Ex-Kentuckian plants patch of bluegrass here

DREAM HOME

Gardener: A Hopkins medical professor is also a gardener and a proud son of Kentucky, both facts made clear by a visit to his home in the Hampton section of Towson.

May 30, 1999|By Joan Kasura | Joan Kasura,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Dr. John P. Gearhart left his native Kentucky to teach and practice at the Johns Hopkins medical school, he never imagined that he'd be able to replant his own little patch of Kentucky bluegrass here in Baltimore.

It took him three residences and 14 years, but today he finds comfort in a stone rambler in the Towson neighborhood of Hampton, whose theme song should be "My Old Kentucky Home."

Gearhart's self-described "voyage of discovery" began in 1985 when he moved into a Severna Park home that was "right under the noise path of the airport."

Three years later, he had had enough of the noise, sold the house and bought a house in Lutherville.

But while the Lutherville house certainly was quieter and had "a great garden," he soon found the neighborhood to be "too built up" for someone raised in the rural serenity of Kentucky's eastern mountains and horse farms.

But making the daily commute to Johns Hopkins took its toll, and after four years Dr. Gearhart decided it was time to sell again and move closer.

He rented a penthouse apartment at Henderson's Wharf in Fells Point.

Certainly, the commute to his work as professor and director of pediatric urology at the medical school couldn't be beat -- seven minutes on good days, nine minutes on bad.

And he definitely enjoyed the many advantages of living close to the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore.

Three years later, when an associate at work suggested he might want to buy a house in the Towson area that was about to come on the market, Gearhart was reluctant to consider it.

"I wasn't even in the mood for house hunting," Gearhart said. But his friend was insistent, so he finally went.

When he saw the house and its gardens, Gearhart realized how much he had missed raising roses, as well as the whole concept of summer outdoor living. Although the yard needed work, the home's 2-acre lot was a definite lure.

Also,the property backed up to the Hampton Mansion, thus creating an oasis of green countryside a half- mile from the Beltway.

Clearly hooked on the home's potential, he quickly negotiated the purchase of the custom-built stone rambler for $325,000. The three-bedroom house was in very good condition for its 48 years and the previous owners had updated the kitchen.

Nonetheless, the house showed some of its 1950s origins. In the past three years, he has spent about $50,000 to renovate the three baths, redesign the interior, landscape and add a pool.

"I could see the home's potential," he said.

And so, he went about hiring an interior designer to help him transform the home into something recalled by Stephen Foster's classic ballad, "My Old Kentucky Home."

Enter Linda Colombani whom, he found, wasn't "pushy rather, she guides you through the process and is great at color coordination."

When gaps appeared in the furnishing process, she also was "very good at going to consignment shops and other inexpensive out-of-the-way places to find what you need to complete a room or put a room together."

A perfect example was the walkout basement where Colombani furnished a guest suite from choice consignment shop pieces and created a cozy retreat for Gearhart's long-term guests, often international students who had come to Hopkins to learn.

However, Colombani's most stunning contribution arose when she and Gearhart were faced with the expansive side wall in the dining room. Rather than hang more wallpaper, she suggested a mural for the space, and that it be painted by Corky Cole, a Hampton artist.

Gearhart immediately agreed because he knew the artist's work "from the fantastic, whimsical murals she had painted in the pediatric operating rooms at Hopkins."

"She asked me for three beautiful pictures of Kentucky that I liked, and two days later I came home and there they were on the wall!

"It's become a great conversation piece when I entertain guests for dinner on weekends."

The middle of the mural shows Churchill Downs not only because it is quintessential Kentucky, but also because Gearhart went to school in Louisville.

The center melds into a grist mill scene on the left, emblematic of the mill Gearhart's maternal grandparents had on their property when he was a child.

And, because Gearhart interested in horse breeding, the mural's right side displays a typical horse farm with the mountains of eastern Kentucky, where he grew up, in the background.

Gearhart acknowledges the home is still a work in progress.

"The basement is the next big project," he said, pointing out the possibilities the level presented, including a fourth bedroom.

Outdoors -- in addition to the pool -- Gearhart has worked on growing his collection of rosebushes, which now stands at 30.

"I live in my back yard during the summer and entertain quite a bit back here on weekends. It's also nice to work with my roses in the early mornings before I go to work," he said.

"I also find it a fun, relaxing place to come home to at the end of the day, a real contrast to the long working hours I sometimes put in at Hopkins."

Have you found your dream home?

Tell us about it. Call Sundial at 410-783-1800. On a touch-tone phone, punch in 6160 after the greeting. Or write to Dream Home, Real Estate Editor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or fax to 410-783-2517.

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