Lesson in design, preservation

House: Through their award-winning work on a Harford Community College building, students get a hands-on chance to protect a part of local history.

November 23, 2003|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Usually a library is the place to go to research a project, but for the Harford Community College Future Interior Designers Organization, the library itself was the project.

The student club transformed a former administrative office in the historic Hays-Heighe House in Churchville into a formal "gentleman's library" during last year's AMC Cancer Research Center Decorator Show House.

The students were rewarded for their efforts on the Hays-Heighe House project when they were chosen in September for first place in the student division of the Interior Design Competition sponsored by the Maryland Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and Chesapeake Home Magazine.

About 50 Harford Community College students were involved in some part of the Hays-Heighe House project. As they worked in the library, local decorators and designers worked in other parts of the house.

The room presented a challenge for the students because it was originally one long room that was later divided for office use by the college.

To design the room properly, dentil moldings and dado were added to match the original architectural detail. Also broken pediment, a triangular design element, was added to a built-in bookcase to give it authenticity.

"We had $1,500 to work with from the student fund, and the students managed to come across with a room that was very pleasant and livable," said Richard Green, associate professor of interior design and theater at the college.

Other work in the room included removing wallpaper, patching plaster, painting, sewing curtains and adding faux tile to the fireplace. Shopping for period furniture and accessories was also the responsibility of the students.

The only jobs contracted out were some electrical work and reupholstering of a love seat. Because the show house was on campus, it gave the students an opportunity to experience the transformation of the house on more than one level.

"All the students in the Interior Design Program were required as part of their curriculum to serve as host or hostess in the rooms of the house," Green said. "So the students had the opportunity to experience the whole house and see how other designers took up the challenges of decorating the space."

The 2003 design awards of the Maryland Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers were given to promote and publicize interior design in the region. The awards include interior designs in nearly any room of a residential or commercial building.

The Hays-Heighe House had served for many years as the administration building for the college. But when the offices were moved to a nearby building, the house sat empty; it was later chosen for the 2002 Decorator Show House for the Harford County Chapter of the Denver-based AMC Cancer Research Center.

The AMC Decorator Show House is held every other year, and proceeds benefit the AMC Cancer Research Center and the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology Center.

The house was built in 1808 by Archer Hays and served as a farmhouse throughout the 19th century for the prominent Harford County Hays family, according to the Maryland Historical Trust's Web site.

The home served as a noted horse breeding farm and racing stable owned and operated by Anne McElderry Heighe and managed by Fritz Boniface. During the 1930s, the Hays-Heighe House was home to racehorse Durbar II, 1914 winner of the Epson Derby in England.

The students used the home's equine history to set the tone for the room.

"Our theme in this room, I think of all the rooms in the house, was really the most appropriate," said Glenda Unzelmann, an interior design student and coordinator of the students' room. The hands-on work that went into completing a room for the decorator show house was a valuable experience for the students, Unzelmann said.

At least one of the student designers, Christine Wertsch, decided after the project that her talents might fit better in the college's new academic program, Building Preservation and Restoration.

Wertsch, who is restoring the historic house she owns, was responsible for much of the carpentry in the student room of the decorator show house. The work included matching cornice and fabricating the dentil moldings, dado and broken pediment.

"I couldn't afford to pay someone to work on my house, so I learned how to do this work by myself," Wertsch said. "I appreciate the craftsmanship, and I like preserving the past. They don't build homes like they used to. I think tearing down an old house to replace it with a newer one is a waste."

The Hays-Heighe House, which once again is empty, may be used as a working model for students in the building preservation program.

Although the designers tackled much of the interior of the house, the building needs more substantial renovation.

"The house does need work and is certainly a possibility as a field site," said Rhonda Deeg, the preservation program's coordinator.

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