Old rowhouses turn delightful

May 10, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

The moment you enter the house, you know it's going to be different. For one thing, it turns a corner.

"People don't believe us when we say that," says Patty Hsiao, laughing. "They say, 'What do you mean, it turns a corner?' And we say, 'It just turns a corner.' "

There's nothing about the facade of the Federal-era rowhouse, one of 20 on the first Ridgely's Delight House and Garden Tour next weekend, to indicate its unusual configuration. But just past the stairs, the structure takes a leisurely turn toward 2 o'clock and continues through a dining room and kitchen to a rear courtyard that does triple duty as back patio, parking pad and playground for the household's two Pembroke Welsh corgis, Fred and Micki.

"We used to think the original house ended there," says Mike Kutsch, indicating the threshold just past the stairs and just before the floorboards head off at another angle. "But now we're pretty sure it ended right here" -- and he pats a gap in the plaster in front of the stairs that indeed reveals the meeting of two brick planes. The house had settled, he explains, and left a crack at that spot. When a workman arrived to examine the damage and cleaned off enough of the plaster to see what was wrong, the joint was revealed.

The original staircase, the couple believe, was on the side wall, the kind of half-circle spiral that is common in homes of this type in Ridgely's Delight, Federal Hill and other older neighborhoods of Baltimore.

The part of the house that juts off to the side was added, they believe, sometime in the 1930s. The angles where the two parts of the house meet are put to good use on both of the addition's stories: On the first floor, a powder room is tucked in; on the second floor, bifold doors hide a laundry center.

When Ms. Hsiao and Mr. Kutsch settled in a couple years ago, most of the renovation was complete. But they have done "a lot of painting" and have had the dark wood floors refinished in a lighter, natural tone.

Mr. Kutsch caresses the natural wood banister of the first floor stairs. "I personally did this railing," he says, with a grin. He painstakingly stripped many layers of paint to restore the wood to its honey-colored luster. "I spent hundreds of hours."

Most striking element

The banister provides a perfect frame for the most striking element of the dining room, positioned, because of the turn of the house, right in front of the doorway by the stairs: a natural brick fireplace-grill with a charming stair-step chimney. "You can cook in it," says Mr. Kutsch, opening the iron doors to reveal the grill.

Beyond the dining room is the light-filled kitchen, with pickled-finish cabinets and an island in the center with the sink, dishwasher, and informal eating space. The kitchen looks out on the courtyard, which is bordered by planter boxes and containers.

The courtyard is dominated, however, by three huge rose bushes. One of them, called Golden Showers, towers a dozen feet or more against the wall of the adjacent building.

"One day last year we counted -- what, Mike, 70 rose buds? on that bush," says Ms. Hsiao.

Nestled in the branches of the rose is a cardinal construction site -- a huge nest, made mostly, it appears, of computer paper.

The courtyard is paved with Belgian blocks that came from an old train station. A side courtyard is enclosed at both ends by gates made of ticket-window grates from the same source.

Shutters for the front and back of the house were discovered in the side area-way. Ms. Hsiao and Mr. Kutsch had them stripped and repaired, repainted black and rehung.

Hidden gardens

Ms. Hsiao jokes that this first tour of the Ridgely's Delight neighborhood should be called the "house and hidden garden hTC tour," because so many of the properties have enclosed and surprisingly large gardens.

Another garden not to miss on the tour is that of Ineke Rawie, a few doors down. In Ms. Rawie's case, the garden turns a corner, to connect to a parking pad entered from the next street. Ms. Rawie is one of the neighborhood "pioneers": She began renovating her house in 1979. "I plant a tree a year," she says. The garden is especially nice in spring and fall, she

says: "It's close to my kitchen. . . . I like to sit there and eat."

Ms. Rawie's tiny house is packed with surprising amenities: a whirlpool tub in the master bath, a deck off the attic studio, a sitting room that looks out on the garden. "I'm from Holland," she says, "I'm used to using every little bit of space."

The size of Ms. Hsiao's and Mr. Kutsch's house is also surprising. Though it looks from the street to be a typically small, narrow, 2 1/2 -story rowhouse, the addition makes it quite spacious -- almost 2,500 square feet, says Ms. Hsiao.

The second floor has a guest room with a full bath, the laundry and another full bath, painted a luscious peach. "This is the first room we did," Ms. Hsiao says. One of her favorite features of the house is here -- a walk-in closet.

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