Patience turns an 1840 wreck into urban gem Retirement: A former Episcopal rector and his wife have finally moved into their Ridgely's Delight home. Its extensive overhaul was monitored by the Maryland Historic Trust.

Dream Home

October 04, 1998|By Mary E. Medland | Mary E. Medland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Barney Farnham knew that when he retired he'd have to leave Bolton Hill and the 13-room house in which he and his wife, Suzanne, had raised four children.

The house, owned by Memorial Episcopal Church, where Farnham was rector for 29 years, would now be home to his successor. Though the couple loved Bolton Hill, they felt putting some distance between themselves and the parish would allow the new rector to have more freedom to make his mark.

"Yet we also knew we wanted to stay in Baltimore City, but Federal Hill was too expensive," Barney Farnham said. "One night, after a party at the Babe Ruth Museum, we happened to wander over to Ridgely's Delight and spotted the house."

Working with the Maryland Historic Trust, the couple was able to take a boarded-up wreck and turn it into an urban gem. There was a requirement that, after renovation, the house had to be rented out for five years, and a financial incentive that allowed them a 20 percent tax credit on the renovation costs.

The cost of making the house habitable was in the neighborhood of $100,000, and one of the couple's children formed a restoration company to work on the house.

"So we bought the house in 1991, took just over a year to fix it up, rented it out for five years, and moved in this winter, when I retired," Farnham said.

When the Farnhams purchased the house, it was occupied by two dozen cats. The home had no front steps, the tin roof leaked, the original Georgia pine flooring was covered with linoleum, it had a vacant lot masquerading as a back yard and a collapsed back wall covered with plywood and a tarp.

"The house was built in 1840 -- probably for physicians who worked at nearby University of Maryland Hospital," Farnham said. "It did have the original wooden doors, as well as original wood floors."

It was on a street lined with Bradford pear trees, was near everything that downtown has to offer and -- from the third floor -- boasted a great view of the Bromo Seltzer tower.

Another advantage was that it always had been a single-family dwelling and had never been converted into apartments. "For the most part, we didn't change the configuration of the rooms," he said.

While they did add central air conditioning, every detail had to be approved by the Historic Trust. A new heating system replaced the radiators, which had the added benefit of freeing up floor space.

The first floor originally had three rooms -- living, dining and kitchen -- each with its own fireplace. In the middle room, the fireplace had been covered over to conceal furnace ducts, which the two turned back into a working fireplace with a faux marble mantel.

Over the years, the kitchen -- with a fireplace clearly meant for cooking -- had been turned into a dining room. A newer kitchen was built on the back, although by the time the Farnhams took over, this room was in a state of collapse -- with a ceiling consisting of plaster, plasterboard and plywood -- and a broken skylight.

Now there is a living room and sitting room, and the original kitchen has been transformed into a dining room -- decorated with antique Chinese plates that were a wedding gift. A new kitchen -- which the Farnhams designed mostly themselves -- was built at the back of the house, and the couple added a powder room.

French doors led from the kitchen to a virtually maintenance-free garden -- with Japanese cherry trees, bird bath and fountain -- and car park.

The late-Federal Greek Revival staircase to the second floor was lacking a newel post, but a new one was created by a former parishioner.

On the second floor is a master bedroom and sitting room, each with its own working fireplace, along with two bathrooms -- one with a tub, the other with a shower. A friend did the tile work in both bathrooms and the kitchen.

Hidden just off the bathrooms are a washer and dryer. "There were very few closets, and they were very narrow," said Farnham, adding that the number of rooms in a house often determined one's property taxes -- and closets could be considered rooms. "So, we took a small hall and turned it into closet space."

The second and third floors have the original window casements and original glass, and the pine flooring on the third floor alternates between light and dark wood. "Like stripes," Farnham said.

The third floor has two bedrooms, both with angled ceilings, and both originally suffering from severe water damage. In the front bedroom, the two windows are about level with one's knees.

Their house is home to a good number of antiques.

"We also really love Oriental rugs," Farnham said. In addition to the rugs, there is an antique Queen Anne chest, a grandmother (smaller than a grandfather, but similar) clock, Suzanne Farnham's childhood doll collection and the sofa that Barney Farnham grew up with. "I remember," he said, "my mother reading to me on that sofa."

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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