David Wiesand's design odyssey in Mt. Vernon

Baltimore craftsman David Wiesand spent three years renovating his 1855 home, going room by room and doing most of the work himself.

  • David Wiesand in front of a a custom peice he created using a convex mirror and an antique chandelier frame. Wiesand's home and custom furniture shop are on the 2011 Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage.
David Wiesand in front of a a custom peice he created using a convex… (Monica Lopossay, BALTIMORE…)
April 29, 2011|By Dennis Hockman, Chesapeake Life + Home

What's it like to live in a design laboratory?

Local furniture craftsman David Wiesand knows. He created one at his Mount Vernon home, spending years renovating the historic property and trying out a variety of decor and styles.

The finished space — he continues to tweak — is featured in the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage that begins Sunday in the downtown Baltimore neighborhood.

Now in its 74th year, the tour features more than 50 houses, gardens, farms, churches and historic sites throughout Maryland, with proceeds going to support a variety of preservation projects.

Before Wiesand purchased it in 1999, the 1855 residence had been converted to commercial use and became variously a Hupmobile auto dealership, a Squirt bottling plant and home of the Reliable Tire Co.

Originally, Wiesand intended only to renovate the street level for his custom furniture business, McLain Wiesand.

"The building had lots of structural damage — the floors were hanging by a thread, the stairs were failing, and much of the roof was rotting or had caved in," says Wiesand.

The first task was to make the building structurally sound — jacking up the ceiling and adding a steel beam and lally columns before creating a storefront, furniture workshop and small office.

With the structural work completed, Wiesand began to explore the the second and third floors, "stripping wallpaper and cleaning up to see what was there, what I could work with, what could be replicated, what needed to be replaced," he says. By 2005, those explorations prompted a decision — he would renovate the second and third floors, converting them back to residential space.

With the exception of mechanical systems, electric and plumbing, Wiesand, a self-taught woodworker and welder, did most of the work himself, often relying on some assistance from his children as well as from craftsmen and artisans employed at McLain Wiesand.

Although the condition of the rooms was borderline disastrous, Wiesand approached the project with optimism.

"One thing I had going for me is that there were no constraints. There was no existing kitchen or bathrooms. I had the shell to define the space, but otherwise the rest was a clean slate," he says.

Wiesand said the first step was to establish a bedroom and a bathroom.

To begin, HVAC, electrical and plumbing contractors updated and installed the major systems all at once, a process that helped define the floor plan.

"The mechanical systems created some limitations," he says. "I didn't want to box in pipes and ducts, so there were only certain places where I could put the kitchen and bathrooms."

With major systems in place, and a floor plan that put his bedroom away from the street and living spaces toward the front of the house, Wiesand began the steady, detailed work.

"The first rooms I focused on were the second-floor front parlor and the brown neoclassical-style TV room. I wanted to get rooms done 100 percent before moving onto the next," says Wiesand.

And so he proceeded, room by room, for three years.

Along the way such elements as missing hardware, millwork and staircase components were either painstakingly recreated or replaced with materials from the Baltimore architectural salvage resource, Second Chance.

Of course, when a structural renovation becomes so epic in proportion, it's easy to focus on the details of construction. But that's just part of the story. For Wiesand, the house evolved in conversation with the things he loves — custom furniture, antiques, art and architectural artifacts.

"Much of the style of the house relates to my collections but also the places I have been. The decor is about re-creating the feeling of favorite places I've traveled," says Wiesand.

As such, the house became what he describes as "a sort of laboratory" for decorative styles, with a bedroom that could just as easily be in a Tuscan farmhouse, an ornate sitting room fit for a sultan and a kitchen that mixes rustic and industrial elements for a cosmopolitan vibe.

For the second-floor parlor, Wiesand took cues from the room itself in defining what it would be. High ceilings, tall windows and elaborate crown molding in relatively decent condition inspired a room in the spirit of what might have existed in the 1850s.

After stripping away two layers of wallpaper, and with only bare plaster remaining, Wiesand decided not to paint the walls, opting instead for wax, a hand-rubbed finish that lends an almost ancient rustic patina.

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