Old house gleams again like a beacon in Paradise Catonsville Victorian responds to loving toil

Dream Home

November 05, 1995|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,STAFF WRITER

When Susan Souder and Carl Koziol bought their Catonsville home 10 years ago, it wasn't worth a dime.

"The house was appraised as having no value," said Ms. Souder, sitting in the airy library of the nine-room Victorian. "Basically, it was going to cost as much to fix it up as it was worth, so it was worth nothing. What we paid for was the land."

The land -- 3 wooded acres in Catonsville's Paradise neighborhood -- was worth the $128,000 price, the couple decided. But what to do about the house?

"This was once a nice house that basically was let go for 30 years," Ms. Souder explained. "So it was up to my husband. Did he want to fix it up?"

After much thought and numerous walk-throughs, Mr. Koziol, an electrician, decided he did. "It definitely had a whole lot of potential," recalled Mr. Koziol. "I remember bringing my father here to see it, and he didn't even want to get out of the car."

The first major job was the electrical system -- someone had even nailed exterior wiring to a dead tree. Mr. Koziol rewired the entire house and then tackled the plumbing. He and his brother-in-law, a plumber, redid the plumbing, renovating two bathrooms at the same time.

The garage, which was falling down, was rebuilt, as was the L-shaped back porch. The roof needed repairs. Cedar shingles on the exterior needed to be replaced.

Rain gutters and eaves were replaced and rebuilt. The exterior, including trim and shutters, was repainted by Mr. Koziol with the help of neighbors.

After seven years, the exterior was finally restored and the couple turned their attention indoors. Although they and their son, Kyle, moved in in 1986, they had lived with peeling wallpaper, rotting floorboards and continual renovation for years.

The original house, a six-room structure built in 1849, served as the caretaker's residence for the old Belle Grove plantation. The manor house can be glimpsed through the trees from the couple's back porch.

In 1905, a five-room addition in Victorian style was added to the front of the house. The first floor of the addition houses the foyer, living room and library. The back of the house, in the original section, includes the formal dining room, which seats 22, the main staircase, the kitchen and back staircase and a full bath, added in a former bedroom.

Upstairs are five bedrooms, three of which have been renovated, and a second full bathroom. Mr. Koziol and Ms. Souder continue to work on the interior a little at a time, removing old wallpaper, repairing cracks in the walls, repainting and redoing ceilings.

Mr. Koziol ripped out the dated kitchen and replaced cabinets, counter tops, appliances, flooring and ceiling. Throughout the rest of the house, most of the original flooring, windows and woodwork has been salvaged.

Although the house still needs work, the couple take pride in the rooms they have finished, including the library, where Mr. Koziol added French doors leading to the back porch and built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

Friends and family questioned why the couple bought a house needing so much renovation, but Ms. Souder, a trial lawyer with a Baltimore law firm, explained that the Belle Grove house had everything they wanted, just in a miserable state of repair.

"My husband would have liked to be way out in the country somewhere, and I'd rather live in the city. So this is a perfect compromise."

"We looked at other houses, but this had everything we wanted. We wanted big rooms, fireplaces, a formal dining room and eat-in kitchen."

From the front porch, the family look out on mature trees and shrubs and, from the back porch, at dense woods.

"We loved the property because it had nice, big mature trees," Ms. Souder said. "We actually ended up cutting some down because it was so overgrown. When we bought it, you couldn't see the house [while] standing in the driveway."

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