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'Leave-It-to-Beaver' house starts cooking; Chefs: Barbara Bohner and her mother are "start-from-scratch" Italian cooks, a fact that is evident in the well-appointed kitchen of her renovated 1950s rancher.


Balancing precariously on a bench she had placed on her kitchen counter, Barbara Bohner spent hours last fall stenciling clusters of dark purple grapes and soft green grape leaves on the upper portion of a wall.

She had to do it. The makeshift artist's platform was the only way to reach the section of wall between the cathedral ceiling and the half-circle window, and it wouldn't have looked right to her without the stenciling.

And it had to be right. The 40-year-old brick rancher Mrs. Bohner and her husband, David, are remodeling is to be their retirement home. Both 56, they plan to live in the house until they are 70 or until failing health makes it difficult to maintain.

"I was frightened, but I wanted that [stenciling] there and I just envisioned it," she said.

With her husband standing by as a potential one-man rescue squad, Mrs. Bohner completed the stenciling without incident.

Mrs. Bohner, an elementary school counselor, and Mr. Bohner, a retired hospital administrator now in a second career in life insurance, had been house hunting for 18 months when they found the rancher near Timonium in March. The house was on a one-third acre lot in Springlake, a northern Baltimore County neighborhood where the architecture ranges from ranchers of the 1950s to the split-levels of the 1960s to the Colonials of the 1970s.

The rancher had the structural soundness they sought, but its interior retained the look of the "Leave It to Beaver" era.

"They took a house that was extremely ordinary and extremely dated, and updated and enhanced the whole house," said architect Roxana Sinex of Sinex Design, who helped renovate the house. She plans to enter the project in the annual Remodeling Award of Excellence competition sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The centerpiece of the remodeling effort is the kitchen. Mrs. Bohner and her mother, Jennie Tirimacco, who lives with the Bohners four months a year, are "start-from-scratch" Italian cooks. Mr. Bohner's culinary contribution involves beating a few eggs now and then.

"The kitchen was out of date and not well laid out," Sinex said. Part of the usable space was lost to a landing that led to basement stairs. An extension of the rear wall added some space, but the overall dimensions of 11 feet by 15 feet fell short of the Bohner's needs.

"One of the big goals was not just to make it larger, but to open it up to make it feel large," said Sinex. The Bohners added a cathedral ceiling, gained 98 square feet by extending the room, eliminated the stair landing and gained additional light with a half-circle window.

A deck, made of a splinter-free recycled plastic and sawdust material, now wraps around the extension and the adjoining dining room, where sliding glass doors provide access.

The baking center, the heart of the kitchen's work area, was built lower than standard height to accommodate the diminutive statures of Mrs. Bohner and her mother. It features marble tops for rolling dough, a cook top with five burners, double 30-inch ovens and a warming oven for dinner plates.

"We do entertain a lot. People would always hang out in the kitchen with us, so this kitchen was designed for that," Mrs. Bohner said.

To accommodate guests and to meet her desire not to be out of the conversational loop while she cooks, the couple turned part of the kitchen into a conversation center. There, guests can sit in an antique church pew to chat over hors d'oeuvres. On an adjacent wall hang antique kitchen utensils, such as a potato masher and an early cream skimmer. A ship's clock evokes Mr. Bohner's service in the Navy.

Near the conversation center, a piece of furniture that looks like a large walk-in closet, covered in beaded board and finished in distressed Williamsburg blue, opens to reveal a refrigerator. The closet's finish was chosen to complement Mrs. Bohner's collection of Delft and blue willow ware.

The couple planned to extend the dining room when they extended the kitchen, but the idea turned out not to be financially feasible. The Bohners have spent more than $75,000 on renovations to the $156,000 house. "And we're not finished," said Mr. Bohner, alluding to plans to refinish the basement.

One of the first aspects of the renovation was to take up the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors in a warm honey color. The hardwood flooring "adds a sense of flow," Mrs. Bohner said, and sets off colorful area rugs.

The couple had the larger bathroom made handicapped-accessible as a safety measure for her mother. For her husband, a former sailboat owner, Mrs. Bohner painted a sailboat on the shower curtain. They used mirrors and glass to make a small bathroom off the master bedroom appear larger. And they changed all the closet doors to Colonial six-panel doors.

Throughout the house, the furniture is a blend of pieces each brought to their marriage four years ago. The furnishings reflect their shared tastes, from the roll-top desk that belonged to Mr. Bohner's great-grandfather to the crock that Mrs. Bohner's grandmother used to preserve tomatoes at the end of the season.

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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