Cottage-Cum-Castle With Curb Appeal


HOT HOUSE: 4405 Greenway, Baltimore 21218

English manor-style house in Guilford,  built in 1913, with landscaped gardens,  courtyard entrance, carriage house with turret room and oval pool.

Seven bedrooms, six and a half baths, half acre or so: $1,125,000 

What:  Lots of curb appeal. From the steeply pitched slate roof, to the tall chimney, gleaming windows and the beautiful stone, this house is a romantic Cotswold cottage-cum-castle. It’s hard to know where to begin. There are interesting sightlines and intriguing rooms throughout the house, all cleverly and thoughtfully designed. An amazed broker states the obvious, “in Scarsdale, this house would be five times the price.” A flagstone circular drive, and iron-gated courtyard at the entrance lead to a separate stone carriage house (garage). Up a spiral staircase in the carriage house is a chauffeur’s apartment/teenager’s dream set-up — one big bedroom with a rough kitchen, bathroom, closet.  Nothing fancy, but your 17-year-old self will smile at the possibilities, and it looks like a lucky kid has been living the life up here.  Inside the main house are rooms, mostly big, some small, with elegant carved moldings, deep baseboards, fireplaces, Georgia pine floors, nice details and windows overlooking the tile patio and formal sunken gardens at the back of the house. The kitchen is unusual – in decoration and in layout. A large L shape, with the first part of the L containing the main sink and appliances as well as a narrow breakfast bar, and the second part of the L accessible through a swinging door into a huge long butler’s pantry with kitchen table. Might be something that just takes getting used to.  Bright red, whimsical wallpaper leads up the stairs to the second and third floors. At the first landing is a lovely arch, with French doors overlooking the garden and letting in the light. The bedrooms upstairs are large and comfortable, many have their own bathrooms. Master bedroom has a large windowed study with fireplace, as well as a dressing room and full bath. Most of the bathrooms need updating (to convert to showers instead of claw-foot tubs), although many have beautiful marble walls and fixtures. There’s a large cedar closet and storage room on the third floor, also a maid’s quarters.  Basement is not finished but, more important, is newly waterproofed. Central air. The gardens are magnificent, formal sunken beds, with a true domed gazebo, a rose allee and the oval swimming pool off to the side.             

Where: On its website, Guilford refers to itself as “the premier neighborhood in Baltimore.” It is certainly the home of some of Baltimore’s finest mansions, with the lovely Sherwood Gardens at its center, and a distinctly more formal feeling than neighboring Roland Park and Homeland. Greenway is the longest and prettiest street in Guilford, and 4405 is close to St. Paul’s Street, a short walk from the gardens. Guilford is a great neighborhood for walking and jogging, very close to Johns Hopkins Homewood campus and Charles Village. 

Why:   It’s a beautiful home — large, impressive and well built — in a grand style. Living here says, “I’ve made it.”

Would Suit: C.E.O, C.F.O, C.O.O, M.D.  V.P.s will have to sit tight and wait. 

NB:  Can’t quite see how that kitchen would work…

Extreme Makeover Comes to Maryland


The Johnson-Goslee family in the town of Mardela Springs in Wicomico County got a knock on the door yesterday from ABC hit television show Extreme Makeover – Home Edition.  

The Baltimore Sun reports that the Eastern Shore family live in an 80 year-old house with no working showers or bathtubs. The construction team, lead by Annapolis builder Fusion Construction, will have until Monday afternoon — 106 hours — to complete the house.

This is not the first time the TV crew has been to Maryland. Last year, the show built a new home for the Boys Hope Girls Hope in Baltimore.

Hundreds of workers and thousands of volunteers will help with the construction. To volunteer contact Fusion.



