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.


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.

So how do you build a new home with a modern layout and still make it look authentic with that functional difference?

By researching your needs, carefully sourcing materials, making concessions that retain a design flavor; and using materials, colors, textures, wallpapers, etc. that help create a feel of the period.

"If you're not a purist and you are not driven to total historical accuracy," Azola said, "you can certainly do something that is very charming and very functional -- and you may even be able to do it more economically from scratch than doing a historic restoration."

In the Taylors' home are beech, oak, hickory and pine paneling and cabinetwork; pine flooring with hand-cut nails and fireplaces with hand-made brick. Period lighting and historically accurate Sturbridge Village colors hark back to years past. There also is the steep pitch of the roof, high ceilings, a mixture of antiques and reproductions -- even the absence of such things as modern window treatments, shoe molding and gutters and downspouts.

The effect is enhanced by such design touches as a large bake-oven style fireplace in the keeping room, the richly paneled fireplace in the living room, a formal library and an imposing wall of floor-to-ceiling pine cabinetwork.

Getting the right look wasn't easy, the Taylors admit. One of their biggest challenges was selecting the appointments necessary to compensate for floor plans that fell short of those in a true Colonial period home. But through research, numerous visits to Williamsburg and other regional Colonial towns and cooperation of Eastern Shore builder Tom Yetman, their vision soon took shape.

The second half of the challenge -- blending the new with the old -- was also successful. "We have to live here," said Mr. Taylor, an educator in nearby Kent County, "so some compromises were necessary."

Most of those compromises are either not visible or fool the eye, but they include conventional insulation and shingling, a modern heating and air conditioning system, triple pane windows and the extra closet and bathroom space demanded of modern homes.

Other compromises -- such as a screened-in porch with French doors, a vaulted ceiling, pocket doors on a guest bathroom that connects to their daughter's bedroom, even the garden shed out back that mimics a carriage house -- are more obvious contemporary touches but blend into the overall design. Even a two-car garage features a side entrance not visible to passers-by.

"We wanted to achieve a timeless look," Mrs. Taylor said. "To look [the] period but not dated. So we tried to boil it down to the basics and make the detail as authentic as possible. Anything that doesn't look right, we try to hide."

Which explains the stereo and videocassette recorder hidden in a pie safe, a radio in the hutch, paneling used to hide the refrigerator and dishwater -- even air conditioning that is felt but not seen.

It also explains why the Taylors still occasionally refer to a bulging accordion file filled with pictures, sketches and notes and a well-thumbed copy of a book by Marcus Whiffen, the chief architect of Colonial Williamsburg.

Bruce and Sharon Gigliotti took a different tack in building their European country estate.

Inside, the home boasts an oversized kitchen, family room and breakfast area that uses hewn beams taken from an old Pennsylvania barn, tongue-in-groove pine board, heavily distressed, hand-rubbed cabinets with beaded inset drawers and brick pillars to produce a classic, aged look.

Other design touches in the four-bedroom home include ceramic-style flooring in the entryway that mimics the European cut of limestone, Italian tile in the kitchen, character-grade walnut flooring elsewhere (with knots and other imperfections showing in its rich, deep color), and tumbled marble in the powder room and master bath.

There is also a magnificent two-story library primarily used by Mr. Gigliotti, general manager at WMAR-TV. It has a loft and a cut-out in the center of the room that provides a view of a spiral stairway leading upstairs. An imposing antique cabinet and leather furniture add to the sense of permanence.

Discerning visitors will see touches of French, Italian and English styling, among others.

"We tried to take Old World features we really liked and make them all work together," Mrs. Gigliotti said. "It's kind of eclectic but the Old World influence really shows through."

So does the New World influence. The kitchen boasts stainless steel appliances and high-tech amenities; there's a built-in sound system, central air and separate heating systems, a private spa off the master bath that opens to a view of the woods, a three-car garage, decks, a screened-in porch incorporated into the living space, and much more.

And while there are antiques and architectural detail that convey the Old World country estate look the couple desired, it is perhaps the selection of rich colors and textures that work best in weaving the old and new together.

The Gigliottis credit Bruce Finkelstein, AIA, of HBF Architects, and local builder Rick Batten for helping them meld their ideas and solve design problems but -- like the Taylors -- they also note that hands-on research, sourcing materials, networking and more networking consumed countless hours before their new home really began to take shape.

"You know what you want, but it evolves as you move forward," Mrs. Gigliotti said. "I can't tell you how many different pictures, clips of house plans and styling ideas I dumped in Bruce's lap as we worked to put this together."

Where to start if you're up to the challenge? The Maryland Historical Society, local country historical societies, the Internet, the local bookstore's architectural section and a visit to homes of the appropriate period that have been restored can put you on the road.

And don't forget to bring something to start building your files, because it's about entering a whole new world -- or perhaps an old world.

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