Away From It All

March 20, 1994|By HOLLY SELBY

Seldom is a touch of greenery or a bit of privacy more appreciated than when found in the nooks and crannies of city neighborhoods. Throughout Baltimore, tucked away from prying eyes -- sometimes hidden behind large walls or perched atop roofs -- people are sitting, dozing, eating, reading and entertaining on their decks. John Hawkins was a man without a yard when he moved to his rowhouse.

In the middle of an urban block with little space to spare, where could he put a bit of greenery, a patch of flowers, perhaps an arbor or two?

Where else, but on the roof?

Dr. Hawkins, a dentist, hired a builder from the Eastern Shore and enlisted the help of a horticulturist cousin to create a lushly romantic spot, far above it all, on top of his house.

A third-floor bedroom window was knocked out to create a door, he says. Just outside, a tiny, two-step stair leads into the garden, which was installed on the roof covering the house's second floor. At the far end, a love seat, shaded by a small arbor covered with the vines and purple blossoms of wisteria, catches the eye.

Another, larger arbor covered with more wisteria (that has taken about three years to cultivate), shields the middle of the deck from the glaring summer sun. The sides of the deck also are covered with vines to protect deck sitters from curious eyes, although only one nearby rowhouse is tall enough to present privacy problems.

Large wood planters hold elm, miniature maple and other trees. One, a Chinese snowball tree, explodes into white blossoms each spring and later in the season bears small fruit shaped like snowballs, says Dr. Hawkins.

Everywhere on the deck can be heard the relaxing tinkle of a small fountain trickling into a tiny goldfish pond.

From the deck, there's a grand view of the bleachers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Below are other rooftops -- mostly black and uninviting.

A small wooden table in the center of the deck looks suitable for serving tea for two. But Mr. Hawkins has had as many as 12 for dinner here.

"It's quite a festive atmosphere up here when all the city lights are on," he says. Privacy and quiet can be found in abundance on Sharon and Bill Reuter's deck.

The 8-foot-by-12-foot deck fits snugly between three walls -- two belonging to the outside of the Reuters' house and one belonging to the neighbors'. It is completely hidden from view from the street.

When the Reuters, who have a graphic design firm, bought their rowhouse in 1986, there was a dirt patch between the homes, marked by a bulkhead leading to their basement. Dr. Reuter turned the area into a tiny deck by building a loosely slatted board floor that stretches across the space. Part of the floor lifts out to provide access to the bulkhead.

On the deck, ensconced between high brick walls that are interestingly nubbled with old concrete and paint, a deck sitter feels miles away from city traffic. Three windows and a glass door keep the small space from seeming claustrophobic; one window opens into the living room and two flank the glass door, which leads to the hallway. Another exit is provided by several steps descending to a narrow alley that leads to the garden.

There is a latticework chair rail on the longest side of the deck. It is an unusual decorative touch: It covers an ugly patch of brick and provides a mantel-type shelf for plants.

"If it's a nice morning we have breakfast out here, but in the heat of the summer, noon is not the greatest time to be outside," says Ms. Reuter. "Dinner, now -- we have dinner out here often. Four fit comfortably, and we've had six, although that's cramped. It really is like having another room." Often as warm Sunday afternoons turn to dusk, the sounds of "La Boheme" float out between the slatted rails of George and Laura Laurent's deck.

For the first 16 years that he lived here, Mr. Laurent adamantly was opposed to building a deck. After all, he says, the shady area underneath it would steal sunny yard space from his rose garden.

Mrs. Laurent prevailed about four years ago -- and these days, her husband is glad she did.

"We use this deck more than any of our neighbors use theirs," says the executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. "We eat dinner out here often. My wife eats breakfast out here, too."

And no wonder. Although the deck does cast a shadow on the garden, beneath it still grow about 60 kinds of roses.

Rounded edges give the deck an interesting shape; the higher-than-usual railing is built for privacy. A large umbrella provides shade for diners and a chaise longue invites readers to sit to the side.

The Laurents' living room opens into the dining room, and dining room onto deck, making entertaining in a grand way easy in good weather.

"It really adds to the house," says Mr. Laurent, making a sweeping gesture with his hand. "I've even thought about building an upper deck."

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