Brenda Shine long dreamed of getting her hands on one of those charming turn-of-the-century houses, one bursting with personality, and giving her decorating talents a real workout. Separately, she also had long wanted to find a worthwhile project with which she could "give something back to the community."
The cold reality in her first little fantasy was that even fixer-uppers of the type she had in mind carried price tags far out of the reach of her salary as a schoolteacher.
The brilliant solution to both her quests came last year, when she approached the city of Orange about implementing her plan at the 81-year-old Ainsworth House, a city-owned state-registered landmark near the historic downtown circle.
Shine persuaded city fathers to let her turn the single-story Victorian-style home, which had been restored in the early 1970s, into a tearoom as a way of attracting more visitors. Proceeds from the nonprofit venture go to the city to pay for upkeep. Shine acts as host and chief caretaker, though she gets considerable help from her congenial teen-age children, who often act as servers.
The tearoom, open only on weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., dovetails nicely with the numerous antique malls situated just two blocks west, Shine says.
She said she bought the tearoom's nine tables, as well as the bright floral tablecloths that drape them. She also provided the antique white wicker tea cart that sits just inside the stately oak-lined entryway. Most of the rest of the period furniture decorating the house, however, was there before she launched her business last November, she said.
Shine serves four levels of teas, ranging from the basic social tea (a currant scone served with sweet cream, preserves and, of course, a pot of tea, $3.75) to the traditional tea (assorted tea sandwiches along with a scone and tea, $7) to the full Ainsworth tea (sandwiches, scone, tea and dessert, $9.25). There's also a sweet tea--just dessert and tea, $5. She buys her light scones from a local baker because the tiny kitchen doesn't provide room for a from-scratch approach. The sandwiches, however, are made there, and they range from a lightly pungent chicken curry on croissant to an unexpectedly subtle carrot and Cheddar cheese spread on wheat bread.
For desserts, she imports a selection of pastries, chocolate eclairs and fresh fruit (sometimes dipped in chocolate).
The tea selection includes Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, cinnamon-clove spice, Victorian Rose and jasmine.
The next special-event tea will be on Father's Day), for which Shine said she will cater more to dads, with a menu that will include Cornish pasties (meat encased in pastry dough), baby potatoes and other vegetables.
Shine recommends that reservations be made at least a day before the weekend you plan to visit.
Ainsworth House, 414 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. Open Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (714) 289-9637.