North Baltimore Victorian offers a cozy, historic feel

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One would never think that Jeanie Libutti considers her Victorian-style home in North Baltimore a downsize. With stone steps leading up to a wraparound porch supported by seven columns, it is easy to imagine the elegance — and space — within.

But size is relative. Coming from a 6,500-square-foot home in Alabama that sat on a 1-acre lot with a swimming pool, Libutti was looking for a home that offered less financial pressure as she and her husband got older. This perfectly proportioned 2,765-square-foot house, built in 1921, was exactly what she was looking for — so much so that she convinced her husband that they should buy it without him or her daughter ever seeing it.


"The initial draw of the house was one of deja vu," Libutti said. "It conjured up sensory memories of my grandparents' large Victorian house on the ocean in Massachusetts. It had a huge wraparound porch that was well used as a happy gathering place by all the relatives."

Since her 1980 marriage to Frank Libutti, a 69-year-old retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, their many residences were dictated by his job.


"This time, my husband was extremely generous and gave me the lead [to choose] this one," said Jeanie Libutti, a 64-year-old retired Navy captain who is working on a master's degree in architecture at Morgan State University. "I'm a nester and like cozy."

Nevertheless, when her husband and 17-year-old daughter, Michela (who goes by Lily), saw the three-story home for the first time, their reactions were far from enthusiastic.

"To them, the house was a tremendous shock. The worn 1921 structure screamed old [rather than historic] to them and their reactions were very visceral," Libutti said. "My daughter's bathroom was frightening to her and she was extremely [leery] of using it. We soon found out the toilet leaked and the tub would not drain. Hence, its remodel was the first large project that we initiated. I am so glad that we were able to give her something that she could be comfortable in."

Other projects in the home, which the Libuttis bought for $440,000, included ripping out the overgrown gardens in the backyard, installing ductless air conditioning on the first floor and removing four doors to give the first floor a better flow.

Neutral but strong colors that contrast with white trim and molding are the basis for a traditional interior decor. From the front door, the open layout evokes a feeling of relaxed refinement throughout the first floor, which includes a music room, living room, formal dining room and a laundry room.

The music room off of the front entrance is dominated by a black lacquered grand piano, over which hangs a crystal chandelier. Two hand-painted wooden screens sit in front of the walls on either side of the piano.

"The art in our home is a combination of my work, work by my husband's father and works collected in places in which we lived and visited," Libutti said. "A lot of Asian pieces of furniture, sculpture and paintings are a result of gifts to us while living in Japan and Korea, as well as pieces we have acquired on our own."

The Asian influence is found in the formal dining room, where a carved Buddha from Bangkok sits upon a Chinese cabinet with brass pulls. A built-in china cabinet showcases Haviland china, Aynsley bone china pieces from England and Lladro figurines. Two paintings hang on either side of a multipaned window: One is Lily as a baby and the other is of an old rabbi. "I love the way [the dining room] lets in light during the day, its abundant seating and the way it looks when lit for dinner in the evening. I think it begs people to gather," Libutti said.


Two occasional chairs upholstered in beige microfiber flank a wood-burning fireplace in the living room. A sofa of the same material sits opposite them, with a Korean elm blanket chest in the center of the seating area. Libutti has created a cozy corner in the living room, where a pair of high-back chairs and a reading table sit among brimming built-in bookcases.

In comparison to the other three rooms, the kitchen has a lived-in country look. Dark terra cotta-colored walls complement cherry cabinets, Corian countertops and a travertine-like clay tile backsplash. The Libuttis added recessed lighting where once there were ceiling fan lights and bought new stainless-steel appliances.

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The second level contains three bedrooms, a bathroom with a claw-foot tub and a combination TV room-office. Here, amid pumpkin and brown furnishings, are two work stations in separate corners of the room.

"When I want to have quiet time, my favorite room in the house would probably be the small green bedroom with windows to the south and west," Libutti said. "The walls are covered with watercolor paintings from Asia, and the monochromatic color scheme calms me. In the winter, I use it to read in as though it were my 'sunroom,' and in the summer the green tones provide me with the feel of the out-of-doors."

The master bedroom and the "Nantucket room" (decorated in a nautical theme) are also on the second level.

The couple has dedicated the third floor to Lily Libutti. Her suite consists of a large bedroom and the remodeled bathroom with light walls and walk-in glass shower, which has a spa-like appearance. Jeanie Libutti said this the room she is most proud of "because it was a total teardown and rebuild project" of her design.


While Jeanie Libutti's home is modest compared to her grandparents' home, she is nonetheless proud of her accomplishments, with more projects planned for the summer.

This home "offers similar qualities in the creaking wood floors, thick moldings, semi-wraparound porch and abundant sunny windows," she said. "I refer to our Baltimore home as our beach house in the city."

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