Sweet Cottage for Simple Living


HOT HOUSE: 601 Walker Avenue, Towson 21212 

Storybook farmhouse  in Lake Walker neighborhood, built in 1891.  Two stories, four bedrooms, one and a half baths on a half acre of landscaped grounds: $250,000 

What:  Ever wish that life could be simpler?  This picturesque 1891 farmhouse cottage and its tiny Lake Walker community are like a trip back in time — and not just because the owners, Robert and Joan Browne, have lived here for over 50 years.  Mr. Browne is a long-time Baltimore artist, and his wife is his favorite model. Together they have filled the house with art and left it much as it was at the turn of the century. Enter through a side gate, onto a small porch and into the entrance hall. Narrow stairs climb to the second floor, and a pretty living and dining room feature long windows that look out to the garden. Across the hall is a wonderful den with fireplace, and bay window overlooking the side garden. Brick herringbone paths wind from here out to the detached shed and artists studio. The kitchen, at the back of the house, is surprisingly spacious, with brick linoleum floor and wooden cabinets, all circa 1970. Just off the kitchen is the half bath, small and dark, in desperate need of a re-do. The basement is a true, unfinished cellar, with an entrance to the back garden. There are hardwood floors throughout, and lots of quirky built-ins and craftsman touches. The bedrooms and one full bath (no master suite here) are all upstairs: short on closets but long on windows and charm. An attic, accessed through pull-down stairs, was once a fifth (servants?) bedroom.  No central air conditioning, but new roof. And a separately deeded parcel of land, included with the property and located  in Baltimore county, which seems to explain the Stoneleigh school district.  A very unique and wonderful property.

Where: Lake Walker is just north of Northern Parkway and east of York Road, right at the city/county line.  It was built at the turn of the century on what remained of the ‘Drumquastle’ estate — a parcel of several hundred acres given to William Govan in 1775 by the sixth Lord Calvert and named after his father’s estate in Scotland. Follow Gittings Avenue east, across York Road, and you’re in Lake Walker — a few streets of cottages and bungalows, well kept and quiet, where, according to Mrs. Browne, “everyone looks out for each other, and there are lots of children.”  From here you can walk to Belvedere Square as well as the multitude of shops on York Road like Panera, Party City, Wells Liquor — the world is your oyster.  The highly-regarded Stoneleigh Elementary is your local public school. 

Why: Unimaginably sweet. Like living in a fairy tale, or your dream grandmother’s house in the woods.  Narrow little stairs, a funny sleeping porch upstairs, the den (with fireplace)  overlooking the garden (with artist studio). Convenient location.  Lots of potential.  And you gotta love the price.

Would Suit: Edward Scissorhands, Tasha Tudor, Pam and Jim from The Office.  

NB: It does need quite a bit of work. Depending on your personality and budget, you could live in the house and slowly bring in into the modern era, or do the major work before you move in. Bathrooms, kitchen, cellar and attic are ripe for renovation.

Four Seasons Hotel to Boost Baltimore’s Scene-Esteem


You know how the story goes, Baltimore. The news gets out that an expensive, chic store, hotel or restaurant is coming to town. It’s a place we could take our fancy Manhattanite friends without having to pull out the defensive “Baltimore has such an underestimated artscene” spiel. The buzz is loud because we are luxury-starved and ready to gorge. And then, just as we are all revved up, our collective lack of confidence kicks in. “It will never make it in Baltimore,” we say, and the self-fulfilling prophecy is soon fulfilled.

Theories abound about why something upscale won’t work here. “New Baltimore money spends in D.C.”  some say. Then there’s, “Old Baltimore money just doesn’t spend.” The fears are not altogether irrational, after all, many luxury stores and restaurants have failed here. Back in the ‘90s, acclaimed chef Michel Richard couldn’t find an audience for his high-end restaurant Citronelle, and there was once a Saks at the Owings Mills Mall for heaven’s sake!  

So it was no surprise when, after the economic downturn of 2008, plans to build the much anticipated Four Seasons hotel in Harbor East came to a halt. The skeptics thought it would never happen, then word came that construction had resumed and the hotel was on track to open in 2011. Would it be a dumbed-down version of the venerable brand? 

Clearly this is not the most important problem facing our city. Hell, it doesn’t even make the list.  But are we to be the town with bad taste forever? Haven’t we evolved? John Waters be damned, we like Heirloom tomatoes and Hermes too!

