Builder took work home with him Result is new rowhouse in Otterbein that has an old-style look


April 28, 1996|By Daniel H. Barkin | Daniel H. Barkin,SUN STAFF

When he bought it, the property was a 45-foot-deep vacant lot squeezed among the rowhouses fronting on cobblestoned, alley-narrow West Hughes Street in Otterbein. Roger Leonard, better known to his friends and family as "J. R.," saw where he wanted to build his first home.

All day long, Mr. Leonard, the son of a mechanical contractor who "just grew up building stuff," watches over the construction of homes in three Baltimore and Howard county subdivisions. The 1993 Towson State graduate and Calvert County native is a production supervisor for Ryan Homes, one of the largest builders in the area. But Mr. Leonard didn't want to settle down at the end of a county cul-de-sac, not yet.

"I didn't want to live in a suburb with a bunch of families because I'm single, and 25, and there's a lot to do in the city. And I grew up in a very rural area."

But he didn't want to do a rehab, either. He had just helped a friend renovate an old home that was little more than a shell. If he was going to do that much work, he wanted to build something new, from the footings to the shingles, something his.

So last July, construction began on a tri-level, three-bedroom town home, with Mr. Leonard as general contractor.

He found himself bouncing between exhaustion and exhilaration, until January, when the work was substantially completed. The battle against burnout was waged for months, as he toiled nights and weekends, "just trying to manage that and work."

While he hired subcontractors and had help from friends, his brothers and his father in handling plumbing, heating and trim carpentry, many of the tasks fell to him alone.

"I poured the walk, and I actually used an existing tap from the sewer that was plugged in 1936. I dug it up and found it, and it worked," Mr. Leonard recounted. He did use the services of a Baltimore architect, Patrick Sutton, to design the home.

"The way the lot was, I could build it, but I couldn't design it. He was very instrumental in getting everything designed the way it is."

The trick was to build something new that would look old, a home that would fit in with the ambience of the Baltimore neighborhood, which sits between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor and takes its name from a Methodist church built in 1785.

One tactic: The building would be clad in a brick that would seem from a bygone era, not the modern, wire-cut brick that's "real square and perfect," Mr. Leonard said. "This is a wood-molded brick, so it's all different. It looks old, but it's not old."

The brick is just a veneer. The home is wood frame, with a block foundation. And the front features a corner entry, reminiscent of a lot of the old city storefronts.

"I learned a lot about Baltimore architecture," he added. "If you look at the house, you see it's got these bull-nose jamb windows. This is something we custom-made that replicates what was originally in this area."

Individual panes of glass divided by wood muntins make up the windows. "This is wood. This isn't vinyl or aluminum or anything. That's real wood. You know, all the typical windows that you see today, it's just one window and then they'll put in fake bars to make it look authentic. But these are the real deal," Mr. Leonard said. Above the windows are wood lintels that are also typical of the neighborhood.

Inside the home, with 2,100 square feet of living space, there's an air of unfinished business. The walls, painted white throughout, bear the injuries of furniture and appliances being moved into the house and up the stairs, of workmen dinging the Sheetrock hither and yon. Soon, a fresh coat will conceal the marks. "Everything's got to come through here," Mr. Leonard muttered as he walked through the entry hall on the first floor. "It just destroyed the walls."

On the first floor are a sitting room, bathroom and a bedroom. A deck was built off the bedroom. A small backyard improvement project is next on the agenda.

Sharing the ground level is a garage, the only one on his block. Above the garage is a steel terrace accessible through French doors from the kitchen on the second floor. The terrace was supposed to have been rounded, but somehow, according to Mr. Leonard, "the fabricator told me he didn't get that sheet. And I came in here one day and it was square."

"And I said, 'Wow, that's really nice, but it was supposed to be round.' But I really liked it, so I kept it." The terrace is bolted into the house's framing.

On the second floor are the living room with a fireplace, the kitchen and a dining area. The floors are oak, "squeaky oak," as Mr. Leonard describes them.

With a "little creative carpentry," the staircase from the second to the third level is open. His goal was to prevent obstructions from blocking the view from one side of the second level to the other. The third floor contains the master suite and bathroom, and a spare bedroom.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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