New homes that go back in time

Blending: Building a home with early-era authenticity but the conveniences of the present can prove quite a piece of work.

September 05, 1999|By Gary Hornbacher | Gary Hornbacher,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Five years ago, Lloyd and Carol Taylor had a problem. The couple, living on the Eastern Shore about 10 miles east of Chestertown, wanted to live in an authentic Colonial home with period appointments. But there was a catch...

They didn't want to move out of the area if they did find such a home and, if they did build with authenticity, they didn't want to sacrifice such amenities as good insulation, new plumbing and modern appliances.

What they wanted, essentially, was a new home that had the look and feel of an old home.

It took years of planning, research and trips to photograph Colonial Williamsburg, Va., but in January they saw their dream realized as they moved into a 3,900-square-foot, putty-colored Dutch Colonial on a 2-acre wooded lot.

The Taylors' new home, set back from the road and accessed by a winding driveway and screened by mature trees, has classic lines and proportion that blend harmoniously with its setting.

As anyone involved in such a project will admit, however, building a home that is sensitive to a bygone architectural era, layering it with appropriate detail and furnishings and integrating the old and new require sensitivity, time and a recognition that "old" can often cost more than new.

"Homes are built to live in," said Malcolm Mason, an architect and engineering consultant who heads the nonprofit Baltimore-based Architectural Restoration and Preservation Information Center. "If you go too far to replicate the past, you are straining it.

"What I like to see," he continued, "is people who reference classical detail but aren't afraid to use modern materials and technology. After all, even older homes, which have been restored, have gone through generations of change."

While the Taylors' insistence on historical accuracy and their attention to detail are not unique, it still goes a step beyond the usual. And it's not just Colonial-period architecture that people are referencing and trying to replicate. In Hunt Valley, Bruce and Sharon Gigliotti recently moved into a newly constructed home that integrated a melange of classic Old World design features with state-of-the-art technology.

"I have lived and traveled extensively in Europe and wanted an Old World European country estate look," Mrs. Gigliotti said. "But with all the modern amenities and conveniences, too."

The Gigliottis' new home, built on a 5-acre parcel, is two stories, has 6,000 square feet of main living area and another 1,000 square feet of lower-level space finished as a children's playroom. The exterior features a combination of taupe-colored Dryvit, heavily rippled to produce an aged stucco-like appearance, and a harmonious blending of tumbled brick and Western Maryland fieldstone.

Their differences in style preferences notwithstanding, both the Taylors and Gigliottis agree that capturing the look and feel of a home from another period and blending them with modern technology and materials is more important than offending purists who might take issue with their compromises.

Perhaps surprisingly, individuals who have devoted their professional life to the restoration of older homes or the building of homes that replicate homes of another era generally agree with them.

In point of fact, even if it were possible to build with the materials and technology of yesteryear, few would want to. Two-foot-thick stone masonry walls make poor insulators; oak, cedar or cypress shingles would be prohibitively expensive; floor joists and beams (roof trusses were nonexistent) were often hand-hewn and put in place with bark still on them.

And the long leaf Georgia pine -- or heart pine as it is known today -- that makes such a pretty floor was so over-harvested that it must now be obtained by re-milling old floors from industrial buildings. And the list goes on.

Martin P. Azola, president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, speaks knowledgeably from his perspective as president of a local firm that does historic restoration, a trustee of the Maryland Historical Trust and a structural engineer.

"If you take the 18th century as an example," he said, "obviously, there was no electricity, no insulation, no running water or sewer and building materials were much different. And finer older homes at best had their cooking functions in a wing and at worst in a separate building or in the basement."

Another problem, Azola said, is that many homes of that era were center hall, two-story, parlor-to-the-left, dining-room-to-the-right structures. In today's home, with the popularity of great rooms and home offices, etc., trying to do a historically accurate reproduction presents a bit of a problem.

And there's yet another obstacle. Many of the old homes that might lend themselves to restoration just aren't where you want them to be. Which brings us to families like the Taylors and Gigliottis, whose solution was to build a new home with old house character that is both charming and functional in today's world.

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