College kid took Rehab 101 in Federal Hill


Project: Brent Reynolds bought and remodeled a home, with the help of understanding parents, an architect grandfather and his own ambition.

March 24, 2002|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a year's time, Brent Reynolds, 23, has gone from living in a college group house to buying and rehabbing his own home in Federal Hill.

He went from eating pizza to cooking in a kitchen fitted with the latest stainless steel appliances and maple cabinetry.

The one collegiate constant is the beer.

In his dining room is a small bar with a beer keg and single tap. Missing is the dining room table. But looking beyond this small homage to his college days at the University of Delaware, he's clearly shown he wants to dabble in the finer things in life.

He's gone to great lengths to create an airy, open house of almost minimalist design. No clutter. No posters. Reynolds and his girlfriend, Erinn Williams, appear to want to bask in the purity of space they created for each other.

Normally it takes a few years for college grads to warm up to the idea of owning a home. They need to approach the working world cautiously, perhaps chase a few great ideas before settling down. But Reynolds was different. As an undergraduate he was busting to buy a Baltimore home on the cheap and rehab it.

It might have something to do with him interning and then being employed by Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. in Towson or that his grandfather was an architect. But Reynolds understood the lucrative equation of rehabbing a house and causing its value to soar.

Reynolds, however, would never have taken the plunge if he'd paid attention to the initial advice of his parents and grandfather. They told him to wait until he graduated in May last year before house shopping.

He eventually won over all three. So long as he kept his grades up and agreed to pay in mortgage what he would spend in rent, his parents would support his decision, said his mother, Becky Reynolds.

His house hunting began in his junior year during his internship with Whiting-Turner when he saw some rehabs in progress. Then a friend drove Reynolds around to show him the city's wealth of possible rehab projects.

"I decided to pursue it and test the waters," he said.

Of course, in selecting upscale Federal Hill, Reynolds didn't pick the easiest neighborhood in which to stake his claim, especially for an undergraduate on a limited budget.

Reynolds chased after two houses only to have them snatched by other buyers. Then he found a small Formstone house for sale on Churchill Street, a road that shoots off from Federal Hill Park and parallels the harbor.

The home's 100-year-old owner was initially asking $140,000 -- too much for a college kid. But the woman lowered her price to $90,000 and the deal was struck.

Then Reynolds had to find a bank willing to lend big money to a college student with no job. It took about eight banks before he found one that was willing to lend him $190,000 to cover the cost of the house and the remodeling. His mother co-signed for the loan.

It didn't take an experienced designer to realize the house would have to be gutted. But it helped that Reynold's grandfather was Prentiss Browne, an architect whose projects included the Donnelly Science Building at Loyola College and Hampden Elementary School.

"It was in terrible shape, absolutely terrible shape," recalled Browne, who helped his grandson figure out a way to expand the house from 600 to 1,000 square feet.

Although Browne's professional career was filled with major undertakings, he felt that working with his grandson on the Federal Hill house was his most rewarding project.

"This is terrible," Browne said with a laugh. "[But] I like the bar that I designed and built down there."

An addition was built onto the home, creating a spacious kitchen with a counter. A small second-floor back room was converted into a master bedroom with a view of the city skyline.

The basement was dug out to fit a washroom and a snug den. And a deck was laid across the roof to take in the skyline of office buildings that glittered at sunset. Reynolds is particularly proud of the free-standing steel stairwell that opens up the house.

All the rooms are wired with cable, Internet, speaker jacks and dimmers for the lights, some of which are recessed, while others are tracked. The only things that are original are the hardwood floors and the front wall.

Reynolds thought he'd have the two-bedroom house completed by August last year, but a no-show by one of the subcontractors disrupted the schedule. The house was finished in the end of September.

Reynolds was kept busying switching around the contractors, making sure the flooring people would get in before the drywall installers, and so forth.

"When I was finishing up school, my grandfather would come down, when I couldn't make it down, my mom would come down to check things out," he said.

Becky Reynolds said she "found the whole process fascinating" -- especially how the project bonded her son and his grandfather. "A college kid going into this solo, without these kind of supports, would have a hard go at it," she said.

Reynolds put a sizable chunk of money into the kitchen -- $12,000 in high-end stainless steel appliances and maple cabinetry.

The area maintains the understated look that runs throughout the house, relying more on space than decorative touches, he said.

Growing up in Green Spring Valley, he knew about Baltimore and has followed its gradual comeback. Now that he's got a taste of city life, Reynolds is on the lookout for another house.

"I learned a lot," he said. "I would take those learning experiences and carry them over onto the next one."

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