8 houses in 25 years may not be enough


Variety: Joy Hare loves decorating. Among her many renovations was a funeral home whose embalming room was used as a kitchen.

October 21, 2001|By Katie Arcieri | Katie Arcieri,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Joy Hare swears the Baltimore house she lives in now will be the last one she will ever renovate. But the artsy "bungalow" in the Evergreen neighborhood adjoining Roland Park is the eighth home she has renovated within the past 25 years.

From remodeling a contemporary townhouse in Silver Spring to refurbishing a four-story English Tudor in Homeland, Hare hasn't quite satisfied her appetite for redoing homes. Revamping homes and gardens has become part of her life, just like breathing.

"You become a tiny, tiny part of something very, very grand," she said.

Hare, a 62-year-old grandmother of four who looks as if she just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, remembers her passion for remodeling from the time she was 6. Although she never cared much for dolls, she was always the one who created the house when she and her siblings "played house".

On the three-hour bus ride to grandma's house, Hare recalls, she played a landscaping game in which she would pretend to "snatch trees and shrubs from here and plop them down there where they're needed."

Hare has lived from one to four years in every home she has fixed up. And she isn't just the designer; she's the contractor, too. Each time she sets out to redo her new home, she hires the same carpenter, electrician, plumber and heating contractor.

Her ideas on converting the homes come to her almost instantly. Hare knows what she wants when she sees a house. She already has a picture in her mind of what the end result will look like.

"When I first look at a building, I know what I want to do with it - knock out this wall, put French doors here, a wall of windows there," said Hare, a full-time regional fund-raiser for Maryland Public Television.

"I make scale drawings of the rooms that will be changed and put the electrical symbols in place, or elevations to show size and placement of windows and doors."

Although Hare has a flair for design, she didn't intentionally build her renovating resume.

"When I buy each house, I'm planning on it being the last house that I will live in," she said. "Then something happens to change that plan. I get divorced, or change jobs, or my husband loses a job, or my compensation changes, or I need a place handicapped-accessible."

And she works on the projects herself. Whether it's the spackling, sanding or the varnishing, Hare is there in her "lucky" paint-speckled blue shirt.

In her years of moving about, Hare was able to discover "wonderful secrets" of her new homes, including trap doors, paintings under layers of wallpaper, secret staircases, false ceilings or stories about ghosts.

Her style and knack for renovating has earned her benefits. In 1991, she started a landscaping business she called Pennywise Designs. The business, which operated out of an old moss-green Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. van, brought her in contact with women such as Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland's junior senator.

The Democratic senator wanted a romantic garden to brighten the overgrown evergreen garden at her former Ann Street home in Fells Point. Hare transformed the garden into an array of Shasta daisies, Veronica snapdragons and tiger lilies that wrapped around the senator's home.

"After a long, hard day at work on the Hill, it was always a pleasure to sit in my garden and relax," Mikulski said. "It was a Japanese garden, but Joy Hare transformed it by adding lots of color and texture. The perennials and annuals were visible from every room on the first floor of my house."

Although Pennywise Designs was in business for only two years because Hare accepted a full-time job at MPT, she continued to make time for decorating.

The most rewarding renovation Hare has completed was transforming the 17,000-square- foot Mitchell Funeral Home on Eutaw Place.

She moved into the home while she and her crew of 12 spent four years renovating the building into 10 apartments. Many might not want to move into such a somber place, but Hare saw its potential.

Even though she remembers some of the morbid aspects of reconstructing the funeral home, such as removing boxes of pink embalming fluid and a baby casket from the carriage house, she recalls one functional use of the kitchen.

"Our first kitchen in Eutaw Place was the embalming room that had a sloped floor with a drain in the center," she said with a laugh, "Very practical for cleaning because you could hose it down."

After she redesigned the former funeral home into 10 apartments, she rented rooms to tenants who had an "appreciation for Victorian style."

Often, tenants would talk to each other about possible ghosts when their radios would unexpectedly go off or when they would hear footsteps going up and down the stairways when no one was there.

Hare doesn't know whether her "arts and crafts" Evergreen home - decorated with African face carvings, antiques, Japanese prints, art-nouveau fabric couches and glass-encased monarch butterflies - will be the last house she lives in.

She may move on to find something she likes better or finds more interesting. "When I complete [the homes] I am always pleased," she said. "The real high is in the doing. The creative process. I liked to create things that make me happy."

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