Much of the charm of Fells Point is found in its narrow back alleys and side streets — contributing to the area's original grid from land purchased by William Fell in the early 1700s. Many of the homes on these streets date to the mid-18th to 19th centuries, as the community began to flourish.
Katy Greene Davis and her husband, Michael Davis, bought one of these three-story brick rowhouses on such an alley off Lancaster Street in 1994.
"It was two apartments when we bought it for $82,500," Greene Davis said. "The house was completely creepy and dirty."
The Davis family (including two young daughters, Emma, now 19 and Maggy, now 17) lived on the third level while the first phase of the renovation — interior painting and backyard landscaping — took place. Then they rented the house down the block while their narrow home (16 feet by 50 feet) underwent more extensive work.
"We dug out the entire first floor and put in all new windows and floors," Greene Davis said.
Additional work was done in increments, including installing central air conditioning and a building new kitchen. Today, the house includes the kitchen and dining area on the first floor, as well as a sitting area and living room with a french door leading to a lovely urban garden. The second level consists of a master bedroom suite with bathroom, TV room and second bathroom. The entire third floor is occupied by the two girls.
While old on the outside (the house dates to the early 1800s), the interior design is anything but. The home is filled with eclectic furniture, artwork made by friends and family, and several movie props brought home by Davis, a 59-year old carpenter and construction coordinator currently working on "House of Cards," which films in the Baltimore area.
Light streams through a new front window and a transom over the front door onto colorful pieces of pottery placed around the kitchen and living room. The yellow walls in the kitchen and gold walls in the living room are covered with still life paintings, prints, masks, bright textiles, sculptures made by the Davis daughters, and tin signs, such as the "Breakfast" and "Supper" ones over the kitchen cabinets. The cabinets themselves are filled with colorful ceramic dinnerware.
The eclectic decor continues with a 3-foot-long wooden alligator, rescued from a film set, lurking on the floor in front of a side door. All of the floors on the first level are light ceramic tile, reflecting natural sunlight onto the walls and brightly upholstered, second-hand furniture.
Greene Davis points out an old cabinet, completely refurbished by her sister, Betsy Greene, a decorative painter. Just beyond the sitting area is an elliptical archway into the living room that was designed and constructed by Greene Davis' husband.
"This house reminds me of a beach house," said Lexi Cooper, 16, Maggy's best friend and overnight guest. "All the colors and bright decor when you walk in puts you in a good mood."
Color also abounds in the garden. A plaster Grecian woman surveys a fenced-in yard filled with lilacs, forsythias, a Japanese maple and a variety of other plants. Two miniature Adirondack chairs and a bench painted light candy-apple green sit on the garden flagstones.
Greene Davis looks forward to seeing the second-floor TV room do double duty as a yoga studio. Two stuffed blue marlins hang on the olive-colored wall over a comfortable sleep sofa. Visitors staying in the Davis house can wake up to a view of hanging colored masks, ceramic sailfish and a stunning silk-screen poster of a female swimmer on a beach that's reminiscent of a 1930s travel ad.
On a plaque in a hallway are the words: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain."
The Davis family tries to heed this advice in embracing city living.
"We have lived here and raised our kids here, we love our neighbors, and we feel a real [sense of] community, said Greene Davis. "Living in the city is not for everyone, but we have enjoyed living here and have no plans to move."
The Davis home will be part of The Preservation Society's Historic Harbor House Tour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 11. For tickets, go to preservationsociety.com http://2014FellsPointHistoricHouseTour.eventbrite.com
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