Michal Makarovich turned his passion for hunting and gathering into a store called Hampden Junque and a house filled with oddments and charm

January 11, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

The word junque was invented to describe Michal Makarovich's collections, his home, his business, his world, his passions. More intriguing than yard-sale castoffs, less stuffy than antiques and definitely more fun than vintage, junque is best understood by visiting Makarovich's Hampden shop or taking a tour of his surprising Wyman Park rowhouse, which is filled with whimsical collectibles.

Item: The prize of his Baltimore collection, a 1938 Mr. Boh (as in the beer) statue. The woman who sold it to him said her husband stole it off a bar when he returned from World War II.

Item: A curio cabinet filled with Pee-wee Herman memorabilia. Makarovich calls it his "Pee-wee shrine."

Item: A lit sign above the rowhouse's staircase, probably from an old movie theater, proclaiming "rest rooms upstairs."

"My house is my art," says Makarovich, who insists his only real talent is finding things people have discarded that other people will love.

His kitsch-filled store -- located at 1006 36th St., a few blocks from his home -- is called Hampden Junque. His partner is a retired BGE employee, Margo Goldman. It's been described as what an antiques store owned by John Waters would be like.

Hampden Junque's two claims to fame are its startling window displays, which change every six weeks or so, and the fact that set designers shop there for period movie and TV props. Formerly Gustafson's, the name changed a couple of years ago because few people knew that Gustafson was Greta Garbo's real name; and no one could remember it. (Since the change, business has picked up noticeably.)

To appreciate the shop you have to realize that Makarovich, Goldman and a third partner who has since left the business opened it nine years ago so they would have some place to put the overflow of stuff they had at home. For the first couple of years, everything in the shop came from their houses.

"We thought we'd be there just a year and half," says Goldman. "Just until we cleaned out our attics."

Makarovich had recently moved from a large house in Auchentoroly Terrace to the Hampden area. The rowhouse he ended up buying was the first one he looked at.

How can you move from that big, beautiful house to this little dump, friends asked him. And what are you going to do with all that stuff?

"It was so dirty and awful," Makarovich says of the house the first time he saw it. The rooms were tiny and dark and had drop ceilings. The walls were covered in cheap wood paneling, and the kitchen floor was plywood. "I came in, looked at it and said [to the real estate agent], 'Let's get out of here, Bill.' "

They went on that day to look at three of what he calls "Mum Mum" houses (as in "Mum Mum died" or "Mum Mum had to be put in a nursing home so we're selling"). They were in perfect condition -- at twice the cost, still cheap. But Makarovich kept thinking about the view he would have of Wyman Park from the front porch of the first house he had seen. By the end of the afternoon he asked the real estate agent to take him back.

"I want it," he told the agent that same day. "For one person it's the perfect size."

The agent told him not to rush, that maybe they could get it for less than the owner was asking. "I thought they'd take a thousand off it," says Makarovich, savoring his bargain a decade ago all over again. "But I got it for $35,000 -- $13,000 less than the asking price." (To put the cost in perspective, he says, a neighbor two doors down recently sold her house for $190,000.)

Of course, there was some work to be done.

Makarovich had spent 12 years renovating his Auchentoroly Terrace house. "I couldn't do it again. I'd rather be in a dentist's chair than sand any more drywall," so he hired two people to work with him.

He did tear down the living room's drop ceiling himself and then the plaster ceiling because he suspected a cracked beam. (There wasn't one, but he liked the look of the exposed beams so much he kept them that way.)

He and his workmen removed walls so that the tiny rooms flowed into one another, eliminating a narrow hall on the first floor. They took down the cheap paneling. Makarovich put in the kitchen's new oak flooring himself; throughout the rest of the house he used wall-to-wall carpeting.

Makarovich is passionate about ceiling fans, so he installed them in several rooms (one with Crayola cra-yons for arms; another in the shape of an airplane). He replaced a window in the kitchen with a stained glass window he had commissioned for his first home. A friend painted the living room's faux black marble mantel. Maka-rovich and another friend built floor-to-ceiling shelves to house his books and vintage LP collection. (Of course, he has a vintage LP collection -- he freely admits he bought many albums for their covers, not the music.)

The upstairs now has a front room where Makarovich entertains friends, a tiny bedroom and a bathroom. He took down the wall between the back bedroom and the postage-stamp bathroom to make one large room.

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