When Jeanie and Dave Tiralla decided they wanted to renovate an old house, they weren't thinking of a school. But when a real estate ad for a former one-room schoolhouse in rural Baltimore County appeared in the Glyndon community newspaper, they decided to take a look.
Sitting on a knoll, surrounded by fields, near the town of Boring, the stone building was built in 1873 and served as the Pleasant Grove School until 1926, when it was converted into a family home. The Tirallas liked what they saw, despite the worn and run-down interior.
"The first time I came to the property and looked at the view, it was so beautiful, I said 'Let's do it,' " says Mrs. Tiralla, 32.
"I didn't care what the schoolhouse looked like on the inside, I just knew this was the place for us."
Discounting skeptics who thought they were crazy, the couple bought the school and surrounding 1.1 acres for about $100,000. They moved in 3 1/2 years ago and lived in the schoolhouse while building a 2,000-square-foot addition, which wasn't easy since heating was done with a wood-burning stove and cooking had to be done on a propane camp stove -- the kitchen was too old. "It was almost like camping out," says Mrs. Tiralla, giftware manager at Albert S. Smyth in Timonium.
Mr. Tiralla, 33, vice president of Tirallas Inc., a custom drapery business in Reisterstown, and an amateur carpenter, drew up plans for the two-story, cedar-sided addition. Using professionals do the plumbing, electrical and masonry work, he and Mrs. Tiralla did the rest, with lots of help from family and friends.
They are quick to give credit to Mr. Tiralla's brothers -- Charles, who had renovated a tenant house in nearby Worthington Valley, and John, a craftsman who built a black walnut trestle table for the dining room. The Tirallas finished the addition in August.
Their new home includes, on the first floor, a modern kitchen overlooking a large dining room with a wood-burning stove -- an area that will eventually become a family room -- and a small powder room. The second floor has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The master bedroom opens to a small deck, which the Tirallas' menagerie of dogs -- Dempsey, Feigen and Joy -- use as a napping spot.
Many of the materials used were recycled. The hardwood floors were made from discarded fences at Sagamore Farms. The stone chimney and wood stove hearth were made from stone that had to be removed from the original schoolhouse to connect the addition. Beams in the kitchen and siding were supplied by a neighbor who was moving.
"Now that we have finished the addition and have someplace nice to live, we are having a hard time getting back into the major renovation of the schoolhouse," Mr. Tiralla sayswith a laugh.
Now he is building an old-fashioned porch to open off the back door and wrap around the entire back of the house. Other plans include reworking the original schoolroom into a living room and a dining room, perhaps with cathedral ceilings. Mrs. Tiralla estimates the project taking at least another two or three years.
For now, the Tirallas are content. They take time on winter days to ride their sleds down the rolling hills in back of their house. In the summer, they float in a wood swing, whose ropes are looped over a high branch of a huge, 100-year-old oak tree. They are not in a hurry.
"This is our once and for always place," Mrs. Tiralla says.