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Ellicott City man deals in timeless treasures


In Steven M. Ryder's store, every piece of furniture comes with a story.

It feels a little musty inside, like a wood cabin on a rainy day. Only here at Ballindullagh Barn Antiques in Ellicott City, it's the scent of history.

Downstairs are two dozen pieces, from cast-iron fireplaces to a walnut French dressing table to a mahogany mirror.

"This is the oldest piece here," Ryder said, pointing out a dining-room sideboard. "It's about 190 years old."

Upstairs are dressers and blanket chests also dating to the 1800s. The pieces are made of pine and beech wood. Each one comes with a tale, which Ryder shares as customers tour the shop.

"This one has the original shelf inside," he said, showing off a pine base cupboard. "It's very rare that you find the original shelf."

And the pieces that do not fit in the barn - the pine sleigh-bed, the little hand-carved stools used by farmers milking cows and the glass seltzer bottles from England in the 1920s - are kept in a second showroom, the garage of Ryder's house.

"Look at this," Ryder instructs, as he picks up a pine saddle with worn, beige straps. "How many years of joy did this bring some child?"

Ryder sells his imported antique furniture retail and wholesale to dealers and designers.

"The furniture just looks good and it has a lot of character, and that's why we buy it," said Jim Funk, who is Ryder's neighbor and has bought about 15 pieces from Ballindullagh Barn Antiques.

The business is fairly new - Ryder first filled the store with antiques in 1998, when he retired from 26 years as an electrician in New York and moved with his wife, Cecilia, to Howard County.

But Ryder, 48, has always been a collector. His home is full of knickknacks, and his basement office houses a collection of boxes he started in 1976 from as far away as Germany, Hawaii and Morocco.

"I'm a sentimentalist," he said, through his New York accent. "I like to collect things and hold onto things. This is how my love of antiques got going."

The couple became interested in the antiques business during a 1991 vacation in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, they found a sheep-and-cattle farm that also had a business restoring and selling hundreds of European antiques. The farm owner and the Ryders became friends over the years, and today he is also Ryder's supplier.

At full stock, Ryder keeps more than 100 pieces of furniture in his shop, which he says is named for a region in Ireland. He has been to Ireland twice - taking side trips to England, Scotland, Romania and Hungary - to pick out antiques that are then shipped to his store.

His sales have yet to exceed the expense of overseas trips, shipping furniture and advertising for his business. But Ryder hopes that by next year Ballindullagh Barn Antiques will see a profit, and eventually the business will afford him two or three trips a year to shop overseas.

For now, the shop (which he keeps open on weekends and by appointment all other days) averages about a dozen customers a week. A trip to the shop runs about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, because Ryder walks each customer through, explaining the history of each piece.

And though the antiques cost from $75 to $2,500, none of them wears a price tag.

"I don't have prices on things for a reason," he said, "because if you're interested in a piece, I want to talk to you about the piece."

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