Exterior

The New York Times

Building our heritage into our future....

By CAROLYN BATTISTA
Published: September 10, 1989

.
Fluted pilasters, carved rosettes, bolection molding and other 18th-century architectural details are the 20th-century specialties of a millwork shop in South Windsor.

 

As the main operation of Early New England Rooms and Interiors, the shop produces millwork - including finely carved doors, doorways and cabinets - for old houses being restored and for new houses of period design. The company was founded in 1978 by Edward T. Sunderland of South Windsor, who at first restored old houses and built period-style rooms almost single-handedly. Mr. Sunderland is now president of both the millwork company and a building company, Sunderland Period Homes.

 

The two companies employ about three dozen people, with Early New England Rooms providing all the millwork needed for such Sunderland projects as restoring old buildings (sometimes after dismantling and moving them), building new homes or rooms (usually of 18th-century design) and assembling kits of components for period houses. The millwork shop also produces for the Henry Francis duPont Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Del., a line of mantels, cabinets, panels and windows that are reproductions of items in the museum collections.

''We can design and manufacture any sort of custom millwork, especially period millwork,'' said Steven Bielitz, a vice president of both companies. ''We can duplicate panels. We can design panels.'' He said that he and Mr. Sunderland, both 40 years old and longtime friends, grew up helping their parents restore old houses and had a sensitivity to the correctness of period detail. Mr. Bielitz also said that he had dismantled a number of old houses.

The companies' offices and the millwork shop are housed in a former machine shop with a metal roof and a generally ordinary appearance. But unlike a shop, it has such exterior features as triangular pediments over the windows and a columned 18th-century-style doorway with carved modillions, or brackets. These features are not attempts at elegance, but simply displays of the shop's products. Inside the shop, Mr. Bielitz pointed to recently made items like a Palladian window with intricate trim, a cornice that he called classically inspired, panels with molding in a tombstone pattern, and kitchen cabinets made for modern convenience but featuring slanted fronts and other details popular two centuries ago. He displayed another item. ''This is an old mantel that we'll repair, from a 1780's house in Middle Haddam, he said.

''We'll remake molding on one side and attach it to an existing piece,'' he added, noting that the new molding would not be distinguishable from the remaining old molding. The shop is full of modern equipment like power saws, but much work is done with hand tools. ''These are antique planes from the 1820's,'' said Thomas Giordano, a joiner and the shop foreman. He selected an appropriatedly shaped plane from a worn wooden holder and set to work on a panel for a New York City town house. Owners of the town house are having the New England Rooms company reproduce several famous rooms, including two parlors from Wilton and an 18th-century mansion on the James River in Virginia.

''We ship our millwork all over the country,'' Mr. Bielitz said. He noted that a New England Rooms' reproduction of a 1764 doorway with carved ivy leaves on its pilasters, or piers, now adorns a house in Little Rock, Ark. Fluted Pilasters, Tulips and Rosettes.

Other work is closer to home. In Manchester, a new house built by Sunderland Period Homes has a front doorway featuring fluted pilasters with carved sunbursts, tulips and rosettes. Inside, a fireplace panel has arched bolection molding (molding that projects outward). In Windsor, Sunderland Period Homes has created a subdivision, Ellsworth Settlement, of four restored houses (with three brought from elsewhere) and built a neighboring development, Settlement Hill, of five reproduction houses. Each house, old or new, has doorways and other features made in the millwork shop.

The Benjamin Moore House, built in 1770 in another part of Windsor and moved to the Ellsworth Settlement, needed a new but appropriate doorway. New England Rooms fashioned a broken arch scrolled pediment doorway, a style popular throughout the Connecticut River Valley in the late 18th century. Inside the 1760 David Ellsworth House - restored on site at in the Ellsworth Settlement - a new wall panel next to an original cupboard looks exactly right.

Across the road, in a new house of 1740 design, Mr. Bielitz pointed out an apparent mistake - a newel cap that hung over the edges of its post. ''It's done on purpose,'' he said, citing a similar newel cap in an old house in Glastonbury. One interior wall of the house has raised panels with applied moldings, in a pattern that Michele Wilbur, who owns the house with her husband, Lee, spotted in an architecture book. Mrs. Wilbur said that when she asked Mr. Sunderland if New England Rooms could build such a wall he told her: ''Of course. We'll even call it the Wilbur Wall.''

''We can do anything, as long as budget permits,'' Mr. Bielitz said. He said that representative New England Rooms prices are $30 to $40 a square foot for raised wall panels, $500 to $12,000 for doorways, and $12,000 to $60,000 for complete kitchens.

The millwork shop is busy and will see even more work when buyers are found for the contents of three trailers parked in the shop's yard. The trailers hold a 1794 house from Bloomfield, a 1740 house from Canaan and an 18th-century barn from Durham, all dismantled and awaiting rebuilding.

And, while the shop does millwork mainly for homes, it will soon produce traditionally designed offices for Executive Business Interiors, New England Period Rooms's new joint venture with International Finishes of Farmington.