Baltimore row house...

There was a time during the late 80's, early 90's when we were spending a lot of time bumming around old Baltimore City. There was a significant revitalization effort going on around the waterfront areas. We decided, for a lot of different and mostly sane reasons, to try our hand at restoring an old row house. This particular group of buildings dates to around 1820, we think. As originally built it was two stories with two bedrooms on the second floor a living room and kitchen on the first floor. Two more two-story additions were put on in later years.

There was not a lot of structural engineering done in those days. For example the floor joists on the first floor were rough 4 x 10's on 12 inch centers spanning 16 feet; very sturdy. However, the second floor ceiling was 2 x 4's on 24 inch centers carrying the lathe and plaster ceiling across the same 16 feet! Major sagging ceiling! There were the vestiges of several different gas line systems, and much evidence of early electrical systems. When we bought the place, the old brick had been covered with what is locally called 'formstone'. It is cast-in-place concrete on a wire mesh which was put on in the 30's (I believe) to supposedly improve the appearance of these old building. The cornice at the top had mostly rotted away and what was left had been covered with aluminum. The aluminum awnings didn't really add period character. In this picture of the front of the building you can see the changes we made. The 'formstone' has been removed and the old brickwork repointed. I made new doors and windows. I made and replaced all the blocks and moldings on the cornice. My up-hill neighbors weren't interested in getting involved in this kind of project, but they did let me wrap my new woodwork onto the front of their unit. Some folks have heard me talk about running a 3-inch router bit in a table and how exciting it was. The doors are full 1 and 3/4 thick and have cathedral raised panels. These curved raised panels were made by gently easing the wood into this three-inch cutter sitting in the middle of a router table. Glad I only had a few to make! The white marble steps were originally flanked by additional marble decoration at the lower portion of the building. You can see where the poorer brick was installed and intended to be covered by the marble.

I made this side-entry door with transom and sidelights. If the whole thing looks a little cockeyed, well, it is. The old building was nearly three inches out of plumb across the doorframe so I compensated here and there and did the best I could to balance the appearance and still have the door work.

This stairway is completely new. The only pieces that are original are the Walnut newel post and the piece of handrail rising to the second floor. The Walnut post had been painted white! This is looking down the stairs. Originally there was a wall at the top of the stairs. I removed the wall and wrapped the railings around to make a balcony. I made the stair treads out of hickory, as is the rest of the floor. I used poplar for the stringers. Due to the slope and curve of the stairs, the stringers are quite wide. I made the wall-side stringer from two pieces of poplar and joined them with a little turned thing similar to the ones at the top, bottom and the corner of the stairs. I doubt I'd have ever figured out how to make one of these staircases from scratch, but by keeping track of the dimensions on the old ones and with some fiddling here and there I was able to get a pretty acceptable product. I turned all the new balusters from maple. The handrail and post at the top of the stairs is Walnut like the original. The fancy wooden bedroom door there? It is a stained and varnished masonite hollow-core door! Oh, I made and assembled the stairs at Highland House and then reassembled them in Baltimore. It wasn't too tricky to temporarily prop them up in the basement.

Old Baltimore was fun for a while, but we have moved on to less vigorous, smaller, and more local projects.