New chapter for an old house

The Baltimore Sun

Gazing out the window in what once was Anne Tyler's writing room - the second-floor room next to the master bedroom and a small enclosed porch - it's easy to imagine her characters on the lawn below, beckoning her to follow.

There's Jeremy Pauling, the painfully shy collage artist from Celestial Navigation. He's gathered all his courage and is waiting on the sidewalk outside the handsome French Country house built in 1933 at 222 Tunbridge Road, blinking in the sunlight.

Standing next to him is Macon Leary from The Accidental Tourist. Macon, a travel writer who hates to travel, has courageously left his cozy armchair in front of the fireplace to explore a new vista, albeit one just a few miles off.

Down the street, Barnaby Gaitlin, the kind-hearted handyman from A Patchwork Planet, has just disappeared from view, his arms full of moving boxes.

They've moved on, and so has Tyler. The author, who has chronicled Baltimore so lovingly in 17 novels, has put her Homeland home of 38 years on the market. She's living in an upscale condominium a couple of miles away.

The white stone, nook-and-cranny house with green shutters and trim is priced at $599,900. A two-hour open house yesterday afternoon attracted a few dozen buyers; relatively few seemed aware that the dwelling is owned by a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

"Anne and Taghi did a ton of entertaining, but they didn't change the basic nature of the house," says Lucy Meyer Sarris, the listing agent and a longtime friend of Tyler's and of her late husband, Taghi Modarressi.

"I think the kitchen cabinets were there when they first moved in. And that seems to me to be quintessential Anne Tyler. She wanted to let the house be what it was and not impose changes."

Still, Sarris says, "I've never been in a house so serene."

Part of that serenity was the light pouring through the windows, even in the late afternoon, courtesy of the bay window in the living room. Part was the absence of knick-knacks, of stuff that had to be looked at and fussed over and cleaned. Furnishings, Sarris says, never were more than an Oriental rug and a chair or two. And part was the novelist's preferred color scheme of deep-water blues and slate greens, and a monochromatic bathroom in black and white.

But it, like many charming old houses, has its mysteries. Take the shutters outside the writing room. Someone has carved VXIIII on one of them in a precise and well-controlled script. Who? And why?

Neighbor Ann Peebles stopped by to scope out the competition. The house that she and her husband, Ross, own one block away is also on the market.

Peebles is a fan of Tyler's. As she poked into the bathroom with the subtle blue-and-cream striped wallpaper, it brought to her mind the scene in The Accidental Tourist when the newly separated Macon takes efficiency to the level of near-mania and begins to shower with his clothes on so he won't have to wash them separately.

"I have little snapshots in my head of different moments from her books," she says. "I've always thought she had a wonderful talent for capturing people's quirks without making them seem odd."

It may be that a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house is too large for one person. Modarressi, a psychiatrist, died in 1997; the couple's two daughters are adults.

"This is the house where she was married and where she and Taghi made their nest," Sarris says.

"She loved her kitchen, and she misses it. She loved having a fire in the fireplace and having friends over for a glass of wine at 5 p.m."

But the novelist has begun a new phase in her life, and her most recent books reflect that. Maryam Yazdan in Digging to America is widowed, dotes on her grandchild and lives quite happily on her own.

"Anne and I looked for years off and on before we found her new place," Sarris says. "The moment she saw it, she knew it was the one. She was so excited, and every stick of furniture, every pot, fits perfectly. I think she's come to terms with moving on."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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