Fourteen years ago, Meredith Bower read in her northern Baltimore community's newsletter a for-sale-by-owner house ad. Her life, and that of her family, was about to change forever.
"I wrote the guy [saying], 'We always loved your house'," said Bower, 46, who is director of communications at Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville.
In the winter of 1994, she and her husband, Craig Bower, 50, vice president of Asian operations at Pall Corp., purchased the 1905 Victorian in the city's Cedarcroft neighborhood. They paid $113,000 for the three-story home on a triangle-shaped acre off a quiet, tree-lined street.
Only the third owners of the home, they knew they were getting a deal. They also knew they would be putting a fair amount of work into it.
"As soon as we took possession, we started ripping wallpaper off," Meredith Bower remembered. "We ripped up carpet and [found] oak floors with walnut inlay, [and] we were thrilled."
The Bowers have been ripping off and tearing down ever since. They estimate they have spent about $100,000 on improvements that included replacing 22 windows, adding an exterior side porch, bumping out the second floor for a master bathroom, and building a 30-by-12-foot family room onto the back of the house.
Today, this family of six (the couple have four children: Emily, 19, Clark, 17, Eliza 15, and Julia, 12) enjoys a spacious family homestead with a feel of both relaxed, Victorian elegance and homespun permanence.
A tree in the front yard soars as tall as the house. A front porch extends around one side. The bright red door opens to a small foyer with a carved oak staircase. To one side, the dining room showcases a Colonial feel in weathered pine furniture that once belonged to Craig Bower's grandparents. A long trestle table accommodates family gatherings in the bright room where four floor-to-ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural light. When night falls, a hanging cast-iron candolier throws gentle beams of light.
On the other side of the hall, the living room, painted a warm shade of yellow with a persimmon-colored accent wall, features a faux fireplace whose Ionic-columned mantle was retrieved from a friend's house. A large framed mirror atop the mantle once hung in the Roland Park childhood home of Meredith Bower. A black textured fabric is affixed to the wall where the hearth opening would be. The overall appearance is amazingly realistic.
"[Two] of our requirements for a house was a front porch and a fireplace," she said. "We had the porch, and now we have a place to hang Christmas stockings."
The large kitchen in the rear of the Bower home boasts the thin-plank oak flooring that pleasantly surprised the couple when they pulled up two layers of linoleum. White laminate cabinets and brightly painted yellow walls exude cheerfulness. A large cork board on the room's east wall serves as a family message center and geography lesson, by way of a world map pinned to the cork.
"We like to travel, and the map is a frame of reference for the kids," Bower said. "Also, Craig travels a lot on business, and we can see where he is."
The family room addition east of the original kitchen is also painted bright yellow and furnished in contemporary club pieces covered in blue duck cloth for durability.
The home's second and third levels house bedrooms and Craig Bower's office, still painted soft pink from the days when it served as Julia's nursery. Each of the four Bower children has a separate bedroom; the older girls' rooms on the third floor are cozily tucked under the house's sloping roof.
Bower looks on her renovated Victorian as a series of continuing projects, but also as an anchor for herself and her family in a neighborhood where they can walk to stores and entertainment.
A wall hanging in the foyer consists of a letter written to the Bower children by the former owner, who also raised children in the house. Considered a family treasure, the letter is a constant welcome -- just as the house has been -- and reads in part: "I hope that you, too, will have a happy childhood here."
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