Victorian restoration

Dream Home

Ignoring advice to the contrary, a couple revives an 1884 treasure in Mount Vernon

Dream Home

January 05, 2007|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

The 1300 block of N. Calvert St. in Baltimore's Mount Vernon is made up of a delightful row of Victorian townhouses that were designed by Bolton Hill's Charles Cassell. Four stories high, not including above-ground basements, these ornate structures stand like a long stone wall with their second- and third-story bay windows presenting a rippling effect along their exteriors.

Sandy Lawler and her husband, Michael Welter, purchased one of these houses in the block that is now part of Belvedere Terrace. The home was an abandoned wreck, the property of Midtown Development Corp.

"Midtown couldn't get rid of it," Lawler remembered. The co-owner of the Inn at 4 East Madison, she also recalled the discouraging words from the architect who had worked to convert the inn.

"He told me not to do it, that the neighborhood was too risky," she said.

While the 1884 property's walls and foundation were structurally sound, it was missing floors, windows and a roof. But the couple went ahead with plans to renovate, and in December 2003, they purchased the stone house with the brick fa?ade for $65,000. It would be six months before the house was habitable.

Lawler estimates those six months consumed another $250,000. The money went quickly, she said, with the installation of two separate heating and cooling systems, 30 new windows, three full baths, two half-baths, and the addition of a downstairs apartment. Add to that new plumbing and wiring, plaster work, a new back porch and flooring. (Lawler bought the floor boards used.)

A set of heavy doors separated by a small vestibule leads into the home's interior, where the sense of space is amplified by 11-foot ceilings. Just inside, a long hall ambles to a staircase. Lawler has painted the lower half of the walls a bright cranberry with the upper portion a soft shade of cream. Framed watercolors, some by family members, hang in gallery fashion.

The couple have filled their 4,000-square-foot home with family pieces, and furniture and accessories from antique and second-hand shops. Carpets in various sizes, textures and colors blanket most of the floor space.

"I love rugs, they are everywhere," Lawler said.

The living room, painted a pastel green, is graced with the only working fireplace in the house (seven have been uncovered). A camel-back sofa with Queen Anne-style legs is upholstered in pale peach damask, and commands a spot in the center of the room. The walls are treated with hand-carved, wooden knick-knack shelves and a "Tree of Life" tapestry. Afternoon sun lights the room through the large bay window.

Beyond the living room, and also accessible from the hallway, a reception room rests at the bottom of the ornately carved, turning staircase. In Victorian times, the living room would be closed off by pocket doors, while visitors would wait in the reception room until announced. A wine rack sits opposite another fireplace. A 4-by-6-foot tapestry woven by a great-aunt in Poland hangs above its narrow mantel.

"I love to cook," said Lawler, leading the way beyond the reception room to the large kitchen in the rear. Tumbled marble countertops provide a rustic look, complementing painted cabinets below and above them. A multipaned wooden door at the kitchen's far end opens onto a galley-like area containing a stove, refrigerator, and small counter.

"I close the door and it keeps cooking odors from the rest of the house," Lawler said of the area that once housed a back staircase.

A "lady's parlor" is situated at the home's second floor front. The couple and their 18-year-old daughter, Emily, use the space as a family room. Comfortably furnished with an over-stuffed cotton duck sofa, oak table and chairs, and armoire, its standout piece is a 6-foot-long coffee table made from a thick marble slab atop a Chinese decorated, wooden box.

The master bedroom is in the rear on the second level, while the third level contains Emily's room and a guest room.

The fourth floor, complete with dormer windows, offers a view of the Mount Vernon neighborhood that Lawler loves.

The space here will soon house a studio/office as time and money permit.

Pleased with the renovation thus far, the house, Lawler said, "was a blank palette with great bones that begged our love and creativity."

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

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