Home purchase sparked urban renewal for pair Ex-suburbanites now enjoying city life


The Arizona and New York state flags that fly on the front of Sharon Zorella's and Mike Garrett's newly renovated rowhouse on Lennox Street are more than mere decoration. They are reminders of a suburban lifestyle that both have left behind for city living.

It's a move neither of them regret.

"I was Mr. Suburbs most of my life," Garrett said. "Living here in the city is exactly where I want to be."

While many continue to move out of the city, Garrett and Zorella have gone in the opposite direction. Zorella, a native of upstate New York who raised a family in a Colonial in Cockeysville, and Garrett from Arizona, bought their three-story house in 1996 for $70,000 and have restored it with both originality and historical accuracy.

Their home in the 600 block of Lennox Street is in the Mount Royal Terrace Historic District. The area once bordered the main southerly approach to Druid Hill Park and overlooked the Mount Royal Reservoir. Their street dead-ends into a lush narrow park that buffers the neighborhood from the Jones Falls Expressway.

The Queen Anne-style houses with their ornate porches on Mount Royal Terrace are a familiar sight to commuters approaching the North Avenue exit.

"For years on my way to classes at the Maryland Art Institute, I dreamed of owning one of those gingerbread houses and, guess what? I'm just one house off the street," Zorella laughed.

Their home is part of a historically intact block of five houses of pressed brick with brownstone bases and window sills. The cornices are made of intricately corbeled brick and wood, and there is an unusual stained-glass window positioned dead center on all the facades.

Their bold color choice for the door and windows seems to echo their enthusiasm for their new home and lifestyle. Garrett and Zorella have accentuated the rich red brick exterior by painting them a deep, dark blue.

The homes in this once very fashionable late 19th-century district were built for the affluent, and the Garrett-Zorella house is an excellent example, with high ceilings and large, well-proportioned rooms. Creatively furnished in what they call "garage-sale furniture," the unpartitioned first floor gives it an incredibly wide open feel.

The living room merges into the bay-windowed dining area, which is next to an open kitchen where walls are adorned with antique birdhouses and tools.

"When we bought the house, it was done in a classic 1960s manner; a suspended ceiling, brown trim, shag carpeting, and an avocado kitchen," remarked Zorella. "Our neighbor said he knew we had some taste when he saw the carpeting go out the door."

The former owner saved some of the original trim when he did his own renovations, making it easier when they reworked some other rooms.

The majority of the renovation cost went to a new heating and cooling system.

Going up the restored staircase, one passes Garrett's framed collection of sheet music. On the second floor is a new bathroom, now situated at the rear of the house.

The bathtub is nestled against a bay window that contains three enormous windows looking out on a garden.

"There's such a spacious feeling in here that some community groups want to hold meetings in my bathroom," Zorella said.

A master bedroom with an original marble fireplace and original window trim takes up the rest of the floor. The third floor contains guest bedrooms and offices, but most importantly, Garrett's sky-lighted music room.

The two looked for a home in fashionable spots such as Fells Point and Federal Hill, but chose Mount Royal Terrace.

"The houses here are much larger, more elegant and way more affordable," Zorella said. "We're close to everything, the Lyric, the Meyerhoff, you name it." They scoff at the fear of crime by people who would never consider living there.

The original kitchens in the houses in the Mount Royal Terrace district were in the basement with a dumbwaiter delivering the food to the dining room on the first floor. The dumbwaiter is still LTC there, but the Garrett-Zorella basement now houses the crowded workshop of Zorella Restorations, where she restores antique porcelain pottery, dolls and glass for galleries and antique dealers.

From the workshop, one enters a garden in progress. A pond and curvilinear brick paving design will be installed in time for the annual Hidden Garden Walk next month.

Garrett, a vice president for a firm that manufactures movable partitions, is always amazed at the number and variety of birds that come into their yard. Though they are in the heart of the city, their garden with its mature trees and plantings has a tranquil, secluded feel.

In September, that will change when Garrett and Zorella get married and hold the reception at their house. "The whole neighborhood is invited, but I don't know where we'll fit them," Zorella said.

Garrett and Zorella have seen the suburbs and don't want to go back.

"I love this house because the karma is so good; it knows where it belongs. There's a strong sense of energy in this house and in this community," Zorella said. Both are very happy in their newly renovated home but there is a larger sense of what they have accomplished. "Just like my own business, I've preserved something very special," Zorella said with a proud smile.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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