A perfect little house

DREAM HOME

May 28, 2006|By MARIE GULLARD | MARIE GULLARD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Claire Gerber was divorced almost 30 years ago, three things became evident. She did not want to rent any longer than she had to, she had to be independent, and -- perhaps most important -- she needed to return to her South Baltimore roots.

"I didn't want a big yard to take care of," Gerber, 56, said recently, "and I wanted a safe neighborhood."

Gerber found her dream home in February 1978, on a narrow street called East Clement, just west of the harbor off Key Highway. She paid $19,500 for a late 19th-century, two-story rowhouse covered in warm colors of Baltimore Formstone, and sporting marble front steps.

"The Formstone doesn't bother me at all," she said. And referring to the condition of the original brick underneath, she added, "You don't always know what you're going to find under there."

Gerber had no illusions about the house's condition. While it was structurally sound, "every room was old and needed to be redone," she said. She renovated "in pieces, as I could afford it."

Over the years, she invested close to $100,000 in repairs and upgrades. These included redoing the plumbing and electrical wiring and remodeling the bathroom. She installed central air conditioning, and had her front entrance widened and a new door put in. Her first-floor stairway, which separated the front parlor and living room, was rebuilt and turned to the side.

When Gerber finally got around to renovating the kitchen, she chose speckled granite countertops and bright Pergo flooring. Beyond her kitchen door, her tiny concrete backyard is 11 feet wide by 6 feet long, just large enough for "trash cans, flower pots, and plants."

A clever use of light beige paint on the first-floor walls, coupled with 9-foot ceilings, belies the home's interior dimensions: 11 feet wide by 40 feet long. A front southern exposure provides brightness as well. From the entrance door, capped by a stained-glass transom, the hardwood flooring original to the house shines like a freshly polished pair of shoes under an Oriental rug in beige tones. This, along with a Queen Anne-style buffet on the east wall, and an occasional chair and rocker, add warmth and a bit of formality. The room's centerpiece, however, is a mirror-backed, glass and mahogany curio cabinet. The glass shelves display a collection of delicate cups and saucers, along with an original Dresden figurine.

The living room, cozy with a club-style sofa and entertainment center, lies north of the parlor and staircase. It is through a large archway here that the dining room's mahogany Sheraton-style table gleams under a brass chandelier. A matching buffet and china cabinet complete the ensemble, fitting in perfectly with the room's dimensions. A tin ceiling of carved squares casts a brilliant glow over the space, having been stripped and re-painted in what Gerber describes as 24-karat church gold.

The second level is open and features an office at the top of the stairs. An industrial-size skylight scatters bright sunshine throughout the room.

A guest room has been painted a deep blue and decorated in a nautical theme with a vast collection of lighthouse pictures and curios. An aquatic theme defines the bathroom beyond, with walls painted a rich yellow and a paper border of wildly colored schools of swimming fish.

Gerber, who is retired from the National Security Agency, enjoys both comfort and independence in her little Clement Street house, glad for a great group of neighbors.

"Time was when [the neighborhood] was half widows and half young families," she said. "Now, I'm the old lady on the block."

Do you have a "Dream Home?" Tell us about it. E-mail harry.merritt@ baltsun.com or write to Dream Home, Features, Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278.

SMALL-HOUSE LIVING

Claire Gerber offers a few tips:

Before buying furniture, make sure you know the width and height of rooms, staircases and doorways that the furniture will need to pass through.

Buy furniture pieces that you can store things in, as space is limited.

If you enclose a window, don't just cover it up with wallboard. Think of making a cabinet or shelves.

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