Hollins Street Renewal
125-year-old townhouse in Union Square gets makeover but keeps its elegant touches
By Marie Gullard
Having grown up in Philadelphia, Karen Fretz knew the value of buying a piece of history. And that is exactly what she and her husband did in Baltimore when they bought a 125-year-old Hollins Street property, next door to the H.L. Mencken House on Union Square
"I loved my house even when it wasn't nice," she says with a laugh.
That was in 1985. The three-story, red brick townhouse in the West Baltimore neighborhood was on the market for $60,000.
"You should have seen it," Fretz continued. "Back then, this was slum real estate. The seller got a very good deal."
But Fretz, a 49-year-old health club associate, and her husband, Jim, had no illusions about what lay ahead. They decided they would not add on to the 3,200-square-foot house, but rather, tear down and rebuild where necessary.
Fretz estimates that the couple easily spent $200,000 on renovations that included a rebuilt sunroom and kitchen, new roof, drywall, a first-floor bathroom, and new doors and windows.
The house is 18 feet wide and its length shortens at each level. The first floor stretches 75 feet deep and accommodates five rooms; the second floor is 60 feet deep, and the third - with just two rooms - is half of that.
On the first floor, a double door opens onto a hallway and staircase along one side of the house. The living room is formal and elegant, with an original plaster medallion on the 13-foot-high ceiling and a crystal chandelier. A floor-to-ceiling, gilt-framed mirror hangs between narrow, floor-to-ceiling windows decorated in red and gold draperies. A 100-year-old Schubert mahogany grand piano, a gift from Fretz's grandmother, sits in front of the windows.
Two camelback sofas sit perpendicular to each other at the north side of the room. Daughter Katherine's colorful, childhood artwork is matted, framed and displayed on two of the living room's walls.
In the dining room, Fretz placed the 12-foot-long pine table at an angle to offset the room's square proportions. Ladder-back chairs surround the table, and walls are painted a deep red.
The kitchen, completely redone, boasts 42-inch-high white laminate cabinets and white appliances, deep green laminate countertops and a tin-look ceiling painted in a matching green color.
Beyond the kitchen is the rebuilt sunroom, whose decor, Fretz said, runs "from IKEA to Lombard Street trash." She salvaged a traditional sofa from the trash collector. A Chinese-style black lacquer secretary with hand-painted scenes gives the room drama.
"Contrary to popular belief, dark walls don't make a room [appear] smaller," Fretz said of her second-floor family room and third-floor master suite. "It actually provides depth."
In these two spaces, she has painted the walls a deep navy, which in the bedroom enhances the warmth of walnut furniture.
The home's 75-foot-deep backyard includes a fountain, brick walkway, and variety of trees and shrubs. A brick wall separates it from the home of Mencken, the famed Baltimore writer and newspaperman.
Even after 22 years, the couple still faces several projects. The staircases need refinishing, and a second-floor rear storage room has to be refurbished.
"People who will live in a house like this must have a passion for history, architecture and art," Fretz concluded. "This is not some lightweight project. This is heavy-duty."
See the original Baltimore Sun article:
Hollins Street renewal - Baltimore Sun