Bob Sleeper is a man who cannot be fenced in. While many of his friends are city dwellers, he craves the great outdoors. For this reason, he and his wife, Marian, left a large home in suburban Marriottsville in favor of an old — and much smaller — farmhouse in Westminster.
Sleeper's first love has always been the land — 5 acres in this instance, with a two-story, 2,700-square-foot bank barn on a knoll.
"We downsized the house but upsized the property," said Sleeper, a 60-year-old employee of Constellation Energy. "The barn was immaculate; the house was the pits."
When the Sleepers looked at the property in the summer of 2001, they ventured into the a two-story, circa 1890 farmhouse, where they heard the steady dripping of leaking water pipes in the basement and observed the rotting floor in the second-floor bathroom. The couple recalled seeing two inches of dirt and dead bugs on every window sill in addition to myriad other examples of decay and neglect.
While the house was reasonably priced from the start, the owner had further reduced the price for the old farm and outbuildings.
"We saw it as an investment and snapped it up," said Bob Sleeper. "We sold the Marriottsville house a month later and began the grunt work here."
With all of their furniture stored in the barn, they set about renovating the house, which would become a study in patience and endurance, as well as a game of musical rooms.
Living in the home's original front parlor and dining room, and using the almost adequate kitchen and attached bathroom, the two gutted the walk-up attic and the basement first. They followed that work with the renovation of the second-story bathroom and three bedrooms. When that job was complete, the couple moved upstairs, and the front parlor and dining room became the next focus of renovation.
"As each room was done, the furniture would come out of the barn and go into the correct room," recalled 60-year-old Marian Sleeper, who works for Johns Hopkins Medical Management, part of the Johns Hopkins Health System that handles property management in northern Baltimore County.
The large country kitchen was the next room to be remodeled. When the original flooring was pulled up, the Sleepers discovered the original log joists.
A family room addition had always been in their plans for renovation, and last fall that final project saw completion.
"It has taken 10 years to get the house where we wanted," said Bob Sleeper.
While he took pains with an interior renovation true to the original design, Marian Sleeper labored diligently over design details. These touches can be found throughout the farmhouse. The original front parlor, for example, is now the den, where she embellished the molding of the coffered ceiling with fine, burgundy-painted lines. The tan trim of the room is warm against the soft olive paint on the wall. Both serve as a rich backdrop for a large oak roll-top desk, a corner cupboard and a second desk fashioned from the shell of an old pump organ — sanded, stained and reconstructed.
The Sleepers, collectors of antique furniture and family heirlooms, have personalized each room with signature pieces that add simplicity and primitive solidity to a farmhouse style.
The family room features an oak barrister's bookcase and a floor-to-ceiling brick chimney with a raised hearth and a recycled carved mahogany mantel. Under the cathedral ceiling, the room's wood floor of recycled barn siding is stunning in its rich, polished glow. Windows that sport country floral and striped curtains brighten the area's comfortable overstuffed chairs and sofa.
Softer decorative touches are also found inside heavier furniture pieces, such as a collection of porcelain figurines posing behind the glass of a corner cabinet and ruby glassware lined on the shelves of the rustic dining room hutch.
"One of the things we love about this house is the huge tree in the front yard," Bob Sleeper said. "When the Wye Oak fell, we called the DNR [Department of Natural Resources], who came out and [determined] ours to be the third-largest sugar maple tree in Maryland."
The couple respects each other's space, both on the land and in the 2,400-square-foot home. Marian Sleeper could be busy inside working on her braid rug or playing with her grandson in the family room, while her husband chops firewood outdoors by the garage.
Their common bond is the property they love so much and the satisfaction each found in its renovation.
"I always wanted to renovate an old home," Bob Sleeper said, relaxing in a comfortably worn leather easy chair at the family room entrance. "And to leave a house in better shape than when we bought it."
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Making the dream
Dream realized: With their three grown girls raising families of their own, Bob and Marian Sleeper have been able to enjoy the pleasures of farm life and still have ample room for their family when they come to visit. Friends love wandering through the nooks and crannies of the large barn. The couple plans to purchase some calves and miniature donkeys to wander the farm. Bob Sleeper has already begun raising chicks that will soon inhabit the coops he's building.
Personal touches: Marian Sleeper has hung several samplers that were stitched by her mother-in-law, cherished pieces that also add to the country ambience. Her stenciling on many of the walls not only brightens the area (like on the rounded walls of the stairwell) but offer a glimpse of folk art decorating. The music stand from an old organ has been affixed to a wooden transom on a dining room door, an example of clever reuse.
Dream renovation: Knowing that it is aesthetically more pleasing to renovate a house true to its original style and age, the Sleepers focused on the details of renovation, such as linoleum flooring in the bathroom and kitchen and a recycled wood floor in the family room. They also added beadboard paneling to the walls of the dining room and upstairs bathroom.