opposed to it," Michael McHale said. "No. 1, I didn't want to live in the country, and No. 2, why should I consider a house three times the size of the one we raised our kids in?"

But he agreed, one idle winter afternoon, to take a look.

"We pulled up to the end of the driveway and stopped and just sat there for about a minute, not saying anything," he said. But in his mind, the connection, too, was immediate: The formalities would come later, but the house had just become theirs. He turned to his wife, and jokingly said, "I hope you're serious, because I just bought the place."

With all the house had to offer -- six bedrooms, two parlors, formal dining room, family room, big country kitchen and the "river room" that runs across the back of the older part of the house -- much needed to be done.

The grounds needed to be cleaned up, and a "couple of leaks" turned out to be a serious problem with the roofing under the widow's walk. The chimney for the fireplace in the river room, added some 50 years ago, had a pronounced list. The dock needed repairing, and they needed a space for the caretaker to live.

To Michael McHale, there's nothing onerous about the endless to-do list. Every day at their 38,000-square-foot warehouse shop is a to-do list. Besides the antique furniture and decorative objects that Jean McHale seeks out in England and France, Gaines McHale offers decorating services and custom upholstered goods. In their workshops, old armoires get new life as entertainment centers and home office centers. And old wood is worked into new custom-designed tables, cabinets and chests.

"Being in the business we're in, we probably feel a stronger sense of responsibility to old things," he said. Working on the house, making it sound, "is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done."

Meanwhile, inside the house, furniture from the Baltimore house settled in as if it had always been there.

Jean McHale leads a tour, starting at the front door. "Coming down the driveway, you can see straight through the house, right to the water. That's so typical of the Eastern Shore."

Among the pieces in the hall is a demi-lune (half-moon) sideboard McHale found in a shop in Easton. "I could not refuse it," she said. The piece has a central drawer flanked by cabinets and is painted with scrolls and garlands of roses. The doors of the cabinets have central panels with Cupids cavorting.

"This is painted satinwood -- a kind of a Frenchified Sheraton-Hepplewhite piece," McHale said. This type of furniture originated in late 18th century, then enjoyed a revival around the 1890s. McHale's piece is the later type, "and this is one of the best examples I've ever seen," she said.

Despite being in the antiques business, however, McHale doesn't "shuttle" pices back and forth between house and shop. The pieces in the houses are cherished finds and old friends. A sofa in the "river room" is one of the first pieces of furniture the McHales bought together, in 1969.

"They're a part of my heritage. They're like my children," she said.

Many familiar pieces got a fresh look by being placed in new settings. In the front parlor, for instance, a blue wing chair and blue and cream Meshed (Persian) rug had been in the master bedroom in Homewood. A sleigh-style daybed in satin birch with ebony inlay in the hall came out of a sitting room in Baltimore. "I didn't know what to do with it," Jean McHale said, "so when we brought it in, I said, 'Oh, just stick it there' -- and look, doesn't it just work?"

"There are very few pieces of furniture that were not in the Homewood house," Michael McHale said, "but now we have the space and setting for the kinds of 'user-friendly' pieces we love to live with."

There are still plenty of indoor projects the McHales want to tackle.

"One of the big decisions with this house was where are your living spaces, how are you going to use the spaces?" Jean McHale said. For now, one end of the river room is serving as a home office, thanks to its view. But she is considering turning the second parlor into a library/office, and turning the armoire/computer cabinet in the river room into a wet bar. They also want to enlarge the kitchen and give it a French country look, and then there's the huge basement, where the McHales envision a party kitchen, a guest suite, a home movie theater ...

As she recites all her hopes and plans for the house, Jean McHale has to laugh. "I say this house is the journey, not the destination."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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