Among all the lovely, quirky, industrial, upscale, up-and-coming and historic Baltimore neighborhoods, Danielle LeClair chose Highlandtown for the nearby park — and the parking.
A Massachusetts native and nurse practitioner in geriatric dermatology, LeClair moved from Federal Hill four years ago to a relatively quiet street off Patterson Park in East Baltimore.
"My highest priority was parking," LeClair said. "It wasn't so bad then, but it's getting worse."
Her real estate agent, Cara Fabian, an associate broker with Cummings and Co. Realtors, found her a completely renovated property, circa 1920, at a cost of $280,000. The two-story brick rowhouse joins a long line of others, some embellished with stained-glass transoms and Formstone facades, some with painted screens, and most — like LeClair's — with marble front steps.
Her solution for parking, that all-too-common city reality, was to create a parking pad over the small backyard. And because she likes flowers and plants and chooses to grow her own herbs for cooking, she gardens on her rooftop deck.
LeClair's focus in a home that is 12 feet wide and 50 feet long: a place for everything and everything in its place.
Additionally, and perhaps most crucially, is the question of scale; as she notes, "You can't just throw a large, pub-style sofa in the living room."
Her finely tuned sense of scale, as well as color and decor, is what makes the home a fine example of small-space urban living.
"My friends are always asking me to design their homes," she said.
Past her front door, the reasons for her friends' envy become clear.
A large switchback wrought-iron staircase breaks the exposed interior layout in two. It's an open structure with pine steps, allowing sunlight to spill from a second-floor skylight onto the floors below.
A combination of old and new furniture pieces predominate in a relatively neutral decor splashed with dollops of color — almost exclusively yellow and orange, found in scattered throw pillows, and red, in the front drapes hung over wooden blinds.
A choice of dark woods, such as a round dining table and chairs from Crate & Barrel and a small buffet purchased at Baltimore's Su Casa, coordinate well with olive-gray walls and an entirely exposed brick wall. For drama, LeClair adds her own abstract paintings, bright and wild. A giclee print of city rowhouses by Baltimore artist Robert McClintock hangs on the brick wall between living room and dining room.
Exposed metal ductwork in the back half of the lower level adds an industrial flair to the home, while gerbera daisies in a crystal vase on the dining room table provide a homey touch.
IKEA shelving units in dark painted wood sit against the brick wall of the living room. Board games, books and photographs are placed neatly on each shelf, while an electric fireplace is tucked neatly inside the center component. Just inside the front door, a three-tiered wooden shoe rack exposes colorful running and athletic shoes.
"One of the best things about moving here is the park," LeClair said. "My boyfriend and I belong to Baltimore Sports and Social Club."
The kitchen, at the rear of the home, is a stellar example of organization. Shelving units, also from IKEA, fill an entire wall, where neatly placed canisters, orange and red mixing bowls, a stainless-steel toaster oven and a red mixer lay ready to be used. The kitchen was a later addition to the house, and the original back brick wall's window is now used as multitiered open-shelf bar. Stainless-steel appliances, maple cupboards and a granite cooking island make this urban kitchen a happy and utilitarian place to cook.
In the finished basement, with its 6-foot-high ceiling, LeClair has created what she calls her "woman cave." Here, beige microfiber furniture is placed in front of a 52-inch flat-screen TV. More of her abstract art fills the space, adding color and interest to the olive-gray walls and beige carpeting.
The home's second level features two bedrooms, each with connecting baths. The master suite is simply decorated in contemporary furniture finished in white paint to match the white blinds and white trim work. The white and a bedspread of flowers in red, orange, green and pink contrast smartly with the olive-gray walls.
The wrought-iron staircase makes its final ascent to a rooftop deck. Here LeClair grows her peppers, cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and cilantro. Beyond the deck is an almost panoramic view of the city skyline and harbor. In the foreground are the neighborhood rooftops, church spires and glimpses, here and there, of Patterson Park.
"It's wonderful up here on the Fourth of July," LeClair said. "We can see the fireworks from Catonsville, Dundalk and the Inner Harbor."
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Making the dream
Dream realized: "As I admire all the other rowhomes in Baltimore from the street, they all look very much alike," says Danielle LeClair. "But I know they are all very different on the inside. Everyone adds their personal touches on the inside, but the residents seem to maintain the integrity of the Baltimorean look. That's why my home is my dream home. The eclectic collection of my things makes this 12-by-50-feet brick box all mine. And just steps from my door is Patterson Park where I walk my dogs, great restaurants my boyfriend and I love to try, and little boutiques where I spend my weekends."
Personal touches: "My favorite room in the house is the living room," LeClair says. "The room's atmosphere lends itself to reading in front of the fireplace, entertaining guests, or having an intimate conversation with my boyfriend because it doesn't have a television. I highly recommend having one room without a television for just these reasons."