Funkstown's funky house

DREAM HOME

Stable: A former 19th century stable in Western Maryland is home to the six Coopers.

June 27, 1999|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Shortly after the turn of the 19th century in a small town in Western Maryland called Funks-town, a man came to live in a large white home atop a hill. Next to his home was a stable with modest living quarters for the help.

One day the man's daughter ran off with one of the stable hands and got married. What could the father do? A stable is no place to call a home for a family. So the modest living quarters were converted into a small house for the daughter and her new husband.

Time passed, and with each new generation and family that lived in the former stable, the house grew by bits and pieces -- a room added here, a wall knocked out there.

Flash forward to today. Funks-town is still very much a small town, although cars now move along main street instead of horse-drawn buggies. The large white house now is Ruth's Antique Shop and the stable house is home to Jeff and Jean Cooper and their four children, Jeffrey, 11; Laura, 6; Kevin, 3, and Sean, 7 weeks.

For the Coopers, the house in Funkstown, which neighbors say dates back to at least 1813, was a contrast to their former home in Virginia Beach, Va.

"There we had the easy life," he said. "We had a brand new home. It was beautiful. I didn't have to worry about the house. I had plenty of leisure time."

The Coopers lived in Virginia Beach when he was stationed there in the Navy. After his tour of duty was over, the Coopers had planned to move to the Baltimore area, since both were originally from Catonsville. They looked in Baltimore and then farther west, to Frederick.

"We didn't want to live too far out," he said. But her mother recommended that the couple check out a house she saw in Funkstown.

The home wasn't exactly what the couple was looking for. It was a little too far away and needed some work. But the Coopers were looking for a change and wanted an older home with some character.

Several additions were put on over the years in a haphazard manner. Although the roughly L-shaped house had 13 rooms, it didn't really have any bedrooms, a living room, family room or a dining room, or any specific type of room except for the kitchen and bathroom. What it did have was a jumble of little rooms connected by long narrow hallways.

"It was unconventional, but it did have a lot of character," Mr. Cooper said. And it also had much, much more.

"It had bad electrical wiring, plaster was falling off the walls, the floors were rotted in places and we later found out the roof leaked."

Also, the previous owner never connected to the town's main sewer line.

The home wasn't really suitable for their family. At that time, the Coopers' first child, Jeffrey, was just a few months old. What could they do?

The Coopers bought the house, of course. But only after they persuaded the owner to connect to the town's sewer line. They may have fallen in love with the home and were willing to work hard to repair it, but there was no way they were dealing with raw sewage in the back yard.

"You'll never find another home like this anywhere else," Mr. Cooper said.

And he has proof of that fact. A contractor once came and inspected the house and said, "Why would anyone build a house like this," Mr. Cooper said.

"When we moved in, the house was livable, somewhat," said Jean Cooper. "Afterward, I thought to myself, why did we bring a baby in here," she said.

"But once we started, it wasn't so bad," he said. The couple did most of the remodeling work themselves. "She's real good at demolition."

One day he came home from work to find the bathroom had been demolished by Mrs. Cooper. "It looked so bad, I didn't think it would look any worse," she recalls.

As for her husband, with his background in electronics in the Navy, rewiring the home was "a lot of fun." And as for the rest of the work, they just figured it out as they went along.

"You go to the Home Depot, ask a lot of questions, pick up some books. It's not rocket science," he said.

There's just one thing he won't do. "Plumbing," he said. "I won't even attempt it."

Unlike previous owners, the Coopers have resisted adding on to the home in the 10 years they have lived there -- even as their family has grown from three people to six. It can be tough, they admit, especially in a house without bedrooms.

"We've learned to make do with what we have," Mr. Cooper said. The two boys share a room with a bunk bed. The daughter's room hides behind a set of French doors. Mom and dad and baby Sean are in the converted attic room. (Watch your head on the stairs.)

"Most people think that a house like this isn't made for a family. But the layout of the house actually keeps us all together," Mrs. Cooper said. Of course, the children are small enough to tuck away into little rooms.

As the children get older, the Coopers will probably add another room to the house. They're not exactly sure where yet. "Besides, we keep saying once the children are all gone, this will be the perfect home for two people," she says.

Plans include remodeling the avocado green and brown kitchen and finishing the bathroom Mrs. Cooper demolished. Right now, it's a little scary in there and the children are afraid to go in, she says.

The house was bought for $69,900 and the Coopers figure they have put between $15,000 and $20,000 in remodeling it over the past 10 years. Six years ago, the house was appraised at $100,000.

The house isn't perfect, the Coopers admit. They have had to learn to adapt to the home's many quirks. But their house was never supposed to be a house at all. It was just a stable and a place for servants. But then someone a long time ago fell in love and it became a home. And that is really all that matters.

"Home is what you make it," Mr. Cooper says.

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