In Fells Point, it's depth that defines a rowhouse


Style: Cameron Kane's home is narrow in width but full of contemporary renovations in the 123 feet from front door to back.

November 16, 2003|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many of the authentic Colonial dwellings lining the streets of Fells Point are narrow and two or three stories in height. Virtually all of them have been restored in some way.

"It's amazing what can be created behind the seemingly same facades of Baltimore rowhouses," says Cameron Kane, a Fells Point resident since 1992.

It's all about the depth of these structures.

Kane's, for example, runs 123 feet and includes an additional 75 feet of back yard. Three stories are accented by an open atrium midway between the front and back, creating a spacious feel that is peppered with cozy nooks.

This contemporary renovation was done before Kane and her recently deceased husband Ed Kane, of Harbor Boating and Water Taxi fame, moved in. At a price tag of $130,000, the large house was full of possibilities. The Kanes spent another $40,000 on renovations once they moved in for such items as a rubber roof, a parquet floor, kitchen appliances and front and back doors.

So the couple, by way of 18th- and 19th-century furnishings, artifacts and wall hangings, made their circa 1792 home a celebration of their mutual love of Baltimore history and the sea.

They carried with them few items from a previous marriage each. But each being a collector, what they did take were their historical artifacts, wall hangings and books.

This is immediately noticeable upon entering from the street. The front room of the home is the library, with the east and south walls covered floor to ceiling in bookcases. What is represented here is but a small portion of more than 25,000 volumes collected during the years and displayed categorically throughout three levels. The books here are nonfiction: The subject matter is naval and English history; World War I and II; and Cameron Kane's collection of Holocaust history.

"The history of who you are is all over the house," says Kane, 56, the owner of her late husband's business and known to friends as Cammie. "For me, that's important."

A rectangular refectory table is placed to the left center of the room, upon which sits nautical paraphernalia, such as brass lanterns, barometers and plaques depicting logos of the vessels that have visited the harbor. (The Kanes entertained many crews from the ships.) Against the west wall that is painted a barn red, prints of old Baltimore and lighthouses glow under tract lighting and stand over an oak captain's chair made by Ed Kane.

South of the library, the living room continues to be a repository for nautical artifacts. The tract lighting and red west wall are carried over, while a 200-year-old original, primitive painting of an Italian sea battle, hangs above a white, damask covered, Queen Anne sofa. Other wall hangings include historical maps, photographs of sailboats and the harbor.

"Ed and I used to say that we have left no horizontal surface unspoiled," says Kane. "But [wall hangings] are more comforting than big, open spaces."

A glance upward from the center of the living room reveals a second-floor balcony containing more book shelves. Cataloged here is a fiction collection of more than 1,000 copies.

The atrium beyond the living room is where the width of the house narrows from 13.6 feet wide to 9.5 feet. A sally port extends south from this point, parallel with the dining room and kitchen, to the back yard.

The atrium's paned windows extend three stories to the home's roof and provide an open space. Kane has considered installing an elevator here. Opposite this east wall, a spiral staircase is the only means of ascending to the next two stories in this home of 3,422 square feet of living space.

The second level has always been a private retreat for the homeowners. A guest room at the south end is decorated in neutral shades; airy draperies cover a door looking upon the back yard below. Just north past a guest bath and the balcony is a front-room den. Here, posters from each year's City Fair (in which Ed Kane was involved) don a white stucco wall. An armoire with a television, scroll chair and ottoman are among the comfort pieces in the room.

The spiral staircase ends at the third level, where an oversized bathroom and laundry area dominate the south end. A catwalk over the atrium leads to what has always been referred to as "Ed's room." Bookcases and shelving units house volumes on military uniforms and a miniature-soldier collection.

Kane is considering turning the room into a sewing area or a painting studio to capitalize on the light from the three-story atrium window.

Beyond this room is the master bedroom. Painted in cadet blue, this is the one place in the house that is referred to as "the simple room." A four-poster, spindle mahogany bed dominates most of the area, while a large, wooden captain's chest dating to the 1800s finishes off the homey decor here.

Seated at her mahogany dining room table two stories below the master bedroom, Kane is surrounded by 18th-century charm. From the wallpapered ceiling border of sailboats on a harbor to the brass lamps tucked into the room's two windowsills, the room exudes a maritime comfort.

"This place was Ed's dream house," Kane says. "Everything surrounding us has a story behind it -- where we got it and when. We always called this [home] our '[sanctuary.' If we could get in the front door at the end of the day in one piece, we knew we were in safe harbor."

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