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In a Victorian way

The Baltimore Sun

From the ornately decorated entrance hall of her Catonsville home, Andy Braid offers a somewhat unusual welcome to first-time visitors: "If you don't like Victorian, you're in the wrong house."

No mistaking the era here. From the wraparound driveway off the wide, tree-lined street, through a cast-iron gate emblazoned "1895," along a flagstone path to a covered front porch dripping with gingerbread trim, the intent is clear - a trip back in time.

"People feel like they're visiting grandma," said Braid, 49, chief operating officer at nearby Spring Grove Hospital Center.

Originally from Connecticut, Andy (Andrea) Braid began collecting Victorian antiques when she graduated from college, a passion soon taken up by her husband, Bill, and their 16-year-old daughter, Mariel, herself a part-time employee at a local antique shop.

What the family needed 11 years ago was a repository for their treasures.

"My husband called me at work and said, 'Your Victorian house is here in Catonsville. We can't delay,'" Braid remembered. "We looked at it and made an offer the next day."

The Braids paid $215,000 for the three-story, cedar-shingled home on a half-acre. They moved from Towson in October 1997.

While realizing it was a good deal, Braid concedes she stopped counting the dollars that have gone into the home's rehabilitation, focusing instead on hours of "sweat equity" spent on what she lovingly calls her "money pit."

"There are few people who would have worked as hard on a house," she said. "I dare anybody to strip all of this wood, as I have done."

Braid laboriously tackled every bit of the home's molding, bringing it back to its original pine patina. The same amount of work was put into four gas fireplace mantels, along with the pocket doors and pine flooring. Working from a Victorian exterior design book, she also painted the outdoor shutters and trim, a task she refers to as "just so tedious." New 3-inch-wide cedar siding was installed.

Her reward, beyond measure, is a home listed as a Baltimore County Historic District Landmark, the "Ahearn-Braid House," so named after its first and current owners.

The home's 3,500-square-foot interior is ornately Victorian. Built for a large family, the first level contains an entrance hall, parlor, dining room, family room, original kitchen and a kitchen addition with a full bathroom. The second level has three bedrooms and three full baths, and there are three additional large rooms on the third floor.

The entrance hall boasts a period pump organ at the foot of a heavy pine staircase, its newel post adorned with a gilded angel candelabrum. Pocket doors open to the parlor where there's a 1918 Chickering grand piano. Placed among camelback sofas and chairs, Victorian touches include a marble bust on a pedestal (purchased at the closing sale of the landmark East Baltimore restaurant Haussner's) and a collection of cut-glass vanity jars. Soft light enters the room from floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in white lace draperies.

"I love sitting in the parlor and closing the pocket doors," she said. "It takes you back in time."

The family frequently entertains guests in the period dining room that has the home's original furniture, which the Braids purchased along with the house. Family and friends gather around the 10-foot-long, oval oak table, seated on carved oak chairs with leather upholstery. A matching oak cabinet with glass doors displays Andy Braid's china collection, while a sideboard showcases a vast collection of antique silver-plated dining accessories.

From the bay windows of her kitchen addition, modeled after the turret at the front of the home, Andy Braid can look out onto her garden, landscaped with "Miss Kim" lilac bushes and a waterfall leading to a well-stocked koi pond.

At the second-floor landing, in front of a stained glass window original to the home, Andy Braid revels in the restoration of the home she intends never to leave. As for future trips to grandma's house?

"I hope so!" she said.

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