Psychotherapist's home has quirky personality

DREAM HOME

Unusual: A fire introduced the Colemans to their kindly neighbors in Cambridge, where the honking of wild geese are the last sounds they hear before falling asleep.

October 17, 1999|By Martin Schneider | Martin Schneider,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Measuring the value of her three-story Cambridge home has never been difficult for Katie Coleman -- she can do it in 100 steps.

"That's how far we are from the water," she said. "I know that walk by heart."

The Colemans' wood-frame home is near the bank of the Choptank River as it meanders through the Eastern Shore city. From the comfort of their screened-in front porch, Mrs. Coleman and her husband Keith can just see the water's edge.

And that's why the couple said they can't imagine living anywhere else.

"Every night we get to hear the geese as we go to sleep," Mrs. Coleman said. "You can't buy that."

The modest house was built in 1919 and still features furnishings common to that period, including an antique claw-foot bathtub in the home's only full bathroom.

The three rooms on the first floor have been restored, but that wasn't the case when the couple moved into the house with their two children in 1987. There was a lot of work to be done.

"You talk about having a house with personality, but it's as intangible as trying to describe why you like a person's personality," said Mr. Coleman, a psychotherapist. "This home's little quirks give it definite personality."

Paid $43,500

He and Mrs. Coleman, an office manager, paid $43,500 for the home 12 years ago and have invested thousands more in renovations. The couple has managed to keep many of the windows that still work on the original weight-and-pulley system.

Mr. Coleman said he fell in love with the Cambridge area as a child, growing up only a few streets from his current home.

"In those days you could still crab with pretty good success by wading out on the water," he said. "Of course, those days are gone but our family has still enjoyed every minute of living on the water."

Both their children -- Skip, 16, and Elizabeth, 23 -- took sailing lessons at the community yacht club a few blocks from the Coleman home.

And during hot summer days, the family would join the rest of the neighborhood for a swim at the "beach" -- a grassy spot on the water's edge at the end of their road.

"The families would all be out there together swimming and watching after the kids," Mrs. Coleman said. "It was just like going to the beach."

The Colemans married during college and lived in a number of homes during their first 12 years together.

Immediately after moving to the Cambridge home from Boston, the Colemans ripped up the carpeting and tile on the ground floor and restored the home's hardwood floors.

The family also turned the two-room attic into living space and added a fourth bedroom that their son now occupies. A new roof and modifications to the kitchen are planned for later this year.

"It's still a work in progress. The house constantly needs work, constantly needs attention. But, I always dreamed of living in an old house," Mrs. Coleman said.

But that dream almost came to an end on Thanksgiving Day 1989.

The gas stove in the front room of the home had been on all day, in an attempt to chase away the chill of a rare November snowstorm. the Colemans said. As Mrs. Coleman left to run an errand after dinner, the family noticed the first puffs of smoke from a living room wall.

"Before we knew it, a fire erupted in the east wall and spread over the whole side of the house," Mrs. Coleman said.

The fire was quickly brought under control and the house was not a total loss. The Colemans were displaced for six months and had to stay with family living nearby.

"It gave us the excuse to redo the kitchen," Mr. Coleman said. "It also gave us an excuse to get to know the neighborhood."

On the day after the fire, the Colemans recalled, their Willis Street neighbors helped them board up the damaged part of the house, clean out ruined belongings and generally help the family get back on its feet.

Almost like family

And from that day, the neighborhood has been almost like family to the Colemans.

Most of the residents on Willis Street are near retirement age and Mrs. Coleman said the neighbors have been like grandparents to their two children.

"When we were away -- especially during summer vacation -- the kids knew that the neighbors were keeping an eye on them. They also knew where to go if they were ever in trouble," Mrs. Coleman said.

"When it snows, I have to clear about eight driveways," Mr. Coleman said. "We're hoping a younger couple moves in soon so they can take care of us."

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