We’ve all driven past them: those homes that grab our eye, make us pause and make us ask, “What is that doing there?”
Despite Baltimore’s reputation for the funky, the artistic and the uncommon, homes in the region generally play it safe when it comes to curb appeal.
These are the exceptions.
We found Baltimore-area homes whose owners weren’t afraid to go bold and use form, function, materials and colors to break the neighborhood standard in distinct ways.
Rising from the end of a street in Anne Arundel County’s Herald Harbor is the modern home of Alan Dynerman and Nancy Seybold. Surrounded by cottages, modern Colonials and split-level homes, the Dynerman-Seybold house is like a waterfront megalith.
“It’s almost monumental,” Dynerman says.
“It has this very weighty pressure on the outside,” Seybold says. “But inside [it feels like] a small home.”
Dynerman owns Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm Dynerman Architects. He says he designed the home the way he would for any client, using natural materials and light.
“This is the style of Alan’s own aesthetic,” Seybold says. “We designed this house for us. We had amazing views, so we wanted the house to be quiet on the street and open on the water side.”
The weathered cedar planking covering most of the exterior lies in even rows, evoking a calmness that extends to the inside of the home. At night, the gray tower that rises three stories into the air — and houses the home’s stairs — glows with a diffuse light reminiscent of votive candles, the result of small glass blocks inset in a random pattern.
Completed in 2012, the home replaced a traditional split-level house the couple lived in for two years. Though their new home is unique in the neighborhood, the couple say they had more issues with the permitting process than with neighbor complaints.
“We were really lucky to find a lot that was at the end of the street,” Seybold says. “We’re not right on top of someone who feels like we’ve intruded.”
Of course, that didn’t stop the neighbors closest to the house from planting a stand of fast-growing spruce trees not long after construction finished.
It’s hard to miss the home of Marla Streb and Mark Fitzgerald, even from its wooded perch overlooking Bonnie View Drive in Mount Washington. Painted a bright, sunny yellow visible even through the thick leaves of summer, the home has earned the neighborhood moniker “the big yellow house.”
The couple owns one of Baltimore’s few residential buildings designed in the brutalist architectural style, which is marked by boxy shapes, concrete construction and typically muted colors that let the buildings blend into surroundings.
Streb, a retired world championship mountain biker, found the house in 2012 on one of her cross-city bike rides. The two-story, three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home had languished on the market since 2008, the victim of the housing downturn, a sometimes-controversial architectural style and a unique layout: the home is upside down and backwards, with the front door in the back of the home and the bedrooms downstairs.
“Nobody wanted it,” Fitzgerald says. “Everything was dark brown and moldy and overgrown. And Marla said, ‘I like it.’”
Streb knew as soon as she “hacked my way through the vines to peer in the window,” that she would want to brighten up the home’s dark interior and exterior. The yellow that now coats all the exterior wood trim reminds Streb of the moon and is a color that the couple’s two girls often use in the mosaics and artwork that decorate the home.
Fitzgerald painted the trim, though the north-facing side remains unfinished. It’s still on the “honey-do” list, but has fallen to the wayside in the midst of the couple’s plan to open a coffee house and bike shop in Fells Point.
If the neighbors are bothered by the bright yellow, no one has said anything.
“One neighbor knew our house because of [the paint] and kindly lent us his ladder for months hoping we would finish it,” Streb says. “We haven’t, but gave the ladder back.”
Farmhouse with a twist
Lisa Wilde fell in love with the old farmhouse the moment she saw it. She and her husband, Philip Vilardo, purchased the two-level A-frame home, built sometime around the Civil War, in Ellicott City in 2000. By 2005, with an adopted child on the way, they were facing the need to expand their “Little House on the Prairie.”
“We wanted to keep character of the old country house,” Vilardo says. “We wanted to do an addition that didn’t overwhelm the house, that wasn’t just smashed on.”
The result is an addition that rises three stories into the air, its central hallmark a floor-to-ceiling bookcase that architect Charles Alexander of Alexander Design Studio calls “a modern twist on the historical vernacular.”
The twist is literal. The addition to the house is set at an angle to the original farm home, and even the addition’s walls run at odd angles. “Every wall has a math equation under it,” Wilde says. A third-floor window seat in the master bedroom pops out at an angle on the street-facing facade.
Their home is surrounded by simpler ranchers owned by families over several generations. At first, the addition drew neighbors’ stares.
“I think they were a little shocked and concerned initially,” Vilardo says of the reaction the couple shared. “When they first dug the holes and framed it, we drove by and looked at each other and said, ‘What have we done?’”
Now, with building complete and the landscape around the home maturing, the angle, “doesn’t seem so shocking. You see the old house first as you are driving by,” Wilde says.