Until Tonya Osborne came along, hardly anyone ever paid more than $200,000 for a three-story townhouse on Hollins Street in the Baltimore City neighborhood of Union Square.
"I heard through the grapevine," she said, "that many of the neighbors were shocked, and thought I was stupid."
But Osborne, a 33-year-old lawyer with Miles & Stockbridge, knew what she wanted and, in the end, would have the last laugh.
In February 2002, she paid $295,000 for her three-story, end-of-group brick townhouse.
"It had everything to do with the house," she remembered. "As soon as I walked in, I knew it was my house. [It] had every single amenity on my wish list."
When asked what she spent to restore the 3,800-square-foot home back into its 19th-century elegance, she answered: "What you see now is what I got."
And what Tonya Osborne got for her investment was not only a home in perfect condition, with all the draperies, chandeliers, even the dining room furniture, but one that, a decade ago, was the movie set for the Albert Finney film Washington Square.
Seated in the enclosed sunroom in the rear of the 120-foot-long house, it is almost impossible not to feel relaxed. The view from three large windows on the east wall is of a garden, filled with flowering trees and enclosed in a wrought-iron fence. Birdsong, not city traffic, predominates. From the porch's back door, a brick patio and outdoor furniture provide the foreground for a brick carriage house and two-car garage. Osborne notes that these two outbuildings will need about $100,000 worth of work to make a home fit for her parents when they retire.
A tour of the house starts at the sunroom door and will eventually end at the formal front rooms. A small galley kitchen is equipped with every time-saving appliance, but the standout here is built-in, floor-to-ceiling wood cupboards. Original, thin-planked pine flooring, with oak-trimmed borders, runs throughout the house, except in the downstairs front rooms where original parquet was laid down.
Heading north beyond the kitchen, bright buttercup-yellow paint adorns the walls of the breakfast room. Side windows, both here and on all three floors of the eastern side of the house, provide bright light. A brass chandelier hangs from an ornate plaster medallion over a richly carved oak table. Osborne points out that the only money she spent here was in removing ugly wallpaper from the breakfast room and re-painting. That cost her around $40.
The back staircase to the second level leads to a very large room dominated by a pool table. Osborne would love to turn this room into a "gentleman's billiard room" someday.
"I love the decadence of French period furniture," she said, leading the way into the master bedroom at the front of the house, a room fit for royalty.
The sight beyond the heavy door is breathtaking. An enormous four-poster bed of carved, pickled oak is dressed in floral bed linens and is reflected in a floor-to-ceiling gilt mirror between the room's two windows. Wallpaper of green and white stripes complements the greenish hue of the provincial dresser and armoire that match the bed. Osborne says it took five men to get the heavy furniture up the staircase and into the room.
The third floor is occupied by a renter and, according to Osborne, has the nicest bathroom in the house, complete with a sunken tub.
From the landing of the main front staircase, the first-floor hallway gleams in 19th-century decor. A double-door entrance features white voile draperies on its windows, while Oriental carpets in prominent shades of red and blue rest on the parquet floor. French multi-paned doors on the hall's east side open onto the main parlor, where another gilt mirror hangs over a marble fireplace. and soft white furniture coordinates with the off-white walls.
Resting in the window seat of her very formal dining room, mullioned windows as her backdrop, Tonya Osborne speaks honestly of her Union Square "find."
"I love this house because it represents my success," she says. "And I owe that success to my mom and grandmother."