35 rooms, 8 bathrooms


Drew Riger is renovating a five-story Mount Vernon mansion that was built in 1848

December 14, 2007|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Four years ago, Drew Riger walked into a rundown, five-story Greek revival mansion for sale in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. He was no stranger to the back-breaking labor involved in restoration, having just completed work on an old mill house in historic Oella in Baltimore County. That experience, however, did not soften the blow.

"I walked about 50 feet into the house, turned around and said, `No way!'" he remembered.

Chopped up into 56 tiny rooms that Riger called "cells," the mansion had most recently served as a "boarding house," a term used in the most general sense.

But Riger, a 38-year old information technology specialist for Constellation Energy, gave in to his passion for history, architecture and design - as well as his love of the city - and purchased the 9,000-square-foot brick home on Cathedral Street a year later.

FOR THE RECORD - The name of the owner of the Mount Vernon house in yesterday's Dream Home feature was misspelled. The correct name is Drew Rieger. In addition, the second-floor front parlor's dimensions were misstated. The room is 24 feet square.
The Sun regrets the error.

"I think I got a deal at $425, 000," he said.

The house, according to Riger, was built in 1848 by John Gaither, a descendant of Gaithersburg's founder. A former owner, Dr. Francis Turquand Miles, moved there in 1870. As second president of the American Neurological Association, Miles was chairman at the time of the department of anatomy and physiology at the University of Maryland.

Riger's "deal" is coming along, and so far has cost him $100,000 and three years of manual labor, mainly carpentry and plaster repair.

"I took down every bit of the drywall," he said, "over 70 cubic yards of material waste."

In the process, Riger uncovered period embellishments such as ceiling molding and medallions, 11-foot pocket doors, and even the mahogany spindles on four flights of stairs. It took a full year to remove and reglaze 47 windows and to remove and strip 60 interior doors.

What he has now is a home with 35 rooms and eight bathrooms, as well as a license that came with the house to operate, if he chooses, a bed-and-breakfast.

As though teaching a class in Georgian interior layout, Riger discusses the home's floor plan, pausing at times to be sure he has not forgotten any room.

The first floor, although not below grade, was known as an English basement. Here, at street level, the opulence of the higher floors would not be visible to passers-by. A family dining room, billiard room, kitchen, servants' area and bath occupied this level. Riger's plan, once work is completed, is to rent this floor. Ultimately, he will live on the second and third floors, and maybe use the top two floors for a bed-and-breakfast.

On the second floor, a large pocket door separates the 24-square-foot front parlor from a 16-by-24-foot back parlor. The front parlor's 14-foot ceilings augment the sense of spaciousness. Three floor-to-ceiling windows are covered in silk draperies from the period. Moth holes are evident, but Riger has enough salvage material to have them repaired.

For him, it is all about the period. A grand piano is at one end of the room, while a harpsichord occupies the other end. A grand Christmas tree illuminates the area in front of the center window.

The back parlor is now a formal dining room resplendent with French Empire design furnishings made in Baltimore and dating to 1830. The carved-mahogany table sits on double pedestals and opens to 18 feet. The rest of the second floor includes a kitchen and a servants' rear staircase.

The third-floor library is clad in oak paneling that once lined the boardroom of the old Philadelphia Convention Center. An oak mantel obtained from a house in Guilford frames the marble fireplace. An 1850s electrified gaselier chandelier of gilded bronze hangs from a plaster ceiling medallion, casting soft light on a hand-stitched needlepoint rug, while 100-year-old cotton brocade draperies grace the back windows.

"I call this [room] my sanctum sanctorum," Riger said. "This place is built like a fortress."

Beyond the library in the front of the house, a master bedroom and bath are in the works as well as a back servants' hall with two more bedrooms and a bathroom.

Riger lives on the fourth floor, where he has created a cozy apartment with front living room, kitchen, bath, and rear bedroom. Four more bedrooms and a bathroom occupy the fifth floor, while the basement houses two bathrooms, four bedrooms and a kitchen.

Realistic about the amount of work ahead, Riger has put money aside for essentials such as additional utilities and plumbing. In the meantime, he restores at his own pace, seeing "the elegance and solidity behind the shabbiness" of today's mansion. "I won't find a better home than this. I'm in it for the long haul."

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. Find our Dream Home archive at baltimoresun.com/dreamhome. Keywords: COLUMN

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