The home has an open floor plan where the kitchen flows into the living room.
The home has an open floor plan where the kitchen flows into the living room. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

When John Sullivan's search for the perfect house came to an end more than a decade ago, he did not consider it odd to have spent $112,000 for the property — even if it was just a one-car garage built in 1927.

The 600-square-foot former garage sat on a three-acre parcel of land along a tree-shaded lane in Ruxton.


Inside was a 1970s addition of a bedroom and bathroom, the narrowest of foyers and a small galley kitchen. The space had served as a private retreat, an outbuilding belonging to the owner of a stately house further up the hill. Before Sullivan bought it in 1995, the tiny cottage with a pitched roof and front gable was a rental property.

"It was almost a one-bedroom efficiency," said Sullivan, a 49-year-old officer with U.S. Trust. "But it was in reasonable condition, and with the loan that I got, I started construction immediately"

He added an additional 800-square-feet to the tiny space, elevating it to small cottage status with an interior space of roughly 1,400 square feet. Constructed of clapboard with a steeply pitched roof, the exterior of the addition mimicked the original structure.

"To be compliant with the terms of the loan, the bank insisted on at least one more bedroom," Sullivan said. "I added on the bedroom [and] a living room, a mud room and a bath." The cost for the work came to $70,000.

Soon after, Sullivan and a few friends built a 40-foot by 15-foot wood deck onto the back of the house, adding more living space to the cottage that was sprouting like a mushroom in the night. In front of the deck near the edge of his yard, he planted more than a dozen Leland cypress trees. The house seemed complete.

In 2008, he embarked on the last bit of interior renovation — a $25,000 upgrade of the galley kitchen, not necessarily to make it larger, but to improve its looks and efficiency. That it just so happens to be the centerpiece of the cottage's open interior is a definite plus for entertaining.

And open it is — clutter-free and tidy, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

"I put things together as I liked," said Sullivan. "There was no grand scheme. I've been here 15 years."

He will, however, admit to a maritime feel throughout what could easily be a dream of a seaside cottage. A clear giveaway — in addition to beadboard walls in various spots around the home — is a collection of framed oil paintings and watercolor works that are primarily seascapes and sailboats. Decoys rest on rugged farmhouse-style tables, a wooden whale is hung above built-in kitchen cabinets and a carved wooden banner, replicating one that might be found on a ship's stern and with the lone name of "Sullivan," hangs over his kitchen stove.

"I pick up things in my travels as I see them," Sullivan said. "In furniture [style] I mix modern and traditional. There's a definite feel of the sea, but I think that just happened."

He favors Charles Eames and Eileen Gray pieces, such as a tufted Chesterfield sofa in brown leather perfectly scaled for the space. Two bergere armchairs face the sofa for a perfect conversation spot dominated by a wood-burning fireplace with forest-green trim and a black marble hearth.

The entire back wall in the center of the home consists of three double-sets of French doors. All are treated to an eastern exposure and access the canopied deck where several pieces of heavily cushioned outdoor furniture sit.

The doors and windows allow ample, natural light to flood the interior and provide a warm glow on stained oak flooring. Except for the bedrooms and mud room, the walls of the living area have been painted china white while numerous built-in cabinets are painted putty gray. A simple wood island painted white has been topped with a righteous slab of honed white marble.

"I chose a honed finish as opposed to a polished finish because [overhead] light doesn't reflect on the surface," Sullivan explained.


The master bedroom is painted soft gray with white trim. A standout here is a long pine table, a piece that doubles as a dining table when necessary. A long Chinese bench at the foot of the bed serves as seating.

The bedroom on the opposite side of the cottage, part of the original 1927 garage, is furnished with a single sleigh bed sitting on original subflooring that is painted black. Sailboat prints dominate olive green walls. Adjoined by a full bathroom, there is also a full-length linen closet concealing an interior surprise. The shelves are barely 6-inches deep — more medicine chest than linen storage.

"Everything in its place," Sullivan reminded.

And like the bottles and soaps lined up in the linen chest, five small graves sit in his front yard, dating to the early 1900s. Each fully carved headstone bears the name of the original owner's beloved Scottish terriers, including "Teri Adair" and "Macduff."

After 15 years, cottage and gardens, including beautifully grown cypress trees, are just as Sullivan envisioned when he bought the converted garage. That it took awhile to achieve is no surprise to his friends.

"They know me and know I'm very particular," he said. "I'll agonize over a door knob; and that's why it took so long!"

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Making the dream

Dream element:

John Sullivan's small cottage sits wedged into tall trees down from a narrow lane at the top of a hill in Ruxton. Its bucolic location among a smattering of large homes belies its proximity to North Charles Street and the Baltimore Beltway.

Dream design:

John Sullivan's one-story cottage, with its deeply pitched roof and small multi-paned front windows, is built of clapboard and painted a light shade of olive green. The front lawn is a green carpet under a spreading chestnut tree encircled in ivy.

Dream interior:

"I know there is a definite feel of a cottage by the sea, but I think that just happened over time," said Sullivan, who has made use of beadboard in the bathrooms and nautical wall hangings. Every piece of furniture serves a purpose in the small interior and most "things" that will often clutter up a house are stored behind walls of cabinets and shelves.