Reservoir Hill home is awash in warmth


Restoration: Shunning `big, old and cold,' owner fills his 1886 abode with homey touches.

August 15, 2004|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

During the last decades of the 19th century, the gracious dwellings of Baltimore's Reservoir Hill were home to the city's most prosperous merchants.

Today, attentive restoration of these residences is evident throughout the neighborhood. One impressive brick townhouse (circa 1886) is a particular standout, and owner Phil Adams couldn't be happier.

A pair of 3-foot-tall gargoyles stand guard at the wrought-iron gate to his formal gardens, which have been fashioned from an end-of-block double lot that was never built upon. Twin, multipane sunrooms are additions to the northern end of the house's main level.

A large, covered wooden deck juts from the rear of the second level, where the garden's flowers, plants, stone walkways and a fountain can be enjoyed from overhead. The genteel elegance presented in the exterior of Adams' property is a prelude to the charming renovation beyond the double-door entrance to his three-story home.

"I didn't want big and old and cold," says Adams, a 42-year-old interior designer and operations manager at Gaines McHale Antiques in Federal Hill. "I wanted [the house] to be homey and warm."

He points out that the house - unlike many in the area - was never "chopped up into apartments." Additionally, as only the fifth owner, he did not find an abundance of restoration of its 19th-century architectural design.

Three years ago, he paid $154,000 for the 4,800-square- foot home. An additional $60,000 was spent refinishing floors, updating the heating, adding air conditioning, replacing the sagging dining room walls and ceiling, and opening a back staircase to the top two levels. Although he owned many fine pieces of furniture, Adams chose to add to his collection of home furnishings at an estimated cost of $20,000.

In the central portion of the 14-foot-wide, 80-foot-long house, the dining room's focal point is a 6-by-6-foot cherry table.

"Magic happens at the dining room table," Adams says. Because he loves to entertain, he took particular care to ensure that his guests would enjoy the time spent there.

Four armchairs in gold and burgundy stripes sit at the table, and four floral-covered chairs, in the same hues, rest against the honey-mustard-colored walls. All the chairs can easily be brought to the table for lingering, after-dinner conversation.

A Victorian-style chandelier of etched glass hangs from the 11-foot ceiling, chosen, Adams says, "because it looks like it should be gas-lit, and the house originally was."

Strings of subtle lighting on a dimmer switch have been wedged into eight courses, or strips, of the room's crown molding, softly illuminating the ceiling. The effect is not lost on Adams' friends.

"I feel transported to this colorfully restful environment," says Laura Oldham, a frequent visitor to the home.

Adams' living room, in the front of the home, offers similar tranquillity.

Beige Berber carpet rests on oak flooring with walnut inlay. The floor is a work of art in herringbone, parquet, straight strip and Greek key design layout.

With walls painted in shades of sand and terracotta as a backdrop, his choice of a pair of red velvet-tufted slipper chairs in front of the swag-treated windows provide additional warmth and Victorian elegance. A 1922 working Victrola (labeled "Victor Talking Machine") and an 1886 mahogany pump organ complete the feel of a bygone time.

"I remember singing Christmas carols around [the organ] as a kid," Adams says of the family heirloom.

Adams has made the most of the two sunrooms on the first floor, which were added to the home in the 1920s. Each has 24-pane windows. One sunroom is north of the living room and is used as an office. The second, off the dining room, serves as a sitting room.

Of the decor, Adams says, "I wanted this room to be `grandmother.'"

Here, a seaside-cottage feel is evoked, with white walls, chintz-covered rocking chairs and a steamer trunk atop a seagrass rug.

Between the living and dining rooms, a chestnut staircase rises two levels to the roof's large skylight. The staircase walls carry over the living room's terracotta color and are treated with 21 hung mirrors "to bounce around the light," Adams says.

The east end of the second floor serves as Adams' television room. Pointing to the room's three large windows, he notes that it is hard to believe the home is in the city. With a view of trees on the vast property of the Norwegian Seamen's Home across the street, bucolic images abound.

Across the hall, Adams has turned a bedroom into a home gym. The rear of the second floor has been done up as a bed-and-breakfast. Overnight guests have a private bath with a claw-foot tub and a marble sink and toilet.

The bedroom, done in shades of olive and gold, features a king-size bed, a swivel television hung from the ceiling and a sitting area with a large wing chair and side table. The outdoor deck and the back staircase to the kitchen are accessible from this suite.

Adams' third floor contains his bedroom, where the bull's-eye molding has been painted over. "This awful purple looks like someone got sick in Baskin Robbins," Adams says, laughing. "But when you come back in 15 years, you'll see lots of changes here."

"Buying this house is the smartest thing I ever did," he says. "The neighborhood has taken off, and this house has taken hold of me."

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