Small-town attraction

Dream Home

A Federal Hill couple find their place in Westminster and an old house to renovate

Real Estate

September 01, 2006|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

Four years ago, Sean and Barb Hembree packed up their belongings and sold their home on Federal Hill, on the southern edge of downtown Baltimore. They wanted two things: small-town living, and an old house to restore. Just off Main Street in Westminster, they found both.

The couple's three-story, white frame farmhouse dates to 1890. A cedar shingle roof is topped with tin. On the walk leading to their covered front porch, rows of marigolds, black-eyed Susans and a variety of herb plants offer a haven for butterflies. Great balls of ferns hang from the eaves of the four-column porch, while an American flag fastened to one of the columns ripples in an occasional breeze.

From a comfortable wicker chair, Sean Hembree reads the morning paper, looking up occasionally at cars passing by. This packaged vignette is reminiscent of Norman Rockwell at his finest.

"This has been a lazy renovation," Sean Hembree says, as his wife nodded in agreement. "We've done much of the work ourselves, and we're learning as we go."

In December 2002, the Hembrees happened on the house. The size was right, at 40 feet wide by 35 feet deep. They paid $140,000 for the 2,800-square-foot structure on a third of an acre. Neighbors, in similar style houses, are a few feet on either side of them.

It wasn't long after the move that the couple got to work. While the house was structurally sound, a fair amount of interior renovation had to be tackled. They estimate $25,000 invested in their farmhouse to date, the money placed into drywall, updated plumbing and electric, central air conditioning and a new kitchen.

From this bright and airy kitchen, which commands the rear of the house, the couple's labors are most evident and satisfying. Natural light from the northeast exposure is improved by four new windows on two walls. A pale, soft yellow paint enhances the abundance of butcher block on several countertops, as well as on a large cabinet unit. All of the cabinets, of white wood, were purchased at IKEA.

A pine island, 8 feet long by 2 feet wide, features pull-out drawers and a butcher-block top. Barb Hembree has placed ripe tomatoes from her garden in a bright red, oblong tray in the center of the island. A tall ceramic pitcher of cut sunflowers rests at the end of the countertop.

A professional, stainless cooktop with hood and a stainless refrigerator gleam in the morning light from the curtainless windows. Lovers of art, the couple have hung a 2-foot-by- 4-foot framed poster of a black cat over one of the counters.

An often-used room, the kitchen is a gathering spot for friends who come to dinner. A lounge chair, next to a case filled with cookbooks, is a cheery reading nook for hungry visitors waiting for the suppers the couple enjoy cooking. "I like to take older things and mix them with the modern," said Barb Hembree, leading the way out of the kitchen to the living room at the front of the house.

Here, a slatted back, carved rocking chair sits in front of two long, narrow windows treated to sheer taupe draperies. Two modern, pub-style sofas covered in tan microfiber face each other.

A 5-foot-by-4-foot unframed abstract painting (one of several in the house painted by Sean's brother, Michael) is displayed in the room.

The dining room, painted a soft terra cotta, showcases a suite of furniture that belonged to Barb Hembree's grandmother. A carved oak table takes center stage, resting on the home's original, thin-planked pine flooring.

A steep oak staircase to the second level separates living room and dining room. On the second floor, the work is a continuing process.

"We spent hours trying to repair the plaster walls up here," Barb Hembree said, adding, "We finally just put up drywall."

When the second floor is completed, a new bathroom (still in skeletal stages) will accompany an office and the existing two bedrooms. The third floor is used for storage.

"We're in no rush to renovate," said Sean Hembree. "There are other things going on for us. We're really active people, we love to travel and entertain."

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Write to Dream Home, Real Estate Editor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or e-mail us at real.estate@baltsun. com.

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