After wild days, elegance is restored Former fraternity house in Guilford once again shows its grand style

Dream Home

July 14, 1996|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A pair of stone lions guards the steps leading to the stately, four-story brick home in Guilford. An elegant entry, with an Oriental carpet, paisley flowered window treatment draped over a matching fabric-covered rod, and a brass-trimmed crystal chandelier, leads into a high-ceiling living room with hand-milled crown molding. Sunlight floods the tall windows, bringing a rich glow to the cream-colored walls.

It was difficult to envision that four years ago, when most of the windows were boarded up and water from leaking pipes seeped over beer-stained hardwood floors.

When Eugene and Sharon O'Dunne bought the North Charles Street house in 1992, it bore little resemblance to the once-grand structure built in 1920.

"It was just a shell of a house, totally trashed by fraternity brothers," Eugene O'Dunne said.

His wife added, "It was horrendous, a dirty mess. There were holes in the floors, walls and ceilings."

Though it took the O'Dunnes only about a year to transform the rundown fraternity house back into a stately home, a bitter 15-year legal battle preceded the purchase.

Initially, Eugene O'Dunne took legal action only to evict the rowdy fraternity from the quiet neighborhood, next door to the apartment complex that he owns and manages. But when the house became vacant, he and his wife decided to purchase the property and take a stab at restoring it.

Working with Robert R. Gisriel, an architect, and Bill Schofield, a contractor, the O'Dunnes planned to rip out the interior and create a layout that would function well and take advantage of the character of the house. They also designed a first-floor, two-bedroom, two-bath, mother-in-law apartment with separate entrance.

Restoration included replacement of 40 windows, the front door, garage door and interior walls, installation of insulation in the walls and floors for soundproofing, two new heating and air-conditioning systems, two security systems, 24 cable outlets, telephone and intercom system and relining of chimneys for three fireplaces.

"Just thinking about it all makes me tired," said Eugene O'Dunne, who worked side by side with the architect and contractor.

"We tried to save as much of the original molding and floors as possible," he said, "but some of the hardwood floors were so badly damaged pieces had to be replaced."

During the yearlong restoration, the O'Dunnes frequented auctions and estate sales, buying Baldwin brass hardware, marble tiles and some furniture.

Sharon O'Dunne decorated each room, sewing drapes, painting and wallpapering.

"At first I wanted to tackle all rooms at once, but that became too overwhelming and I realized I needed to take one room at a time," she said.

Today the house sits on one-third of an acre of manicured lawns and lovely landscaping. Overhead electrical wiring was buried and an underground, computerized irrigation system keeps the grass a lush green and the plants watered.

The couple's favorite room is the kitchen, with custom-built cherry cabinets, a fireplace, an island work area and bar and two French doors leading to a brick patio.

In addition to the living room and kitchen/den combination, the main floor of the house also has a dining room and powder room with a secret door leading to the furnace room. The mother-in-law apartment, occupied by tenants, and garage are on the first floor.

The master bedroom, with two walk-in closets, and the master bath, with a whirlpool tub, are on the third floor along with a second bedroom, two additional bathrooms and a computer/entertainment room. Two bedrooms, a large walk-in cedar closet and full bath are on the fourth floor.

"I haven't really done anything with the fourth floor yet; there's still a lot of work to do," Sharon O'Dunne said.

"We had a lot of fun putting everything together so far, but right now it's time to rest for a while."

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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