An art-filled rowhouse

Jeff and Cindy Swiss have hung 150 pieces of original artwork on the walls in several mediums

Dream Home

Real Estate

September 08, 2006|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

When Jeff and Cindy Swiss married in 1983, they rented the first floor of a early 20th-century farmhouse in the Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly. To this day, they remember the huge trees in the yard and the home's beautiful bay windows. But two facts soon became evident to them. They were throwing their money away on rent and, most importantly, they wanted more of the busy city life.

"When we first bought [this house], the mortgage was less than the rent we were paying," said Cindy Swiss, a violinist and teacher.

She was referring to the two-story brick rowhouse in Hampden that she and her husband have called home since 1987. The couple sat in the comfort of a remodeled full kitchen, which was once the dining room. They have made it both homey and compatible with the original 1923 interior design.

The Swisses purchased the 1,900-square-foot home for $42,000. It came with a bad roof, and in many of the rooms, the plaster walls and ceilings were cracked. Still, the house was structurally sound, and, with only one previous family owner, the interior design was largely unchanged.

The couple estimated a $25,000 investment over the years which included installing central air conditioning, replacing the roof and every window, converting oil heating to gas and renovating the old dining room into a modern kitchen.

Now, all these years and dollars later, every room tells a story; almost every inch of wall and shelf space holds or displays a conversation piece.

The newly remodeled kitchen occupies the rear of the 14-foot- wide by 45-foot-long house. However, it was not originally so. What is now a tiny mud room was where the stove, sink, and icebox were crammed in a space about 6 feet wide by 7 feet long.

A corkboard floor, comfortable to stand on and environmentally friendly, covers the original flooring in the new kitchen. A rock maple cabinet, a family heirloom, offers a pleasing and warm contrast to oak cabinets.

The current dining room, which was a parlor, is a blend of faithful restoration and eclectic artwork.

The eye jumps from a photograph of Ireland's Cliffs of Moher, to a large impressionistic landscape hanging above a carved oak buffet.

A cherry double pedestal dining table with high-backed chairs sits against a wall that has been painted in a soft salmon color.

One of the most interesting pieces in the room is the "fireplace that isn't." A wooden mantel with attached framed mirror is a floor-to-ceiling hoax. Appearing to have been bricked over, the hearth contains a heating vent at the chimney's center.

"I thought we'd open [the chimney] up," Jeff Swiss said about a project that he and his friend decided to undertake one day. "All of a sudden we were a brick away from the inside of our neighbor's house, and thought we better make sure this is a real fireplace."

The neighbor assured the men that the houses never had working fireplaces but rather sported a faux hearth with duct from which heat flowed.

In the cozy living room, one wall is covered in custom-built bookshelves. Window blinds are closed against the midday heat, muffling all sounds from busy Falls Road.

The artwork extends through the home.

"We've figured a total of 150 pieces of original artwork hanging on the walls," Jeff Swiss said. "This includes watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings, sculptures, painted glass [and] even an African mask."

On the way upstairs, the staircase wall, again filled with paintings, is highlighted by the presence of one piece, a Raoul Middleman expressionistic, 2-foot-by- 4-foot oil portrait of Cindy Swiss with her violin.

"He did it in exchange for lessons," she said.

Artistic treasures and needlework dominate the second floor, including two homemade quilts made by family members and a striking, peach-colored afghan designed and knitted by Cindy Swiss. Realistic and abstract paintings include a still life of pink roses and a canvas of soft pastel colors, its layers exposing faces of a dreamlike nature.

Back in the living room, amid countless books bathed in the light from a deco-style floor lamp, the couple were comfortably at home, content and as Jeff Swiss said, "likely to be here forever."

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