`Double-wide' in Federal Hill roomy enough


Redesign: Two adjacent rowhouses lost their shared wall, gained an architect and grew a greenhouse before becoming one finished home.

April 25, 2004|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Baltimore neighborhoods feature many quaint alleys, lined on both sides with charming two- and three-story rowhouses.

Some of these byways allow only one motorist at a time to pass through; parked cars are never allowed there. And many of these streets evoke a time when a home was a simple affair, a time before family rooms, dens and patios became family necessities.

Churchill Street in Federal Hill is one such place, with 12-foot-wide brick facades of varying color and dollhouse-like front doors opening to the curb.

Walter Schamu, a 59-year-old architect, enjoys life on Churchill Street. He and his wife, Nancy, 57, have been there for 26 years.

Schamu's home consists of two original houses built about 1850. At some point in their history, the houses were converted into a warehouse and contractor's shed. When the couple purchased the space, they converted it into one home measuring 24 by 56 feet.

"I joke that we live in a double-wide," he says, standing at the ground-level, gated entrance next to his two-car garage.

Beyond the gate, a corridor leads to the front door, which opens onto a vestibule. In the center of the home, two switchback staircases with removable metal piping rails lead to the second-story living area. Natural light floods the area, emanating from a glassed-in, rooftop greenhouse above. It is accessible by two more switchback staircases.

"We bought a shell, basically, for $29,000," Schamu says of the 1978 purchase. "It took another $90,000 to renovate it.

"The whole idea was how to get light into the house," says Schamu who had a Plexiglas floor installed in the greenhouse. Daylight, he says, enters the rooms in the back of the house via skylights.

"Walter's main interest has always been in adaptive reuse," says architect friend David Knowlton. "[The greenhouse] is an ingenious reversal, with light coming down to the center of the house."

There is an advantage, Schamu says, to living above street level. Light enters the south-facing living and dining rooms unobstructed via glass doors opening onto a small wrought-iron balcony.

The second-floor ceiling slopes slightly, just as the roofs of the two original houses did. Two columns stand where a wall once did between the two original houses and act as support.

The flooring on the second level is 6-inch-wide southern pine. Its honey color has been left untreated. Flat-weave Turkish rugs in multicolored cotton grace the living and dining rooms. The walls - with no floor or ceiling molding - are painted a soft yellow and contrast with mahogany tables and a mustard-colored, tuxedo-style sofa and loveseat.

"One of the secrets of Federal Hill living is to [have] scaled-down furniture," Schamu says, pointing out a traditional secretary and a camelback loveseat covered in blue satin upholstery.

The largest decoration in the Schamu house hangs on the living room's east wall. It is a framed print of E. Sachse & Co.'s Bird's Eye View of the City of Baltimore, 1869. Created from a photograph of a historic print of the city, it consists of 12 quadrants pieced together into a panoramic vista.

The northern end of the house contains the master bedroom, done in a deep shade of cadet blue and featuring a black and white carpet. The master bath and powder room include skylights and 3-inch-square black and white tiles.

Across the hall, Schamu's den serves as his architectural library with bookcases filled with reference books. Modern furniture dominates this room, a highlight being a womb chair by early Modernist designer and architect Eero Sarinen.

The galley kitchen, east of the living room, features pocket doors into the dining room. The room has basic laminate counters that are higher than most to accommodate Nancy Schamu's tall frame.

Under recessed lighting, mustard-colored pegboards display cooking utensils. A window at the north end of the kitchen looks onto the open stairway and a neon sign that reads: Open 24 Hours.

The third level of the home is the greenhouse, which Schamu refers to as a four-season space. It includes a plethora of plants and flowers. Rubber trees, hibiscus, night-blooming cactus, Barcelona orange trees and oleander all thrive in this miniature arboretum. A door on the north side leads to an outdoor deck.

The home's ground level, covered in 6-inch terracotta tile, houses Schamu's office, a guest bedroom, a sewing room and a tiled bathroom with Jacuzzi.

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