Renovation creates ideal place to live -- and die


March 27, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Sun Staff Writer

For Leslie Drury, buying the house on Hill Street overlooking old Ellicott City was a way to say goodbye.

Mr. Drury and his wife, Michele Rose Drury, moved to the 150-year-old frame house after he was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. Renovating the three-bedroom home was the way he chose to spend the final 18 months of his life.

"Just about everyone close to us thought that we were insane, nuts, crazy . . . to undertake such a stressful job as renovating an old house during such a difficult time in our lives," Mrs. Drury says.

But for the two interior designers, the act of lovingly restoring the house was laden with symbolic meaning. "This was the house where Leslie said he wanted to come to die," she says.

Actually, it had been Mrs. Drury who had childhood roots in Ellicott City. But having been raised in the flatlands of Iowa, her husband devel

oped a special appreciation for the old mill town in Howard County.

"The hills, the quaintness were magical to him," Mrs. Drury says.

The couple had been living in Washington when Mr. Drury was diagnosed with cancer in April 1991. Eight months later, when Mrs. Drury took an afternoon drive to Ellicott City, she spotted the house. "I knew that Leslie had always wanted to live in Ellicott City, so why not now? There might be no tomorrow," Mrs. Drury remembers thinking.

The couple bought the house for $145,000 and started work. They removed the white asbestos siding to expose the original ** wood, and the home's exterior was painted a Colonial red.

Shutters were painted a deep forest green, to tie in with the tin roof, and the Victorian front porch was restored.

The kitchen interior was torn out, and knotty pine cabinets installed. Then a "kitchen peninsula" was added, topped with cobalt blue tile from Portugal. A mud room became a sitting room/powder room. Central air conditioning was installed.

Mrs. Drury, 44, hung more than 70 rolls of wallpaper in bright, cheerful colors: reds, blues, yellows and greens. She painted the trim white to offset the colorful wall coverings. Swags, trims and lace window dressings were selected. The sophisticated farmhouse look was complete when the couple's French antique furniture was brought in.

Though contractors were used for much of the interior work, Mr. Drury built the stone patios and walkways, as well as the gardens and grape arbors, for the couple's steep hillside lot. He removed fallen trees, dug a pond, planted bushes, bulbs and flowers, and assembled stone walls.

"And all this was done during chemotherapy treatments," Mrs. ++ Drury recalls.

The renovation had been completed when the couple suffered a setback in February 1993. Due to a fire that spread from the fireplace, nearly a third of the house was burned and had to be redone.

"This time we didn't want to make it fun. We hired a contractor with the understanding that we wanted it put back exactly the way it was before," Mrs. Drury says.

Mr. Drury's last weeks were spent in a hospital bed under the antique chandelier in the red floral wallpapered dining room. Surrounded by his wife and friends, he died there Oct. 1.

Mr. Drury was cremated, and some of his ashes were sent to Iowa along with a piece of Ellicott City granite he had selected to be his headstone in the family cemetery. The rest of his ashes are in an urn on top of the marble mantle in his dream house.

Now that her husband is gone, Mrs. Drury has no intention of leaving. Indeed, the couple intended that she would stay in the refurbished home, where she could remain close to her family roots and friends.

"This is my support system, and I'm thrilled to be able to stay here," Mrs. Drury said.

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