Restoring a Victorian's charm


Vision: After 4 1/2 years of work, a Reisterstown apartment house is again a single-family home.

July 17, 2005|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To her friends and neighbors, Amy Woodard is known as the "flower lady." From the busy street on which she lives in Reisterstown, one look at her renovated, circa 1907 Victorian home makes it easy to see why. White frame siding and black shutters provide a tidy backdrop for floral bursts of color popping from numerous pots and patches of green on her one-acre property.

A teacher of horticulture in the Howard County school system, Woodard points out a shrimp plant, its delicate salmon-colored petals dripping over the rim of a 3-foot-high urn. Pink cone flowers, violet chenille (as softly touchable as the fabric itself), Victoria Blue salvia, and wave petunias are but a few of the varieties that thrive under her proud and watchful eye. And if there are difficulties with any of the flora - like her trumpet vines that refuse to cling to the porch rails, preferring instead to poke straight out into the air - she stubbornly refuses to uproot.

"We're having a battle [with the vines]," she said, laughing. "But I'm going to win."

Woodard, is no stranger to a domestic challenge. In fact, 4 1/2 years ago, the grand house and gardens looked nothing like they do today. That was before she and her husband, Benjamin, a commercial diver, bought the property for $155,000. The couple always wanted an older home to fix up, loving the idea of a major project. What they got was a Herculean task.

"The house was divided into three apartments," Woodard remembered. "It was a total mess, but my husband had vision."

For the first three months after the purchase, the couple and their 13-year-old daughter, Diana, had to live with Woodard's parents as they gave notice to the existing tenants. Once the tenants vacated, the family moved into the second-floor apartment and started work "a little at a time."

Things moved slowly. Woodard recalled 2 1/2 years without a bedroom to call her own or a closet for her clothes. Her daughter was embarrassed to have friends over, especially when gutting of the 3,100- square-foot home began.

$100,000 for renovation

Woodard estimates the couple spent approximately $100,000 on the renovation. Besides hired help, they had assistance from their five grown children from previous marriages.

One of the first jobs to be completed was a concrete walkway from the curb to the steps of a gracious porch, which wraps around three sides of the home. Beyond the front door, an impressive straight staircase bisects the first level. A family room and informal dining area occupy almost one entire side.

An admitted fanatic when it comes to picking wallpaper and paint for the rooms, Woodard chose a dual treatment for the walls in this area - the top portion done in green and white striped paper, the bottom painted solid green of the same shade. A white chair rail separates the two sections.

A chimney in the center of the room allows for a gas stove, providing warmth and early-20th-century ambience. Woodard has used a combination of antique-shop finds and family treasures to decorate the walls here, including many pieces of period tin advertising, and old family photos.

The room's pine flooring is original to the home, as are all the door frames and windows on the first floor.

By contrast, the other side of the first floor is formally decorated with numerous Victorian touches. A heavily vaulted ceiling is painted white with gold leafing.

In the living room, a sofa, loveseat and chair are framed in cherry wood and upholstered in tufted, white damask, providing a sharp contrast to the red walls and sheer draperies. Beyond the living room, a formal dining room features an oval table and china closet made of cherry.

A tall, gothic-design grandfather clock from 1917 sits in one corner. Several old radios from the 1920s and 1930s dot the room's periphery.

In the kitchen

The kitchen stretches across the entire 33-foot rear of the house but is just 8 1/2 feet deep. At one time, this may have been a sun porch. Two arched entrances on opposite sides of the first floor offer access to the area.

The long galley features a six-burner commercial stove with two ovens and a griddle. Two stainless steel refrigerators stand side by side.

Black marble flooring, black and white tiled walls, and black granite countertops under white laminate cabinets evoke a sleek art deco feeling, while painted clay pigs sitting on shelves add a homey touch.

The Woodards' second level features a cozy library furnished with pub-style furniture in butterscotch leather, which coordinates with wallpaper in a floral pattern called Harvest Toile. By contrast, on the other side of the open staircase, daughter Diana's room is painted a rich purple and features a curtained, glass-paned door.

A guest room, bath, and laundry room occupy the rear of this level.

A staircase winds to the attic, which the Woodards have converted to a master bedroom, complete with dormers and window seats. A full bath is under construction.

The bountifully landscaped back yard includes a Victorian gazebo, five picnic areas with tables and benches, and several black walnut trees.

Maybe even a ghost

Woodard noted that on occasion there is unexplainable activity in the house, such as noises, voices and the slamming of doors. This, she observed, was at its most frequent during heavy indoor construction. She has not ruled out the possibility of ghosts.

Nevertheless, she said, "We're very comfortable. We feel we belong here."

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