Architect finds ways to put minimum space to maximum use


September 22, 1991|By Beth Smith

When architect Greg Walton gives a formal, sit-down dinner party, he is always sure of one thing. Never will he invite more than three guests. Forget the fact that the kitchen of his 1860s renovated town house in Butcher's Hill is small and Mr. Walton considers himself somewhat less than a chef of repute. The reason for such an abbreviated guest list is the dining room.

This room has to be up for the title of the smallest dining room in Baltimore. Seven feet by seven feet, the postage stamp-size room sits in the rear of the house, five or six steps above the first floor. It could be described as little, tiny, minute, petite, wee, scant, itsy-bitsy, and even teeny-weeny, but never insignificant or unimportant. What it lacks in square footage, Mr. Walton's dining room more than makes up for in style and design.

"When I bought his house in 1986, the dining room was here," says Mr. Walton, "but I never really worried about its size because I knew if I had to entertain a large group of friends for dinner, we would just go out. It never really bothered me."

The dining room had been added to the house by a previous owner as a part of a back addition that included a second-floor bathroom. When Mr. Walton moved in, it was unfinished, although an L-shaped banquette occupied two walls and the plywood floor was covered with an inexpensive carpet.

Mr. Walton ripped out the sitting unit because he felt it took up too much space in his diminutive dining room and considered adding a marble floor. Since this house was the first one he had ever owned and because he was in the design business -- first with Rita St. Clair and now as architectural director/project director for the H. Chambers Co. -- he was enthusiastically enmeshed in all the ideas and products that rolled across the design floor.

"I had all these really great plans, but then I started adding them up and I said, 'Whoa,' " he adds. "A little word called budget"

forced him to abandon some of his original, more expensive ideas and tap into his own ingenuity as a way to get the look he wanted for his home.

In the dining room, he dispensed with the marble and chose instead a striking vinyl flooring of black and white squares. When his antique Duncan Phyfe dining room table just wouldn't fit into the small room, he bought a pedestal base of carved dolphins and topped it with a 42-inch round of tempered glass.

"I knew I needed a small table," he recalls, "but I knew I wasn't going to be in this house forever and that one day I would have a larger dining room, so I was really looking for a quick and inexpensive fix. My present dining room table will be a great addition to a sun room sometime in the future."

Eclectic decorating

Like the rest of the house, Mr. Walton calls his dining room decorating style "definitely eclectic." In addition to the table, the room contains four Italian-made side chairs with black leather seats in a style Mr. Walton terms "empiresque," plus a contemporary painting by the husband of an old college chum, and an unusual contemporary lighting fixture that hovers like a space ship over the glass table.

"I view this light as a classic, sort of like the Barcelona chair," Mr. Walton says. "It really started a trend in floating glass fixtures. Now you see them everywhere. And, not only does this light completely illuminate the dining room table, it is designed so that no light falls directly on your face when you are dining."

The lighting effect tends to draw attention away from the boxiness of the room, helping to eliminate any stirrings of claustrophobia. Spaciousness is also promoted by a large window that dominates one 7-foot stretch of wall and a sliding glass door leading to a large deck.

"The deck was one of the reasons I bought this house," says Mr. Walton. "I grew up in Florida, and I like to be able to get to the outside. My previous eighth-floor apartment in Charles Village overlooked the Museum of Art, but it didn't have any balconies or decks."

Peeking over the privacy fence on the north side of Mr. Walton's deck, visitors view the backs of five four-story row houses that face on East Baltimore Street. In the 19th century, they belonged to prosperous German butchers who had them built to incorporate some of the finest architectural details of the day, including elaborate moldings and marble fireplaces.

"I have been told," says Mr. Walton, "that my house and the three other little houses that run together on my block were built by the owners of the big houses on East Baltimore for their children. Supposedly all the houses, the big ones and smaller ones, were built by the same Italian architect. And, really the small houses are just shrunken versions of the big houses. Even the brick work on the fronts, such as over the windows and around the doors, is identical to what's on the large homes."

Ornate brick work

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