For about 28 years, Hattie Fields gazed at a large stone house with a glass breezeway on Liberty Road near the Beltway on her way to and from work.
From her car, as trees bloomed and let free their leaves each year, she would watch as the owners did such things as installing a large window off the living room.
Then, in January 1997, the owners did something to the 2-acre property that really caught her eye.
"My house -- I called it my house because it was my dream -- my house had a 'for sale' sign on it," recalled Fields, who retired in 1988 after teaching elementary school and special education for 32 years.
It took only a couple of weeks for the sign to disappear. But then, in April 1997 it returned. A short time later, Fields found an old birthday card from a relative that asked her a simple question: "When are you going to do something for yourself?"
"I took it as a sign," Fields, 64, said. She wasn't planning to travel or develop a new career or hobby, so she decided to make an offer.
The house, with its three bedrooms and living quarters %o separated by the breezeway, was listed at $179,000. Far too much, Fields reasoned, because of its poor condition. She made a bid of $100,000, figuring the land, occupying a full block between Buckingham Drive and Croydon Road, was worth almost that much.
"It was a take-it-or-leave-it bid," she said.
The owners took it, and Fields became the owner of the house she had coveted for nearly three decades.
"But when we got in here, we found that it had been desecrated, just left in awful shape," she said.
Hardwood floors were in disrepair; walls had holes in them; one side of the house, split by the breezeway, had oil heat, while the other side had gas heat; the kitchen had mice; carpeting and draperies were ugly and old; windows had to be replaced. One connection to the plumbing was exposed.
But the biggest and most unlikely challenge was removing a pay phone installed just inside the house's front door.
"No one wants to take responsibility for it, and no one wanted to remove it. So, finally I think someone just took it away -- I don't really know," Fields recalled.
Since settlement last November, Fields, working with her real estate agent, guided an assortment of contractors, led by Hereford Contractors, in transforming the old house into her home.
"When they gutted it, I didn't want to see it; I don't need to see that," Fields said. She refuses to watch a videotape of construction work taken by one of her sons.
Most of the wooden doors, probably installed when the house was constructed about 1940, remain, painted white like most of the walls and ceilings throughout the house.
"White means you can do so much with your decorating," Fields explained.
The cherry wood on the ceiling of the 5-by-18-foot breezeway remains, although the walls have been painted and a window has been replaced with shelving.
One section of the house has been converted from bedrooms to an apartment with a separate entrance for her son, Courtney, 26. He has a living room, bedroom, newly installed bathroom, family room and space for his aquariums, a mainstay in Fields' old house in the 6400 block of Liberty Road.
She will keep that house, she said, so a relative can live there.
An attic in her living area has been transformed into two bedrooms, and a dormer now provides space for a small bathroom.
"My goal was to use as much of the space as possible, which does not seem to be how it was done by the other owners," Fields said.
The hardwood floors throughout the living area have been restored, a costly but critical decision to protect the old-time feel of the place.
In the living room is a stone fireplace, in need of a new flue crank, a newly installed shelf for her personal items and furniture from her other house.
The dining room features a new gold and crystal chandelier and a long, wall-length mirror, framed in gold. The mirror opens the room up, catches light from the large windows and sets a tone for the house from the side entrance, which Fields plans to use most often.
Fields planned to spend about $40,000 to $50,000 to make "this crazy house," as she often refers to it, her home, but it's taken about twice that much, she said.
"Once you get into it, you can't very easily get out of it," she said. Despite what seemed like an unlikely project for her to take on, her family and friends have been supportive.
"They say to do it, even though I know they think I must be crazy," Fields said.
She moved in earlier this month, the culmination of a process that required great patience and persistence when working with the contractors.
"This is the last house for me, so I figured I should just go ahead and do it the way I want it," Fields said. "There won't be another house for me."
Pub Date: 5/24/98