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Details make a house a home in ye olde Roland Park neighborhood (Hudson's Corner)

Although no one agrees on who first said, "The devil is in the details" or "God is in the details," most can agree that much of the beauty of old houses is in the details. Some friends, family and I have been having fun thinking of favorite details in North Baltimore's old houses.

The setback of houses built by the Roland Park Company gives them a presence, privacy and setting within green space. While front steps can be many (several dozen at some on Edgevale Road), they occasionally divide into twin flights around a garden bed or begin as semi-circular steps by the street. Most are cement, but some are bluestone, flagstone or occasionally brick.

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Sturdy, front wrought-iron railings vary from short and scrolled to wide and curved to lengthy. At some of the oldest homes, black-painted pipes remain as railings, as they do along many footpaths.

I could write a book on old front doors. Because Roland Park architecture includes styles from Victorian and Arts and Crafts to Colonial and Georgian, old front doors come in many designs. A few glass-paned storm vestibules still stand on wide front porches around front doors. When I was growing up, more people still had them and took them down in summer, then reinstalled them in winter, as they did with sun porch glass-paned panels that switched to screens in summer.

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Some elegant houses have an open portico with steps to a tiled vestibule with wood or heavy glass French doors to the outside. Many houses have front doors that are half glass, heavy and beveled. Others have wide, wood doors with sidelights, sometimes leaded, flanking them. Fan lights above doors bring more light to entrance halls. Many wide, wooden screen doors still thunk closed in summer and open with solid brass doorknobs. Heavy is a common quality of old doors.

Exterior brass doorknobs, knockers, doorbell plates, mail slots, door hinges and thresholds abound. So do exterior shutters of every size, with a variety of cutout patterns on the upper panels.

Windows are numerous and of every size. They vary from the tiniest in pantry lockers and powder rooms to the wide, eight-over-eights on first floors to casement windows to curved glass windows in turrets, to clearstories, leaded or stained glass windows on stair landings. Ripples in original glass panes, brass locks and sash-lifts add artistry.

Particularly cunning on sun porches are occasional single panes with brass knobs that open to single-screen panels. A second floor window in a stone chimney comes as a surprise, as do portal windows on upper floors.  Dormer windows with varying curves, woodwork and arched mullions grace the rooflines.

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Roofs are predominantly slate, with occasional color and pattern variations. Some houses have green or terra cotta-tiled roofs. Houses themselves are shingle, with an occasional decorative motif like a diamond pattern, clapboard, brick or stucco of varying textures.

Eye-catching are inside staircases and banisters. Many go round and round to a third floor with wide treads, polished banisters and gracefully carved spindles. Back staircases are convenient.

Staircase landings are an art form. Some are wide enough for children to use as stages, particularly the ones off the ends of matching double staircases to the second floor. Many landings are large enough to accommodate a chair, bench, bookcase or window seat.

In some houses, service bells remain in the kitchen, treadles on dining room floors and call-buttons throughout the house. Many houses still have push-button light switches with brass plates around them.

Old bathrooms sport old tiles of all patterns and shapes, including the omnipresent small hexagonal floor tiles. Wall sconces and glass shelves flank medicine cabinets, with claw-footed bathtubs found from third floors to basements, and granite or marble shower stalls. Remaining hot-water returns speed delivery to far-flung sinks.

Glass-fronted cabinets line butler's pantries and kitchens. Ditto the white enamel sinks on legs, black iron drawer pulls and cabinet fasteners, and occasional dumbwaiters.

Basements have everything from plaster-walled servants' rooms to gas burners to a gentleman's bar with a moving wall that was installed during Prohibition. At one house, an underground tunnel leads to the garage.

Although private stables, and later private garages, originally were not allowed in Roland Park, a few stables remain and today house cars. Some garages had chauffeurs' quarters, now convenient for workshops and storage. Heavy wood doors with windows at the top still swing open or glide on tracks, adding style even to garages in ye olde neighborhoods.

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