The reality is Baltimore has changed. While some may be reluctant to see it, one savvy real estate development company seems clued in to the change. H & S Properties has developed Harbor East to satisfy the demand for a more refined urban experience. I have liked most of its efforts. (Did you know that you can get drunk while watching a movie at the Landmark?) But I’ve sometimes doubted its ability to really “bring-it.”  It seemed to fall just short of the mark. So when I had the opportunity to tour the almost completed Baltimore Four Seasons (due to open in November), I had preconceived notions of my own. I expected it would be perfectly adequate. I mean it is the Four Seasons, so I knew it wasn’t going to suck, but I thought it was going to be more of a business hotel that rested on its name, a place where secretaries could confidently book bosses without much homework: nice hotel, great conference rooms, comfortable beds, done. 

I was wrong.

The Four Seasons pulls out all stops. Baltimore, we have arrived.

Despite its location in the center of Harbor East, the hotel is discreetly tucked away, owing to its snug home on the water’s edge. Once inside I realized its International Drive address is the primo spot on the entire harbor and the hotel’s architects have wisely ensured spectacular views throughout. The docked boats look charming, the buildings sleek, and the beloved Domino Sugar sign glows graphic and hip. (H&S owes a special thanks to the Ritz Carlton for the view.) It’s a welcome new iteration of Baltimore.

The building has a total of 42 floors. The hotel, and its 256 rooms, will occupy the first 18 and residences, as yet to be completed, will make up the rest. Although the lobby was still in progress during my tour, I got the vibe that things were going to be very minimalist, using quality materials. Think loads of ivory marble with greige accents — a subtle backdrop for the bright art collection from the “Washington Color School” that will decorate the common areas.  

Judith Dumrauf, director of marketing and our guide that day, explained that the owners (the Four Seasons is just a management company) had exceeded the required spend per square foot of the contract with the Four Seasons and it is evident. The halls and rooms, by San Francisco-based interior design firm BraytonHughes, are dark and swank with attention to detail: sparkling wall panels, gleaming walnut doors and contemporary light fixtures “exclusively designed” for the Baltimore Four Seasons (so don’t be thinking you can get them at West Elm, kids). The rooms feel large (the smallest is just over 500 square feet) and are all designed with a shielded entryway/dressing area plus a place to stow luggage out of sight, a feature most appreciated since I find seeing my husband’s dirty laundry spilling out of his duffel can turn any hotel room very motel. The light, neutral decor is elegant and stylish: mod with just enough creamy luxe to round out the edges, avoiding that “operating room modern” look that so many hotels seem to exude. And of course the view becomes an omnipresent design feature, staring at you through the floor to ceiling glass.

The indoor meeting and function spaces were not the most interesting part of the tour for me. The conference rooms seemed suitably powerful and had the cool effect of making you feel like you were suspended over the harbor. The ballrooms were all done up in taupe shantung panels and dark wood that made the 5,300 square foot hall feel warm and rich. It was when I was shown the outdoor function space that I started planning my daughter’s wedding — she is six. (The wedding business will be a boon to the Four Seasons — Dumrauf tells us ten weddings are already booked.) More on that later.

The dining areas were the most “unconstructed” part of the hotel when I visited, but I got a sense of the space and general direction they were headed. The two-time James Beard Award winner Michael Mina is the concept man behind all three of the hotel’s restaurants which are all fairly casual. First there is Pabu, a Japanese restaurant that is described as an “updated Izakaya-style restaurant that inspires guests to drink and eat casually from the small plate, sushi and robata menus.” It will be open for dinner only. Its extensive cocktail list and repertoire of 100-plus sakes make me think the space will function as the hotel’s primary bar. Next up is Wit & Wisdom, which will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Described as a “tavern,” Wit & Wisdom will feature a live fire grill and a large outdoor patio that looks out on the marina. The menu will focus on “comfort food with Eastern Seaboard sensibilities.” On the tour, there was talk of a huge hand-hammered copper bell that would serve as the visual centerpiece for Wit & Wisdom. I picture a cozy, yummy, fire-lit vibe. Love it. Finally there is LAMILL COFFEE which is a take on the European cafe with counter service and communal tables. Perhaps a much needed casual lunch spot for Harbor East working stiffs? Interestingly, all the restaurant spaces were somewhat open to one another which I think will create a bustling vibe. It all takes full advantage of the waterfront position, which is appropriate. Haven’t we all had that awkward moment when a houseguest expectantly suggests eating on the water and we then have to explain that there is really no great place to do that? Problem solved.

