`Oddball house' once saw stars


Passion: The eccentric charms of a Tudor house won the hearts of Bob and Tracy Kean, who have restored its 1930s style.

January 02, 2000|By Ron Snyder | Ron Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bob and Tracy Kean had no plans of moving from their home on Westview Road in Original Northwood four years ago. However, when the Baltimore couple saw a house that they really, really wanted they just couldn't resist the temptation to buy it.

So, they bought the house, packed their bags, and moved -- seven houses up the street.

The house the Keans bought is a 3,000-square-foot Tudor built in 1931 by the Roland Park Co. The Keans, who paid $150,000 for the house in April 1995, knew they would have regrets if they didn't take a stab at owning it.

"We weren't itching to move since we had more than adequate space," said Mr. Kean, 50. "But we thought that if we didn't jump at the opportunity, we would always look at the home and know we could have done it better."

Tracy Kean, 40, said she has had an eye on the home since she was a child.

"It's such an oddball house," she said. "My father always drove by the house and thought it was interesting. Soon before he died, the owner let him walk through it."

The house originally was about half its current size. In 1937 the home was expanded and the architect accomplished the task of blending the old with the new.

"Luckily, the [original] designer did the addition to the house and was able to use the same supplies," Mr. Kean said.

At the time the home was expanded, the original owner had an observatory installed. Mr. Kean said that when the telescope was purchased, it was one of the largest privately owned telescopes on the East Coast.

The telescope is no longer functional, but the Keans don't want to get rid of it because of the historical value it brings to the home. In their library, the couple keeps a framed chart of the phases of the moon. Across from the chart are the original blueprints for the house.

"The chart and blueprints used to just be in a folder, but I framed them because they tell the story of the home," Mr. Kean said.

The condition of the telescope was relatively good compared to other areas of the house, where much of it looked as if it hadn't been renovated since being built six decades earlier.

"The man who lived here before us was only the third owner of this house and had lived here since 1961," Mr. Kean said. "But after his wife died, he let the house fall into disrepair. I guess it was just too much for him to handle by himself."

The Keans handled the majority of the cosmetic repairs themselves, including the landscaping and painting. But the couple did hire professional help to assist with other areas of the house. Some of the major repairs included replacing a rotted wood floor on one side of the house, correcting drainage problems in the basement and making over the kitchen.

The Keans also updated the wiring, since the circuits weren't able to handle modern-day conveniences such as big-screen TVs, stereos and air conditioning.

"The first house I lived in was a townhouse in North Baltimore that had a circuit box that was maybe a foot tall," Mr. Kean said. "To show you how much electrical work needed to be done here, the circuit box is at least 3 feet tall."

Nevertheless, Mr. Kean marveled at the overall condition of the home.

"The owners, for the most part didn't trash the house," he said. "There was still a lot of the original material in place here. Our work was more of a restoration project rather than a renovation project."

The Keans tried to make sure the repairs didn't overwhelm the home's old-fashioned persona. They were able to retain most of the house's original window screens and much of the molding. In areas where the Keans had to replace molding or redecorate, they went with the styles and often the furniture of the 1930s.

"We wanted to give this home an old-fashioned contemporary feel," Mr. Kean said. "But it wasn't always expensive things that did it. Often, we would look around at secondhand shops for lighting fixtures or paintings."

But overall, repairing the house was not cheap. The Keans estimated that they spent at least $80,000 to complete the repairs.

"I prefer not to dwell on the price, but considering the size of the home, I don't think it's that bad," Mr. Kean said.

Renovating and restoring homes is not something new to the Keans. They also restored their last home in the neighborhood -- a Tudor-styled townhouse. Mr. Kean said that experience helped him in tackling a bigger home the second time around.

"Luckily, the trim and design of our last house was similar to this one," he said. "I learned what to do in order of importance. If you don't pace yourself on a project like this, it's real easy to get burned out."

With their children grown, the Keans said the big house gives them a lot of privacy. They especially like it during holidays when they have out-of-town guests.

"It's not a mansion, but it's home to us," Mrs. Kean said. "When we had guests here for Thanksgiving, it was great to have so much room and be able to give everyone their privacy."

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