More than 40 years ago, John Guerriero vowed to his wife, Angelina, that he would take her back to her roots. So it was that he built a home right next door to the small one in which she was born in Little Italy.
Today, there is an almost Oz-like feeling that envelops a visitor upon approaching the house in the 200 block of S. Exeter St. "We're not in Little Italy anymore," the feeling seems to say.
The house is constructed of tan brick, contrasting sharply with the darker facade of the adjacent St. Leo Roman Catholic Church's rectory. All 48 feet of the home's width rests majestically on the narrow street, one of several charming byways that define Baltimore's most famous ethnic neighborhood.
Four large windows, their inside sills adorned in candles and bisque angels, blink out onto the tiny houses across the way. The front door sits under a Mediterranean arch.
A winding staircase of pickled oak punctuates the Guerrieros' marbled entrance hall, while an imported Italian chandelier hangs from a recessed portion of the ceiling and features hand-painted angels by Baltimore artist Linda Sandroni.
"I call this my house of cherubs," says Angelina Guerriero with a laugh, pointing to terra cotta figurines on the steps.
She leads the way to her dining room left of the hall. Here, an 11-foot-long, 48-inch-wide table, custom made entirely of black granite, takes center stage in the marble-floored, neutral-colored, partially mirrored room. An Italian light fixture of Lalique griffins is suspended from yet another hand-painted section of ceiling. Built-in cabinets and a buffet of pickled oak set a light and airy tone. Double ceiling cornices frame a wallpapered border uniting the kitchen and dining room into an area that is almost one-fourth of the house.
In the kitchen, there are two sink areas, two dishwashers, two ovens, a skylight and a built-in wall television that doubles as a home monitor system.
All living space is on one floor.
The property, John Guerriero explains, was once a garage that housed construction equipment and made up the equivalent of three rowhouses. Private contractor Sam Towel was hired to build from the "dirt floor up," as John Guerriero, the former owner of Continental Foods, puts it. Having lived many years in Towson while building up their wholesale imported Italian foods empire, John and Angelina longed to be a part of city life once again.
Born on the fourth floor of the house next door, and raised in Little Italy, Angelina Guerriero is once again home, and close to the St. Leo parish she and her family never left.
To the right of the entrance hall, the living room features natural hardwood flooring, light wood cabinetry and furnishings such as a sectional sofa and hand-loomed area carpets in soft shades of green. Original Erte prints adorn the walls and coordinate with the color scheme and soft cornice track lighting. All the decorating was done by Angelina Guerriero, with tips from the contractor.
Elizabeth Radomsky portraits of the Guerrieros' daughter and son-in-law, Diana and Rick Pannoni, and their two children, Jonathon and Arianna, hang throughout the house.
"They're my heart," Angelina Guerriero says of the grandchildren. "We wanted a larger house for them ... and for their friends to enjoy."
The enormousness of the house is not fully appreciated until a second look beyond the staircase reveals a continuation of the entrance hall for most of the home's 95-foot length. All living spaces are situated to the hall's left and right, creating a north and a south wing.
An ebony grand piano sits off to the marbled hall's left side, with an Armani sculpture of a dancing couple resting atop the keyboard. Antique side tables cling to walls that boast additional Erte prints as well as more family portraits. Open doors lead to a full pair of bedroom suites, opposite each other and almost as large as the front rooms.
The hallway ends in Deco-like doubled doors, frosted and engraved. Beyond them lies the crown jewel of the home: a full length, half-width, indoor swimming pool. Faux marble columns on mirrored and stucco walls surround three sides of the area, while windows to the immediate right and left look into the sleeping suites. A desert air system keeps the room's flooring dry and the pool's salt water is kept clean by an electronic chlorinator.
Angelina Guerriero admits to her own infrequent use, but "John, the kids and their friends love it."
The bedroom suites have their own full marble baths and one contains a walk-in cedar closet.