Mount Vernon house a great source of joy


Luck: Paul and Susan Warren feel they had it in abundance when they found their Park Avenue home.

March 21, 2004|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Paul Warren is relaxing in the family room of his circa 1890 Park Avenue townhouse in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Far from a typical family room, the 40-by-35-foot space is reminiscent of a grand lobby in an art museum.

In 1895, the home's original owner, William Knabe, a Baltimore piano manufacturer, added the room to the back of his house. It once served as a conservatory but has been divided into the family room and the kitchen.

Solid Italian marble fluted columns - 20 inches in diameter - line the peripheries of the rooms, joining carved oak beams to form a 20-foot ceiling made of glass panes. Italian inlaid tiles in tan, brick and gray form a tapestry design on the floor.

On the north wall of this addition, Warren and his wife, Susan, designed a modern, L-shaped kitchen. The east wall, once adorned with lead-glass panels, now features oak windows and double doors to the back yard. The south wall features ornate plaster. The west wall, intact with the original lead-glass doors between two marble columns, leads to the front rooms of the home.

"We stole this house for $240,000," says Paul Warren, chairman of Vaxcom Services, an information technology firm in Fairfax, Va. He also is vice president of the Mount Vernon/Belvedere Community Association.

He and his wife spent an additional $170,000 to repair plaster, refinish floors, create a kitchen and remove drywall. The home had been used as psychiatric and dental offices for many years. The Warrens found the columns when the drywall was removed in the conservatory.

"We came from Washington," Susan Warren says. "This is embassy-quality architecture. We never believed we could buy something like this."

The challenge for her as a homemaker and the mother of sons Will, 4, and Daniel, 2, was to "take a formal setting and make it comfortable for today's family."

The 10,000-square-foot home, which encompasses three stories, a basement and an attic, has been furnished for everyday living. Four guestrooms and a bath on the third floor accommodate frequent guests.

In the conservatory, a pair of overstuffed dark green sofas sit perpendicular to each other. An oak armoire houses a television, and several play corners for the boys are filled with train sets and benches laden with children's books. An oak table and chair set is the family's gathering place for meals.

The exterior of the home includes a first-story brownstone and two more stories in red brick.

The front, oak-paneled entrance boasts Italianate tiling in a vine pattern. A paneled main hallway leads to the formal living and dining rooms. The living room is painted a soft, powder blue, with light beige carpeting. The 12-foot ceiling features an 18-inch carved plaster frieze, topped by plaster chain molding.

An antique gilt and crystal chandelier hangs from an intricately carved-plaster ceiling medallion.

Susan Warren chose traditional American furnishings for the room. White-on-white damask loveseats face each other and are placed perpendicular to the room's dual front windows. An inlaid walnut drum table sits in the center of the room before a tan-colored marble fireplace with dark veining. The mantel is carved oak, painted white and crowned with an antique French clock.

East of the living room is a 26-by-20-foot formal dining room. The walls and ceiling are paneled in carved mahogany and are original to the house.

"This old-world craftsmanship cannot be reproduced today," Paul Warren says.

The honeycomb design of the coffered ceiling is repeated in the oak floor, with a mahogany, maple, and oak inlay at the edges in a Celtic chainlike weave. A dark marble fireplace on the south wall, wedged into the carving, has solid brass andirons.

"I think it's one of the most acoustically perfect rooms I have ever been in," says family friend Charles Duff, executive director of Midtown Development Corp.

An open, winding oak staircase off the hall rises three stories to a stained-glass ceiling window. The Warrens' bedroom suite on the second floor once was the home's library.

The couple consider themselves lucky to have found the Mount Vernon home.

"We're still pinching ourselves every morning," Paul Warren says.

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