Fancy new threads

The Baltimore Sun

From its new perch on the wall of an ornate State House meeting room, the recently unveiled portrait of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. can finally gaze down on the $37,500 rug he ordered in early 2006.

The handmade custom piece from India - featuring an 8-foot-in-diameter replica of the Maryland seal - is one of several lush touches to a $10 million renovation receiving its de facto unveiling today. Less visible will be the rich red fabric that covers faded wallpaper in Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's inner office - part of a separate $10,000 job paid for with Senate funds, according to Miller's chief of staff, Vicki Gruber.

The nation's oldest operating capitol reopens to the public today with a 10 a.m. Board of Public Works meeting in the second-floor Governor's Reception Room, where dozens of bureaucrats will shuffle across the new deep-blue Indo Sarouk-style carpet.

In recent months, these meetings have taken place in another building, and have played host to huge budget-cutting exercises. That might lend the 1,200 square feet of plush new carpet an air of impolitic extravagance - but it shouldn't, said Elaine Rice Bachmann, director of Artistic Property at the State Archives.

"It's an investment that's worthwhile," Bachmann said. "This is arguably the most important room in the State House." She said the high-quality rug, purchased through Towson's Alex Cooper, "should last forever," and certainly longer than the tattered carpet it replaced.

Adrian Wardak, owner of Annapolis Oriental Rugs, said the price appeared fair. "That's a lot of money for a rug," Wardak said, "But if it's custom-made, that makes sense." Wardak said he has never actually seen such a huge rug, and both he and Bachmann agreed that a similar one could not be produced in the United States.

"Rugs like that are not made in this country," Bachmann said.

Though ordered by the Ehrlich administration in February 2006, the rug did not arrive until June 2007, after Gov. Martin O'Malley had taken office, said Samuel L. Cook, facilities director of the Annapolis Capitol complex.

Because the State House was by then slated for renovations to replace a 40-year-old piping system, Alex Cooper agreed to store the rug free of charge in a climate-controlled facility, Cook said.

Among other changes to the reception room, red walls have been repainted off-white, and Ehrlich's introduction to the rotating portrait gallery has bumped the paintings of Govs. Theodore R. McKeldin and William P. Lane Jr. into another room, said Cook. (As gubernatorial portraits have gotten larger, fewer can be accommodated at one time.)

The renovations to Miller's elegantly appointed inner sanctum were motivated by water stains on faded wallpaper and because work on the piping project affected walls and ceilings, Bachmann said.

She said covering the existing wallpaper with the fabric was less expensive than removing and replacing the paper. It's also much faster, said Michael K. Day, chief of preservation services in the Maryland Historical Trust. "It would have been a task to get the wallpaper off in the time they needed to get it off," Day said.

The work in Miller's office was done by architect and interior designer Henry Johnson, whose Baltimore firm oversaw major renovations to the Senate lounge and president's office in 1987, Gruber said.

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