Some would call George Frazier crazy, but most would applaud his resourcefulness and all would have to agree that, with very little experience, he successfully undertook one of the most daunting home rehab projects that Fells Point's narrow, alley-like Dallas Street has ever seen.
"There was little left of the house when I bought it," he said. "At 140 years old, its last 10 years were occupied by rats, water intrusion and termites. Only a dream would serve to save it."
But Frazier, 62, was not afraid to dream. A former real estate agent, he knew a great location when he saw it, and he knew about access to tax credits for resurrecting the two-story structure. It also came with a price he couldn't pass up in a neighborhood where he longed to live. He purchased the crumbling brick house in November 2011 for $32,000, pleased that he could save a few doors and the narrow winding staircase to the second level.
Having never rebuilt a house, Frazier turned to people he trusted for help. He collaborated with a local architect, Virgil Bartram; consulted with Kurt Schiller, a Fells Point contractor; and sought the recommendations of Miles Poland, a Federal Hill carpenter.
As is the case with rowhouses — unless you're purchasing two or more adjacent structures — little can be done about the width, which in this case is 111/2 feet. The house narrows about an additional 3 feet at the halfway point because of a sally port, and continues back to its full 55-foot depth, where a triple-frame glass door opens to a small garden and a shed commanding the full width of the yard.
"I built the shed first – all Hardie plank with a back wall that that goes up 12 feet," Frazier said. "Beginning the project by making the shed handsome set the bar for quality that remained an obligation for the rest of the project to measure up to. It stood as a reminder to all those who worked on the project, as well as myself, to not do less."
The shed also became the everyday repository for all of his tools and larger equipment, giving him a place to store them at the end of each workday.
Frazier, who sells fair-trade baskets from Ghana and Peterborough baskets from New Hampshire, worked at his booth at the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar each Sunday and sppent the rest of his time on his home.
"If you commit to being on the job every step of the way, doing all the things you are able and hiring out the rest," he said, "the cost — mine under $200,000 — can be affordable even when purchasing the best materials and the most efficient systems."
The two-bedroom, 11/2-bathroom house was finished enough to inhabit in December 2012, in what Frazier calls "a soft move that was really hard." Taking a little furniture from his former home in the city's Mayfield neighborhood, he settled in and continued working on the project.
Surprisingly bright for a rowhouse, the windows, centrally located on the lower-level walls, allow for extra light filtering in from the exposed sally port. The walls here and back to the kitchen are painted a light green that complements the hickory cabinets and beige ceramic tile floors. In the living room, at the front of the house, Frazier widened the appearance of the narrow dimensions by the use of a chair rail on two walls with green-colored wainscoting below it and above it, walls painted white.
Frazier purchased many materials from Baltimore's Second Chance, an emporium of reclaimed goods. For example, he found door hardware, a wood-and-frosted-glass room divider and a stained-glass transom to use on the second level between the bathroom and the hall stairway. Another great find was the rustic maple flooring he purchased on Craig's list for a dollar per square foot.
"Hunting down materials and gathering ideas from those around you [became] second nature," he said. "If your budget is tight, all the better for making you more resourceful."
Even as he continues to make his little house on Dallas Street the best rehab job it can possibly be, Frazier is proud to say his dream has not put him one penny in debt and that he used a family behest wisely. Further, he credits the help and ideas of others.
"Such an uncompromising commitment to make your dream home your own will deliver a simple but ironic truth — that what you are so proud of and is stamped so indelibly as your own, is the work of many," he said.
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