For a glimpse of the palatial opulence of America's Gilded Age, take a peek at Nick Piscatelli's meticulously restored home in Baltimore's Mount Vernon.
Piscatelli, 58, a real estate broker and developer, took on the job in 2005 when he bought the free-standing, three-story brick house at a busy intersection just blocks north of the Washington Monument.
"Gems like this home come along rarely," he said. "It was never converted into apartments. I can understand why it has had an average ownership of 40 years, having had only three owners in the last 120 years."
The house, according to Piscatelli, was built in 1885 for the wealthy and philanthropic George Carroll Jenkins family as an in-town residence, their summer home being Villa Julie in Baltimore County. In 1899, the family added a first-floor office and solarium to the west end of the house and completely tore out the main house. Well-traveled, they saw firsthand the wealth brought about by the Industrial Revolution and how successful entrepreneurs were building grand homes - the visible symbol of their achievements. The Jenkins family reinvented their Baltimore residence, with the help of immigrant artisans.
By 2005, however, when Piscatelli purchased the 8,000-square-foot home for $500,000, the property was the headquarters for the Baltimore City Teachers Association. Piscatelli, who had rented office space there since 1996, convinced the association to let him buy the home, which had fallen into disrepair.
"I was prepared for the work," Piscatelli said. "I renovated houses around the city - Bolton Hill, Eutaw Place, Charles Village, Guilford and Scarlett Place. I had the experience to do it, but never to this level."
The restoration ended up costing "double what I projected," Piscatelli said. "When you do an historical restoration, there is no budget if you want to do it right."
The fruits of Piscatelli's labor - from February 2005 to November last year (when he moved in) - are evident at the expansive center hall extending the full 70-foot depth. The original oyster-cracker floor tiles and oak paneling are intact. The coffered ceiling features hand-painted dragonflies, picking up the motif from a stained glass chandelier hanging from the 13-foot ceiling.
The dining room, Piscatelli's favorite, is paneled in Honduras mahogany trimmed in gilt. A crystal chandelier hangs over a mahogany, triple-pedestal table, oval in shape to accentuate the hand-carved ceiling medallion overhead. All of the furniture in the room is original to the house and from the Baltimore manufacturer, Pothast. Leaded-glass bay windows feature the original, interior mahogany shutters.
The living room, on the opposite side of the hall, is ornate, of the Italianate style. Intricate plaster molding and rough plaster walls serve as a background to furniture upholstered in white-on-white floral damask. Beyond the room's carved marble fireplace, a door opens onto a side garden paved in slate with a center fountain.
Opening off the living room is a billiard room filled with Piscatelli's collection of framed French posters. A large gilt mirror hangs above a faux-slate fireplace, the only one in the home that had to be replaced.
Piscatelli's kitchen, once a preparation area for an outdoor cooking building, was completely redone with a tin ceiling, granite countertops, cherry cabinets and a hand-painted mural of Tuscan fields. A 1929 Otis elevator, restored and in full working condition, takes up a corner.
The home's west-wing solarium, with its original mosaic flooring and tile walls, and an octagonal office paneled in black chestnut wood, have undergone the same careful restoration as the main level rooms.
A winding oak staircase to the second level showcases a grand stained-glass window at the landing, one of many such windows and panels throughout the house. Two master suites, complete with sitting rooms and bathroom, make up the second level, while the home's third floor has been restored as a potential apartment.
"A lot of care was taken in this restoration," said Piscatelli, who took advantage of historic tax credits to help with the costs.
"I've renovated a lot of houses," he said. "But this is the one I want to live in until I die."