HOME SWEET REMADE HOME Two old interiors get brand-new looks


Redesigning residential interiors is always a challenge. The job is made even more difficult when the redesign is limited to the space that exists -- no additions. Two Baltimore architects have recently completed two such projects. Different in origin and style, the interiors they created are handsome, functional and just what their owners wanted.

From Carriage House to Home

When architect Rebecca Swanston first saw the vintage carriage house bought by her clients, she was immediately intrigued. Designed in 1899 by the New York architectural firm of Hoppin and Koen, the Green Spring Valley building was structurally sturdy, with a well-preserved brick and cedar shingle facade.

But, at that time two years ago, Ms. Swanston could also see signs of benign neglect. With the horses and carriages long gone, the first-floor space had been turned into three garages, and an apartment occupied the second floor. While the exterior exuded lots of faded charm, the interior was dingy, with concrete flooring and exposed studded walls.

Ms. Swanston didn't flinch at the scope of the renovation, though. "I just fell in love with this project on my first visit," she recalls. "You could just see the potential."

Owners Stan and Jeanne Cohen were just as excited when they first saw the house. Recently married, they were looking for a house to restore. The carriage house fit the bill. "A friend told us about the property and when we rode up and saw it, we didn't even get out of the car," remembers Ms. Cohen. They, too, were smitten. The very next day Ms. Cohen talked to Ms. Swanston about renovating.

For six months, Ms. Swanston worked on plans to convert the carriage house to a private residence. The Cohens set no design restrictions, but they talked about what they wanted their home to be -- warm, welcoming and gracious. Ms. Cohen also 'f suggested some traditional elements. Ms. Swanston, who specializes in giving historical properties a new twist, obliged.

Working with general contractor Roy Cox, she had the interior of the building gutted. While carving out the spaces, she kept in mind that the Cohens wanted to keep all the main rooms of the house, including their master bedroom suite, on the first floor. She also decided to include an element of surprise in the design.

"In this house, we never really quite want you to know what's beyond the next corner," she says. "I think this concept is important in the design of any house."

The biggest surprise in the house is the great room -- a 26-by-33-foot space with a ceiling that peaks at about 22 feet. The room is dominated at the far end by a massive quarry-stone fireplace, dry stacked by mason Fitz Gurley. The center of this space is the kitchen work area. Built-in cabinets flank the fireplace and also occupy one wall. On the other side of the room, overlooking the Green Spring Valley, is a series of French doors that open onto a deck.

Ms. Cohen admits to being slightly nervous when she saw the plans for such a large, open space. In addition to the kitchen, the great room includes the only dining area in the house and a cozy niche for watching television. Ms. Cohen knew the look was right, but she was concerned how the space was going to function. Her doubts were unfounded. "The kitchen area works better than any kitchen I have ever had," she says. "We literally live in this one room."

Ms. Swanston was confident when she laid out the plans for the great room. "Contemporary lifestyles don't require separate kitchens and separate dining rooms," she says, "and I knew that Stan and Jeanne live a very contemporary lifestyle."

The decorating style of the room rests on traditional furniture pieces, handsome fabrics picked by Ms. Cohen, and sunny wall colors chosen by interior designer Bill Bigel.

While the great room has a definite contemporary feel, the

adjoining living room is much more formal, with a deep crown molding and a traditional fireplace. Playing off the arched windows of the original building, Ms. Swanston created archways to lead in and out of the room. Classic elements were also repeated in the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the connecting hall, and the small balcony that overlooks the two-story, octagon-shaped foyer.

In addition to the great room and the living room, the main floor also contains the master suite. Upstairs are two bedrooms, two baths and a den. The den holds the surprise of a 15-by-10-foot trompe l'oeil fireplace and surrounding bookcases painted by artist Mary Veiga.

While the interior of the Cohens' home went through extensive remodeling, the exterior was largely left in the original Colonial Revival style.

Becky Swanston is pleased that she was able to preserve the best of the old features, yet create a home that is very livable in the 1990s. "I think what makes me feel the best is that the owners really love living in this house," she says. "They are discovering new things about it every day."

Redoing a rancher

The challenge for Bruce Finkelstein, of HBF plus Architects, was to remake the chopped-up interiors of a 1960s rancher in Glen Arm. He also was asked to develop an environment that would serve as a handsome but neutral showcase for his client's collection of American-made ceramics, fabric art and dolls.

"My basic idea was to create a vocabulary that would give the house a certain consistency," says Mr. Finkelstein. He chose four materials -- natural cherry, slate, galvanized steel and polished black granite -- to do the job. The cherry was for cabinets, floors and structural beams; the slate for alternate flooring; the steel to define special walls; and the granite for features such as kitchen and bathroom counter tops.

The idea to redesign the house came from one of the owners, a lawyer who had previously lived in a 100-year-old farmhouse. "When I first bought the house I knew I wanted to push open all the walls and open up the spaces," she says. "I also knew I wanted the space to remain neutral. I didn't want it to compete with the art or with the outdoors."

Although the woman had never traveled to Japan, she was intrigued with contemporary Japanese architecture. Mr. Finkelstein used this interest to help shape the interiors of the house. "Contemporary Japanese architecture is anything but delicate," he says. "It is very strong, and makes use of bold and broad brush strokes." This was just what the client wanted.

Working with contractor Steven Hulse of Vail Contracting Inc., Mr. Finkelstein had every interior wall in the house torn down. Both the lower level and the main level were gutted. Only the massive stone fireplace that centers the house remained untouched.

Readapting the space was a collaborative effort between Mr. Finkelstein, Mr. Hulse and the owners and included a major realignment of rooms. A bedroom became the kitchen; the dining room became a guest bedroom; a porch became a den; the lower-level family room became the master bedroom suite.

Although a basic plan was drawn up, many of the design decisions were made on the site during construction. Case in point: the galvanized steel walls. Mr. Finkelstein could not find an affordable way to include them. The owners were ready to settle for drywall when Mr. Hulse, on the advice of a duct expert, suggested using galvanized sheet metal -- the same product used in duct work. It worked and the wood-framed angled walls on the main level were covered in steel.

Today, the house functions quite well for its owners. The main level contains the public spaces of the house, which are suited for entertaining because of the open floor plan. These spaces, anchored by the entry foyer and a natural cherry floor that runs throughout, flow easily into one another.

On one side of the foyer are the kitchen, a dining area and a living area, with plenty of space to display crafts. The adjoining living room is dominated by floor-to-ceiling windows and the stone fireplace. A guest room with bath, a den with a bar and built-in cherry cabinets, and a powder room are also a few steps off the foyer.

On the lower level is a master bedroom suite that contains a bed and built-in bookshelves and cabinets planned by interior designer Edward Stough. Also on the lower level is a luxury bath, where black granite is used extensively.

Although the house's interior was completely remade, the exterior of the house remains "a contemporary rancher in the Mies van der Rohe tradition," says Mr. Finkelstein. Nothing was added or removed. Rectangular, low and full of windows, the 30-year-old house seems connected to its wooded surroundings and totally at home in the 1990s as well.

Completed two years ago, the house is a favorite of architect Finkelstein. "This is one of the most satisfying projects that I've ever done because it exemplifies something I really believe in -- a collaborative effort," he says. "Everything came together and we produced something very special."

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