Minimalist makeover

An early 1900s Federal Hill rowhouse is given modern, uncluttered interior

Dream Home

Real Estate

September 22, 2006|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

Where Chad and Leah Gillespie are concerned, less is more. And this personal preference is evident in a minimalist style of home decor that is both artistic and functional.

From street level, their rowhouse on Riverside Avenue in Federal Hill is a three-story brick structure, not unlike the thousands renovated in every neighborhood throughout the city.

From the threshold, however, the interior sight is one of sleek openness, clean, natural, and sparse, yet elegantly decorated from front to back.

"It's modern, but minimalist," said Chad Gillespie, noting that he would be using the term "minimalist" during a visitor's tour of the home. "Most things are contained; we don't want to see our stuff."

Yet it wasn't always this way. The couple remember a time, four or five years ago, when they were interested in antiques and furnishings from the French Empire period.

"Our tastes have gone 180 degrees," Chad Gillespie laughed. He was seated at a dining room table of his own design and manufacture, a simple birch piece with no decoration or carving, simply four straight legs and a top covered with a silk cloth and place mats. Above him, three separate hanging lamps with cylindrical white metal shades cast beams onto the table's glass ball center- piece.

The Gillespies purchased the house four years ago. Dating from the early 1900s, it had been divided into three apartments. They paid $175,000 for the property and proceeded to tear out the interior.

The two-story structure was about to become three stories. And its original dimensions of 15 feet wide by 50 feet in length would be extended another 20 feet at the rear to accommodate the dining room on the first floor (with deck addition), a guest room on the second, and third-floor den and outdoor deck.

Another $200,000 was invested in the renovation, which lasted a year. Except for the addition, which the couple had subcontracted, Chad Gillespie, a 34-year-old builder and remodeler, took on the rest of the work and, his wife said, "built it from the bones up."

"We used every allowable square inch of our property," Chad Gillespie noted, referring to the first-floor deck reached off the dining room through sliding glass doors. The deck's mahogany construction "holds up well," he said. The deck has an L-shaped mahogany sofa with white duck cushions as well as a large planter/coffee table and slatted privacy walls.

Adding to the sleek overall appearance of the renovation is the "caramelized" bamboo flooring laid throughout the house. The caramel color is derived from a heat process used in manufacturing the flooring. According to Chad Gillespie, the wood smells like brown sugar when it is being cut. Every bit of floor in the entire house is exposed; no carpets spoil the warmth of the wood.

The kitchen occupies the middle portion of the home. Cabinets have been fashioned out of a warm, brown sapele mahogany, which produces a ribbon-striped color when the wood is quarter-sawn. The color contrast is startling against the stainless-steel appliances and black granite countertops. Again, as in every room of the house, items are stored in cabinets; no dishes, glasses, condiments or cookware are visible.

The modern and uncluttered living room has a wall of natural brick, with a fireplace and chimney covered in mahogany. Across the room, a beige micro-suede sofa and a matching love seat are perpendicular to an 18-foot-wide wall sculpture. Designed by Chad Gillespie, the sculpture features rectangular pieces of medium-density fiberboard.

The Gillespies decided upon a large area of open ceiling on the second level. This construction, between the living room and kitchen, along with a portion of the second floor hall overlooking the rooms below, produces an atrium effect.

Other outstanding features of the minimalist design and decor of the house are featured on the second and third floors. These include a master bathroom suite, the full width of the house.

The third-floor den has been constructed to make the most of a view of the urban skyline. Walls along the outdoor deck off the room are at a height where only the distant skyline is seen from a seated position on the couch. When standing, however, both on the deck and by the north wall window, immediate rooftops and streets in the area are spied. The view is exhilarating and prompts Leah Gillespie's proud assessment of an entire year's work.

"This is the first house that feels like home and reflects who we are," she said.

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