Traditional city home is Casablanca inside

DREAM HOME

Mideast: A Butchers Hill couple borrow from Egypt, Yemen and Morocco to decorate their home.

September 26, 1999|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Though traditional on the outside, with its stone steps, curving windows and witch-hat roof -- you won't find a single Queen Anne table or Laura Ashley duvet within.

You will find a mafraj -- a traditional reception room in Yemen used primarily by men who sit on floor-level couches to relax.

Large cherry-wood sliding doors open into rooms filled with Moroccan and Yemenite crockery, bridal chests, baskets and other ornaments.

Intricate Victorian fireplaces are filled with Moroccan lamps and baskets. Fourteen-foot-high walls are decorated with glasswork from Yemen.

Tapestries from Egypt blend effortlessly with stenciling on the walls. The hardwood floors are covered with rugs from the Middle East.

Harmonizing the decors of Egypt, Yemen and Morocco within a Victorian rowhouse in Butchers Hill was the last thing Noel Brown and his wife Sereen Thaddeus expected to do when they settled down, but, as they say, "It works."

The result is a warm, unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures.

After living in Morocco and Yemen for several years while working on international public health contracts, the couple came to Baltimore so she could continue her communications work for the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

"This is the first home where both of our possessions are together," she said. "We didn't picture Eastern art here, but it works. We didn't expect it. We thought we had too eclectic and ethnic furniture."

One reason it works is because the Victorians had a love for Middle Eastern decor -- and included design nuances in their home to accommodate it.

"There was an Eastern influence in the Victorian style," Brown added. "They used those influences here."

That influence is especially dramatic around the main stairway. A web-like wood latticework spreads across the entrance to the stairway. It looks as if it could be in downtown Casablanca.

The couple and their 3-year-old son, Jason, have lived in the home a year.

They're celebrating by opening it to the public during the annual Butchers Hill House Tour on Oct. 10.

Although the 4,000-square-foot home is truly their dream come true, and the furnishings and art are all theirs, they enjoy the fact that they didn't have to jackhammer walls, rip down wallpaper, redo carpets and draw floor plans to make it their own.

The basic house was already decorated to their liking, with delicate stencils in the double parlors, chandeliers, warm woods throughout the flooring, railing, trim, high ceilings -- and a large kitchen complete with a brick fireplace, cherry cabinetwork and a huge relief sculpture above the fireplace, done by a former resident.

"I love the wood, the high ceilings. I grew up in a home like this in Lebanon," Thaddeus said. "And there's not much upkeep."

Her husband, now a private health care consultant who spent many years in New Orleans working for the American Heart Association, also loves the home and the neighborhood.

His New Orleans roots are present in the home, though not as dominant. You can see New Orleans on the main floor in a watercolor he loves by the renowned artist George Dureau. And perhaps through some of the chandeliers and sheer curtains that adorn and lighten the huge windows.

Like many houses in the area, theirs has a colorful past. Built in 1889, it has seen many residents, the most recent a well-known local interior designer and artist who both lived there and did the latest renovations on the home. During World War II, it served as a rooming house for workers -- and fell into disrepair.

Five nuns were renting it when the couple purchased it.

"They were delightful. They told us, `This is your house!' " Brown said.

Upstairs, the master bedroom, complete with ultra-modern bathroom overlooks the street through a round window. Another fireplace is there, of course, but not with dried flowers and Royal Doulton on the mantel. Instead, a black wedding dress from Yemen adorns the upper brickwork. In the hearth sits an 1862 J.D. Sexton & Co. coal stove, made in Baltimore.

The bedroom's adjoining bathroom is just as massive, but more modern. Glass shower doors are complete with etchings of deer and butterflies. There's also a central vacuum outlet.

Down the hall, Jason's room has many toys and stenciling typical of a child's room, yet a bright poster of the Arabic alphabet hangs over his bed.

On the third level is a guest room, study and the revered mafraj -- the heart of the house. Two jambiyyas, Yemenite belts with ornamental bells, hang from the door and wall.

A luxurious layout of low, plush couches line the sides of the room. Low tables are placed in front of the couches, and a brass maddah, a large water pipe, is placed nearby for more ornamentation. No shoes allowed.

"We'll use it for our family room," Brown said.

Behind the main house is a two-story carriage house. It's accessed through an outdoor patio. The family is renovating the two-story carriage house to make two apartments which will be leased.

When the couple first returned to the states, they thought they'd wind up in New Orleans. He was restoring a home there, but her career led them to Baltimore.

They anticipated living somewhere like Federal Hill -- but with rents around $2,000 a month, they weren't satisfied. When the home in Butchers Hill came up, they were able to buy it for $265,000.

"I love the park, the water. I walk to work. I love the space," Thaddeus said. "We like [this area] being a secret. I lived near Homewood and hated it. There is no life. There are no cafes, no bookstores. Nothing. Here, we're near the action."

The Butchers Hill House Tour is Oct. 10 from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets are available at the pavilion in Patterson Park or by phone at 410-522-6773.

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