Belair-Edison rowhouse sparkles in rejuvenation Architect invested years of weekend work

Dream Home

March 31, 1996|By Daniel H. Barkin | Daniel H. Barkin,SUN STAFF

When Jack Nauert bought his Baltimore rowhouse in 1985, its best feature was perhaps the view. Across Shannon Drive in the Belair-Edison community was Herring Run Park.

"You know, on a good day, you can hear the babbling brook down there the water running over the rocks," said Mr. Nauert, a 43-year-old Baltimore architect.

The rowhouse, an Italianate two-story structure built around 1930, was typical of many aging city residences.

"It wasn't falling down, but it was just neglected. It just needed to be refinished," he said.

"Refinishing" meant several years of weekend work for Mr. Nauert.

But today, he owns a city home that has been rejuvenated, like many others in Belair-Edison, an East Baltimore neighborhood that saw its greatest growth in the 1920s and '30s.

To Mr. Nauert, it was worth it. The home and its companions on the block are unusual because they boast sun rooms jutting from their brick fronts.

Sun room is actually a misnomer, because it faces due north. The airy room is dominated by a roll-top desk against one wall. The windows are originals, six panes over six, with a leaded glass transom on top.

Like the rest of the first floor, the sun room walls are a cool gray. Originally, Mr. Nauert was confronted with gloomy wallpaper hiding plaster throughout.

"It looks a lot cleaner and lighter now, because the wallpaper was a dark pattern of the period, probably the '30s," he said.

A light fixture rescued from an old downtown building during its modernization hangs from the ceiling.

The sun room flows into the living room, where the eyes are tricked into believing that the gas fireplace is brick.

It is, in fact, cast iron, molded to look like brick, fairly typical for the neighborhood. The mantel is a slab of concrete.

When workers removed the wallpaper, Mr. Nauert discovered that sconces once sat above the fireplace, and so he restored lights to that wall.

Wallpaper removal was one of the few tasks Mr. Nauert hired out.

"I did everything after that, as far as the painting and the patching," he said.

The floors were in fairly good condition, oak with walnut inlay.

The first floor is bisected by the staircase, which separates the living room from the dining room. The dining room was actually a bedroom when Mr. Nauert came upon the house. The previous owner had had the room enclosed with wallboard, which Mr. Nauert removed.

The dining room now features a table that Mr. Nauert's father built from oak flooring, wood surplus from construction of the family home in Ohio.

It resembles a parson's table, and Mr. Nauert has ringed it with six leather and chrome chairs.

Between the dining room and the kitchen is a breakfast room where Mr. Nauert installed new oak cabinets but kept an old, glass-fronted corner cabinet that needed just a coat of paint.

Mr. Nauert, by tearing out the old wallboard, restored the pass-through opening from the breakfast room to the dining room that contributes to an open feeling in the rear of the first floor.

"You couldn't see it except when you took the wallpaper off, you could tell [the opening] was under there. It was interesting, when we tore out the old wall, it had redwood studs in them," Mr. Nauert said.

"From the period it was done, redwood was cheap, the '30s, '40s. Today, you'd never use it for that purpose."

The kitchen looks much the same, structurally, as it did when he took title to the home. He installed new cabinets, appliances and a rubber tile floor.

"I was into doing a minimal intervention at that point. If I had to do over, I might have opened this up more," Mr. Nauert said.

Atop the refrigerator sits a toaster that was a wedding present for his parents some 50 years ago. It still works.

The second floor has the same clean, uncluttered look as the downstairs.

Coming up the stairs, you get a good look at yourself in seven-foot-tall pier mirror in a gilded frame, resting on a wood pedestal.

Here are two bedrooms and a third converted into a small office with a large drafting table.

Both the upstairs and the first floor have high ceilings found in few modern homes.

"It's got to do with air conditioning," Mr. Nauert said. "They were designed higher in earlier days so the heat would get up out of your face."

The rowhouse, like many in Baltimore, boasts a clubbed basement.

The previous owners raised the floor a bit, so that the ceiling is about a half-inch lower than Mr. Nauert's head, "but it's a nice, clean storage place," he said.

While some urban pioneers bought old rowhouses and tore out the plaster, exposing and repointing the brick party walls, Mr. Nauert didn't find that particularly attractive. The plaster walls differentiate the home from modern construction.

"It's just so much easier to use wallboard these days, that plaster is very seldom used," he said. "I would say [plaster] is a better sound deadener. But that's what they did then, and wallboard's what they do now."

The work on his home took several years because he was limited to working on the weekends.

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