A TALE OF TWO RENOVATIONS With redesign, vintage homes boast a new sophistication


When two different families each renovated their vintage houses -- one a 1920s cottage on the Severn River; the other a 1940s country home in Baltimore County -- the results were surprisingly similar. Both are sophisticated, yet comfortable and inviting. And both redesigns managed to keep the charm of the homes' distinct eras.

A Waterfront Wonder

A few years ago, interior designer Kim Coale was surprised when she got a call to assist with the design of an older home that two of her clients had just purchased near Annapolis. She had previously helped them with the interior of a townhouse in Bolton Hill and she thought the couple, a doctor and his lawyer wife, were settled quite comfortably in Baltimore.

Her clients, however, had discovered that they were spending more time in a tiny rental bungalow on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay than in the city. "We had been looking for a place on the water for a number of years after we married in 1983," says the wife. "We just liked the serenity that seems to accompany being near the water."

When a Realtor brought them to the house they now call home, they both were intrigued even though the building was painted a dreary brown. After wandering through the rooms, they both came to the same conclusion -- the house had definite possibilities.

"We had been through a renovation with the Bolton Hill house so we knew a little bit about what could be done," says the wife. "And, of course, the view was spectacular." The grounds, edged in azaleas and rhododendron, slope down to the Severn.

After buying the house in 1987, the couple moved right in to get a sense of the place before starting renovations. Their priorities quickly became clear. They knew they wanted easy access to the outside, lots of natural light flooding the house, and open rooms that merged easily with each other. And, they wanted to keep the integrity of the 1920s cottage.

They decided early on that the stucco exterior would remain. But they wanted a change of color. Having vacationed in Key West and Bermuda, they choose pink for the exterior paint. "We loved the tropical look with flowers and foliage, plus I think the brown of the original house really drove us to do something much more colorful and fun," says the wife.

Kim Coale was brought into the project early on. With just about every wall on the home's first floor destined to be ripped out, her first job was whether to replace the walls with arches or columns, to define the spaces. "I really wanted to use columns," she recalls. "I thought they would connect the interiors with the exterior and the wonderful old columns on the riverfront portico, plus I thought columns were more in keeping with the 1920s feel of the house."

The owners agreed to use columns. The walls between the cottage's first-floor bedroom, living room and dining room came down and the columns were placed strategically to join all three spaces in an open floor plan.

Other projects included updating the heating and plumbing systems, renovating the kitchen, adding a series of French doors to the Severn-side of the house, glassing in a screened porch, and raising a section of the roof.

The roof expansion allowed for the creation of a cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom on the second floor, and gave space not only for a glamorous master bath, but also for a small outside balcony, just off the master bedroom. It's a perfect place for the owners to watch sailboats on the Severn.

For Ms. Coale, the goal was to incorporate all the new construction with a design scheme that would be elegant, yet also colorful and comfortable, and in keeping with the 1920s feel of the house. Her clients provided the starting point -- two spruce-green 1925 Nichols carpets, made in China and decorated with luxurious jewel-tone birds, butterflies and flowers.

The carpets define two adjoining sitting areas in the enlarged living room -- one centers on a fireplace, the other on a grand piano. An inlaid Duncan Phyfe breakfast table, a "find" on one of the couple's many shopping expeditions to auctions and antiques shops, separates the two groups of furniture. "My clients were wonderful about finding just the right furniture for the house," Ms. Coale says. "I would suggest something and then they would go out and find it."

Eclectic in style, the house is a repository of interesting items -- including Chinese, Empire and Chippendale pieces -- that the owners have collected over the years. One piece -- a double-sided correspondence desk from a hotel lobby -- helped launch the recent addition of a family area off the kitchen. "They needed somewhere to put the desk," says Ms. Coale.

The couple also wanted a more generous space for family meals, watching television, relaxing. Annapolis architect Fred Fishback, using motifs from the original house, designed a room loaded with architectural features, including a rounded cathedral ceiling and a granite fireplace wall that includes built-in storage for a television set.

Like the rest of the home, the new family room is sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable.

"What I like best about this entire project is that the house has an inviting, undecorated look, but it is still elegant," says Ms. Coale.

Country Charm

Last fall, when the house next door to theirs was about to go on the market, a Hunt Valley couple discussed the possibility of buying it. The husband, a commercial real estate broker, felt strongly that the larger, older home sitting on 3 private acres was a great buy. The wife, a marketing and sales director for a home-health services company, wasn't so sure.

"I really loved the house we were living in," she says, speaking of the small, red cottage she had found while house-hunting in 1992 and bought before she married.

Just a few hundred yards away, the country home loomed before her, but she wasn't attracted to it. "I was attached to the cottage. My husband and I had even had our wedding reception in its gardens."

But when she heard that other neighbors were interested in the 1940s house, she decided to think more carefully about buying it. As much as she enjoyed the cottage, she'd been thinking that one day her family might outgrow it. "One Saturday morning I went over by myself and just walked through the [country] house, trying to make up my mind," she recalls. "The moment of truth came when I realized that if we didn't buy the house, someone else would."

Buoyed by her husband's enthusiasm, she agreed to move. They purchased the house, had architect friend Jack Hollick draw up some rough structural sketches of the renovation, and hired Towson builder Doug Fry to do the work.

The couple had some basic goals -- turn the formal dining room and its adjoining two kitchens into a large family room/kitchen area; enlarge the entrance foyer; enlarge and make year-round an old sun porch; reconfigure a second-floor master bedroom suite.

"All of this was geared to one thing -- view, view view," says the wife. "We wanted all the rooms to have a view of the surrounding countryside. And, we wanted to maintain as much of the charm of the original house as we could."

The project proved extensive. Just about every wall in the house was ripped out. The roof over the main section of the house was pushed up to allow for a master bedroom and bath, both with cathedral ceilings. When a 3-foot bump-out was added to the family room/kitchen, the space above became a small balcony off the master bedroom.

"I think my ignorance was really my salvation," says the wife. "If I had known exactly how extensive and involved the renovation was going to be, I might have been too afraid to get into it." Both she and her husband credit a group of several people -- including many personal friends -- with helping them over the renovation hurdles.

Baltimore architect and friend William Baughages came on board when structural changes proved complicated; friend Jim Turney of Chesapeake Tile and Marble suggested materials for the bathrooms and kitchen; artist Claudia Chappel painted tiles for the kitchen and the master bathroom; friend Susan Oster of Soft Designs created window treatments and helped with paint, paper and fabrics; Camille Quillen and Diane Doccolo, sisters and owners of Great Finds and Designs, assisted with accessories and furniture.

Accessories and furniture were sometimes the catalyst for the renovation. The family room/kitchen was created around wall tiles that Ms. Chappel originally hand-painted for the cottage. The tiles, with a design of vines, set the tone for the green-and-white color combination of the room -- a bright, cheerful and comfortable space with a center island, fireplace and French doors that open to a deck.

The eclectically designed house is sophisticated with a country charm -- the creation of the wife, who's decorating it with the help of friends like Ms. Oster. Its easy style reflects the busy lives of a family that includes two daughters -- one in high school; one in college -- and two corgis.

"One of our goals was to have a very livable house where you always feel welcome to come on in and sit down," says the wife. "I think all the pieces of the renovation work and it just all comes together."

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