A weekend hideaway in heart of downtown


Retreat: A New Jersey couple find relief from their hectic suburban lifestyle during weekend getaways to Baltimore.

April 21, 2002|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's such an ironic twist.

For Walter and Gerrie Kupper, a weekend hideaway isn't at the Jersey shore - it comes 200 miles from home at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, 10 stories above street level in a Harbor Court condominium.

"We go to the city for peace, to get away from the noisy [New Jersey] suburbs!" said Gerrie.

Visitors to one of Baltimore's most luxurious addresses enjoy complimentary parking on adjacent Barre Street and enter a lobby with marble floors, crystal chandeliers, wall tapestries and a uniformed doorman.

At the main desk, an attendant politely greets a visitor, announces the visitor to the resident and points the way to the high-speed elevators.

The Kuppers are waiting at the end of the ride. The landing is tastefully decorated, and, with a maximum of three units per floor in each of the three private towers, the atmosphere is one of spacious elegance.

The door to the Kuppers' unit is wide open; the scent of chocolate cake permeates the air as afternoon light floods the living room. The vista of Inner Harbor East appears on the walls courtesy of a grand picture window and clever use of mirrors.

"We had been comfortably secure in a New Jersey suburb for 21 years," Gerrie began. The couple's only child was grown and had left home when Walter's job was eliminated in an abrupt downsizing. That was in 1994.

In 1995, Walter was staying at the Harbor Court Hotel during an extended consulting position with the law firm Venable Baetjer and Howard. He eventually persuaded his wife, who knew nothing about the city, to visit.

"I kept on visiting and exploring the downtown area. I loved it ... and the Inner Harbor," Gerrie said.

After Walter's contract ended, the couple continued to visit Baltimore.

For three years, the hotel and city became a holiday and weekend retreat. Even when Walter began to travel extensively to Europe on business, Gerrie, an acknowledged "city person," found herself gravitating to Baltimore for rest.

She would escape her hectic lifestyle in suburban New Jersey and the home that became nothing more than an office for her free-lance work as an association manager.

The thought occurred to Gerrie that she and Walter should invest in "a little hideaway" instead of paying for hotel space. The Towers at Harbor Court condominiums, attached to the hotel, made the most sense for them.

"The parking, the maintenance, the security, the privacy. ... We found a Realtor and [bought] our dream two-bedroom condo in a mere two hours," she said.

Though it was a much larger place than they had expected to find, Walter quickly saw the investment value and purchased the unit for $242,000 in November 1999.

The couple agree that the amenities make for a dream home and dream lifestyle.

Their telephone may be forwarded to the hotel operator for message-taking. Housekeeping services are available on a one-time basis or a monthly, contractual plan. Linen service is also available.

Condo residents may take advantage of the hotel's laundry and valet dry cleaning services, as well as rollaway beds and cribs for their guests. Catering executives will plan a party; the hotel concierge will plan an agenda.

A full-service health club, with indoor pool, tennis courts and rooftop croquet lawn, is at their disposal. Five-star dining and cocktails and jazz in the hotel lounge are near at hand. Residents may open an account through the hotel to simplify use of the amenities.

Yet, the three 28-story towers at Harbor Court are an entity unto themselves. Residents have parking spaces in the attended garage, a private entrance to the building, a monitored security system, trash removal, storage space, cable TV, Internet service and a welcoming committee to address questions and concerns.

As the couple show off their home, the rewards of their investment are obvious.

The unit has an easy traffic flow from one room to another. White walls, light carpeting and mirrors allow for an open feel.

Furniture is kept to a minimum, with a sectional sofa placed in front of the window, as though the harbor were at their command.

The bedroom, splashed in sunlight, faces west, overlooking Camden Yards. A king-size bed, like the sofa, faces the window. The necessities - washer, dryer, pantry - are tucked neatly behind louvered doors.

The most striking aspect of their home takes a bit of time to realize: There is an almost eerie absence of city noise. Even an ambulance speeding south on Light Street seems muffled rather than blaring.

"Quiet, yes?" Gerrie said. "Unlike our New Jersey home, we do not want to clutter up this space. We come here to clear our heads. We don't bring work here; we don't bring worry here."

Before they purchased their condo, Gerrie and Walter believed they were fairly typical for their age group - "closing in on 60, thinking ahead to retirement, disagreeing on where they wanted to end up."

Then it occurred to both of them that they should be doing what they really want to do now. Gerrie loves city living. Aside from weekend life in her dream home, the primary attractions of Baltimore are told like a litany: friendliness, lack of pretense, slower pace, manageable city, wide variety of things to do in a small area, concerts, museums and newfound friends.

The Kuppers are not sure when they will retire or where, but Baltimore is a strong possibility.

"I love the light and spaciousness [of my home]. It is truly a wonderful, quiet place," Gerrie said.

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