How a Canton garage inspired a home designed for hospitality

For The Baltimore Sun

The story of Bob and Pat Lippert’s Canton home begins in the garage.

Bob, a one-time racer and longtime collector of British sports cars, needed a place to keep his four-wheeled darlings. A neighbor’s house happened to have a large garage, and the couple seized the opportunity to purchase the corner property in 1995. The garage proved a perfect place for Bob’s MGs and Jaguars, but it quickly morphed into something more: a thriving social hub for the neighborhood.

“I put beer taps on the wall, and all the young people we met would come in and hang out,” says Bob, 69. “When I was living out in the suburbs, I knew two neighbors, maybe. We like Baltimore City because we meet so many people sitting in the garage, watching the game or talking to people about the cars.”

When the doors to the garage are up, fun is sure to follow. In addition to the beer taps and cars (and a Royal Enfield motorcycle), the large space has chandeliers, British memorabilia including a fully restored U.K. phone booth, barrel tables purchased at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery and bar stools from the old Capitol Center. Presiding over all is a suit of armor in the second-story window. It’s a treasure trove of sleek automobiles and top-notch kitsch.

While the garage gained renown, the house, a formstone-covered hulk in disrepair, remained largely untouched.

“We called [the house] Castle Grayskull because it was really a little bit scary back in the day,” Bob says. “But I always had the idea in the back of my mind that one day I’d like to renovate the place.”

In 2014 the time had come. Bob was retired from the federal government and Pat was nearing retirement from T. Rowe Price. The narrow steps in their current home were becoming unappealing. In the renovated house they could get everything they wanted, including an elevator, bathrooms without bathtubs and romantic French balconies (which Pat, 64, fell in love with on a trip to Paris). Through a friend, the Lipperts connected with Alick Dearie and Brian Grieb of Grid Architects. They held their meetings, of course, in the garage.

“They met with us a couple times and got an understanding of how we live,” Pat says. “We like to entertain; we have a lot of people who come by in the evenings. And they told us what they thought would work.”

“The garage was the genesis from which everything else unfolded,” Grieb says.

The house renovation was challenging. Parts of the house likely predated the Civil War, and the property may have been as many as three houses that were joined over time. The first floor was once used as a convenience store and butchery (the walk-in cooler has been preserved). The house had more than 14 different level changes connecting a warren of tiny rooms and random staircases. Structural integrity was questionable in places.

“We had to re-engineer the entire building from the inside out,” Grieb says.

The renovation took advantage of the home’s south-facing exposure, puncturing that wall with plenty of windows. Along with the formstone, a portion of the standing seam metal roof was removed to accommodate a third floor with a flat roof. The design opted against being overly nostalgic, blending beautiful brick and ironwork with contemporary, horizontal stained ash siding and glass-railed porches.

Inside, the first level became an extension of the garage party space. A new folding glass wall was installed in the garage, opening to expose the party room to an interior courtyard. The courtyard then connects to the home’s first level, where there are several casual seating areas. An architecturally dramatic staircase featuring concrete steps cascading on a wood rise encased with glass connects to the floors above.

Taking inspiration from the Italian palazzi piano nobile style, Grieb explains that the second story is where the more private spaces begin with an open-plan living, dining and kitchen area. Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath contributed to the design of the latter, which includes ample cabinetry and an island, all in warm tones at the Lipperts’ request. Majer Metal Works provided the hot-rolled steel ceiling treatment that helps break up the large rectilinear room.

The Lipperts share their home with four cats, so two large bedrooms were ample to suit their needs. Although they got the elevator they wanted, the couple sagely included a wet bar outside their third-floor master suite so they can make coffee and bagels, or get a glass of wine to take onto the terrace, without leaving the floor.

If the genesis of the home was Bob’s collection of cars and memorabilia, the interior is collection-driven as well. The guest room is accessorized with Bob’s collection of reproduction Old West firearms and a Budweiser advertising poster featuring a painting of Custer’s last stand, all of which fit well with the couple’s antique furniture. But most prevalent are Pat’s French posters, collected over 15 years. Her first, “The Green Devil” by Cappiello, hangs in the staircase.

“I love the quality and the color — the way they draw the eye — in the turn-of-the-century advertising posters,” she says. The interior of ash flooring, white walls and windows free of treatments, creates a perfect canvas. “We prefer things very neutral because it makes it feel open and spacious and it also lets the colors from the posters pop.”

For years, the Lipperts’ garage has been a hangout for car aficionados, cocktail lovers and the simply curious. Now they have a home that represents their personalities — their love of art, collectibles and hospitality.

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