Two old interiors get brand-new looks


April 23, 1995|By Beth Smith

Redesigning residential interiors is always a challenge. The job is made even more difficult when the redesign is limited to the space that exists -- no additions. Two Baltimore architects have recently completed two such projects. Different in origin and style, the interiors they created are handsome, functional and just what their owners wanted.

From Carriage House to Home

When architect Rebecca Swanston first saw the vintage carriage house bought by her clients, she was immediately intrigued. Designed in 1899 by the New York architectural firm of Hoppin and Koen, the Green Spring Valley building was structurally sturdy, with a well-preserved brick and cedar shingle facade.

But, at that time two years ago, Ms. Swanston could also see signs of benign neglect. With the horses and carriages long gone, the first-floor space had been turned into three garages, and an apartment occupied the second floor. While the exterior exuded lots of faded charm, the interior was dingy, with concrete flooring and exposed studded walls.

Ms. Swanston didn't flinch at the scope of the renovation, though. "I just fell in love with this project on my first visit," she recalls. "You could just see the potential."

Owners Stan and Jeanne Cohen were just as excited when they first saw the house. Recently married, they were looking for a house to restore. The carriage house fit the bill. "A friend told us about the property and when we rode up and saw it, we didn't even get out of the car," remembers Ms. Cohen. They, too, were smitten. The very next day Ms. Cohen talked to Ms. Swanston about renovating.

For six months, Ms. Swanston worked on plans to convert the carriage house to a private residence. The Cohens set no design restrictions, but they talked about what they wanted their home to be -- warm, welcoming and gracious. Ms. Cohen also `f suggested some traditional elements. Ms. Swanston, who specializes in giving historical properties a new twist, obliged.

Working with general contractor Roy Cox, she had the interior of the building gutted. While carving out the spaces, she kept in mind that the Cohens wanted to keep all the main rooms of the house, including their master bedroom suite, on the first floor. She also decided to include an element of surprise in the design.

"In this house, we never really quite want you to know what's beyond the next corner," she says. "I think this concept is important in the design of any house."

The biggest surprise in the house is the great room -- a 26-by-33-foot space with a ceiling that peaks at about 22 feet. The room is dominated at the far end by a massive quarry-stone fireplace, dry stacked by mason Fitz Gurley. The center of this space is the kitchen work area. Built-in cabinets flank the fireplace and also occupy one wall. On the other side of the room, overlooking the Green Spring Valley, is a series of French doors that open onto a deck.

Ms. Cohen admits to being slightly nervous when she saw the plans for such a large, open space. In addition to the kitchen, the great room includes the only dining area in the house and a cozy niche for watching television. Ms. Cohen knew the look was right, but she was concerned how the space was going to function. Her doubts were unfounded. "The kitchen area works better than any kitchen I have ever had," she says. "We literally live in this one room."

Ms. Swanston was confident when she laid out the plans for the great room. "Contemporary lifestyles don't require separate kitchens and separate dining rooms," she says, "and I knew that Stan and Jeanne live a very contemporary lifestyle."

The decorating style of the room rests on traditional furniture pieces, handsome fabrics picked by Ms. Cohen, and sunny wall colors chosen by interior designer Bill Bigel.

While the great room has a definite contemporary feel, the

adjoining living room is much more formal, with a deep crown molding and a traditional fireplace. Playing off the arched windows of the original building, Ms. Swanston created archways to lead in and out of the room. Classic elements were also repeated in the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the connecting hall, and the small balcony that overlooks the two-story, octagon-shaped foyer.

In addition to the great room and the living room, the main floor also contains the master suite. Upstairs are two bedrooms, two baths and a den. The den holds the surprise of a 15-by-10-foot trompe l'oeil fireplace and surrounding bookcases painted by artist Mary Veiga.

While the interior of the Cohens' home went through extensive remodeling, the exterior was largely left in the original Colonial Revival style.

Becky Swanston is pleased that she was able to preserve the best of the old features, yet create a home that is very livable in the 1990s. "I think what makes me feel the best is that the owners really love living in this house," she says. "They are discovering new things about it every day."

Redoing a rancher

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