Drawn back to where they got lost


December 19, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Paul Bicknell's childhood home was a basement apartment in Boston. His wife, Renee, grew up in the basement of an East Baltimore rowhouse.

Ten years ago, the son of a janitor and the daughter of a waitress married and dreamed of owning a big, old, rambling house where their own children would grow up. Both had successful careers, Mr. Bicknell in broadcasting, Mrs. Bicknell in nursing, but their dream kept getting waylaid.

Just when they thought they could afford a piece of land in Calvert County to build this dream house, their daughter, Sarah, now 6, was born. They put off their move from a Cape Cod in Bowie.

Then four years ago, as they were set to buy a house in Annapolis, the Bicknells had their second child, son Paul. Again, they decided to stay put.

The dream finally seemed at hand later that year, and the couple headed for Hunt Valley, where they planned to buy property and build a house with two-story ceilings and an open stairwell in the foyer.

That's when Mrs. Bicknell saw the ad. It described a four-square, cedar shake house in Linthicum with a Palladian doorway, hardwood floors, French doors and chandeliers. It had a 16-by-32-foot living room with Doric columns in the center and a huge, gold leaf mirror on the far wall above a built-in cherry bookcase. The ad listed four bedrooms on the second floor, two more in the attic and a two-car garage.

At Mrs. Bicknell's insistence, the couple drove to the unfamiliar community, arguing all the way there. An asking price of $180,000 for a place that sounded so majestic could mean only one thing, Mr. Bicknell told his wife, the place must be a dump. Taking time to look only put them that much farther from their Hunt Valley home.

When they drove into the northern Anne Arundel County community near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, they recognized it as a place where they'd gotten lost years ago on their way to catch a flight.

"I feel like we were drawn here, because we got lost here," says Mrs. Bicknell, a nurse at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "Pulling up to the corner, my mouth dropped open when I saw the wraparound porch and the fans and wicker baskets and white wicker furniture."

Adds her husband, a former national radio talk show host now forming a public radio network, "I walked in the front door and knew."

Still he feared something might be wrong. He crawled around the rafters looking for structural damage but found none.

The couple paid $177,000 for the house on a third of an acre. They liked having a home close to neighbors, with schools and playmates for the children a short walk away.

The home, built in 1923 by an early Linthicum resident, turned out to be the perfect setting for the history buffs' possessions, their old family Bible, clocks made by Mrs. Bicknell's grandfather, bedroom furniture from Mr. Bicknell's parents.

"We thought an old house would befit a lot of these things we love," Mrs. Bicknell says. "We wanted to live the old American dream of the big house with the white picket fence. We knew we'd never be able to own a mansion, but this is a mansion to us."

The living room runs nearly the full width of the house, with a sunroom, used as an office, beside it. Behind the living room on one side is the dining room. On the other side is the "hall," which the Bicknells use as a family room, with a staircase leading to the second floor.

Upstairs are four bedrooms and the second full bathroom. Rooms in the attic serve as Mrs. Bicknell's closet, the children's play "schoolroom" and a big playroom.

Linthicum turned out to be convenient to the couple's jobs in Baltimore city and county. "This is like being in a small town but close to the city," Mrs. Bicknell says.

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