Forever is a lovely moment in Federal Hill


Views: They are memorable, indeed, from the lovingly renovated home of Cynthia Conklin and Robert Merbler.

April 13, 2003|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

East Montgomery Street is one of the widest and most beautifully restored streets in Federal Hill.

The properties here - which sold for between $4,000 and $7,000 in 1978 under a city plan to renovate the area - now sell for at least $300,000.

Each home in this Baltimore neighborhood just south of the Inner Harbor treats onlookers to a glimpse of Federal and Victorian architectural facades; those on the north side of the street offer an additional perk - breathtaking harbor views from the backs of the homes.

Cynthia Conklin's circa 1870 home in the 200 block is one such vista-boasting gem. A bricked sidewalk and white marble steps bid entry, while a huge palladium window, half-shuttered, teases of the renovations within.

Once in the front door, one learns that the star of this four-story home is its open design, incorporating a harbor view through a three-paneled picture window at the rear.

The Baltimore skyline seems so within reach that the house appears much larger than its actual dimensions of 15 feet wide by 52 feet deep. Even the 9-foot ceiling, with recessed lighting, seems higher.

Living room walls are of pastel hue. Upon them are bright splashes of color in the form of framed French vintage posters and signed Paul McGehee prints of old Ocean City. Flanked by twin built-in bookcases, a marble fireplace graces the west wall.

Built-in units predominate in the house. These custom-designed cupboards are intended for storage. Conklin concedes that a family of four in a rowhouse needs every inch of storage space possible. The effect is clean and stylish.

A wooden, white marble-topped counter defines the kitchen. Conklin refers to the kitchen and dining area as her great room. The design was executed by local architect Rebecca Swanston and features a built-in computer unit as part of an office area. White painted wainscoting and exposed brick offer a soothing contrast in texture. A commissioned oil painting of the exterior of her house by artist Crystal Moll hangs on the east wall alongside the large dining table. B&O Railroad china is displayed in an oaken corner cabinet.

Conklin, 50, and her husband, Robert Merbler, 58, purchased the home 17 years ago for $220,000. They both work for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

"We had to beg the owners to sell it to us," Conklin remembers.

At the time, they owned the houses on either side, each comprising two apartments, which they rented out. It made sense for them to have the dwelling in the center and create one big back yard. They have since sold the two properties. But the large back yard remains along with two decks that overlook the harbor.

Conklin explains an "English basement" while descending the steps to her lower level. The basement, level with the ground in the rear, falls slightly below street level in the front and has an entrance with steps. In two large rooms here, the family stores a variety of items including gym equipment.

The third-story of the house includes daughter Casey's bedroom and a master suite in the back. A cleverly constructed picture gallery lines the hallway between the two - Conklin has nailed crown molding at eye level, in an upside-down position. She places current photographs of family and friends here.

The master bedroom contains no set furniture pieces. Once again, built-ins occupy the west wall and house a wide-screen TV. Even the bed is built into the wall. The three-paneled picture window has a harbor view.

Conklin said the producers of the HBO series The Wire filmed the room for a forthcoming episode.

A winding staircase leads to the fourth level, and what friend Kim Fisher refers to as the musical sanctuary. Originally one large area - and approximately three-quarters the size of the floors below - two rooms were created by Swanston. On this level, the house's original flooring gleams against bright walls.

The fourth-floor front bedroom belongs to son Tyler. French doors separate his space from the back, offering privacy and defining the music room. Here, a grand piano sits in front of the wide patio doors leading out to a second deck.

"I know how lucky I am to be here," Conklin says. "I always wanted to be in the city, and the kids are happy here. They've never wanted to move."

Back downstairs, Conklin estimates that she and her husband have invested an additional $150,000 in the home's renovation - $50,000 on the kitchen alone.

"I love the marble in [Conklin's] kitchen," notes Fisher. "And the wainscoting is like Martha's Vineyard."

When asked if she will ever move, Conklin replies, without hesitation, "This is my forever home."

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