Okay, so let’s get to the superlative stuff, the bells and whistles, the stuff that made me feel like this was less of a Four Seasons hotel and more of a Four Seasons resort.

My dear friends, on the fourth floor there is a spa, a jaw-dropping, transporting, other-worldly spa.  Find men’s and women’s tea lounges, saunas, relaxation rooms and soaking tubs, in addition to 11 treatment rooms. There is also a fitness center if you care for that sort of thing. Everything is well-appointed with finishes as rich looking as any I have ever seen. This is a place where giving into indulgence would feel worth it. This is also a place that will separate me from my money at Warp speed. Of course the success will depend greatly on the talent of the technicians, but the place itself is exquisite.

On the fourth floor, the show-stopper of the tour: a chic rooftop deck with a pool and surrounding bar. I know that sounds like some cheesy Sandal’s ad from the ‘90s but just go with me here: Imagine an infinity pool, alluring but minimal, maybe even a little understated, stone outdoor fireplaces, all kinds of comfy lounge spots and a see-and-be-seen-type of vibe. A canopy would have probably been a smart move (don’t they know Baltimore summers?), but it’s an easy addition once they realize how much more business they’ll get with one.

It all reads so fun and sexy. It almost looked like our cityscape was green-screened behind some trendy Miami hotel, make it Saint Tropez, and yet I was in Baltimore. My Baltimore. I was getting giddy.

The bar will serve some light food and cocktails — I can’t imagine this is not being a huge hit with downtown singles. There was some talk of a private club option on the horizon, which made me wonder what kind of crowd the place will attract. Business women and men? Professional athletes? Valley types? The Four Seasons would do well to think that through. It will probably dictate the long-term success of the bar. 

So Baltimore, what does all of this mean for us? They have built it. Will we come?  I call shotgun and I don’t want to hear any trash talk on the drive downtown.


Splendor in the Woods


One Acre and a Barn, on Brightside

HOT HOUSE: 7340 Brightside Road, Woodbrook 21212 

Contemporary converted barn, circa 1898, with beamed ceilings and open floor plan on 1.2 acres . Four bedrooms, two full and two half baths on two stories: $1,175,000

What: Once an old wooden barn that was part of a larger estate, now a light filled, open-plan home that fits snugly into its gently sloping lot, just steps from Lake Roland.  Completely renovated six years ago, the house has been thoughtfully and historically restored — keeping the integrity of the design, but adding stylish features like wide plank, old growth timber flooring, a new cook’s kitchen with stone and bamboo countertops, wood burning pizza oven, and a large screened porch overlooking the woods. A distinctive arched entry foyer leads directly to the large family room, where wide sliding doors along the wooded back of the house set a casual tone. The doors open onto a stone patio, with good entertaining potential, overlooking the woods. There are nice old wooden beams, as well as fireplaces, in the living room, family room and the roomy eat-in kitchen.  Upstairs, the four bedrooms offer sunny, treetop views of Lake Roland. The windows are double-paned, there is central air and electric heat. As a bonus, there is a neat old “bank barn” next to the house, a former stable (and chicken coop!)built into the bank of the hillside. It has the original doors and new French drains to keep it dry. It would make a wonderful guest house or studio.  

Where: Brightside is one of the most desirable streets in Woodbrook (adjacent to Ruxton but not quite Ruxton), a private, rural-ish road with lovely homes just a minute or two from the Baltimore City line. Heading north from the city on Charles Street, take a left at the light onto Bellona Avenue. Brightside is on your left, about a half mile down Bellona, and 7340 is at the end of the street, just before the lake. 

Why: Clean lines, unpretentious design, feeling of open space, nice details, that bank barn, and access to the wooded trails and shoreline of Lake Roland.  

Would Suit: Family (or not) who appreciate the woodsy property and the old/new aspect of the house.  

NB:  Although the trail-walking is great, “destination walking” is not really possible from here. No sidewalks, plus cars speed along Bellona in a rush to Graul’s. 

What’s Your Make-Me-Move Price?


There’s a story going around, confirmed by real estate people in-the-know, that an executive with Pandora Jewelry, which makes charms and bracelets, rings and necklaces and other tchotkes, has paid twice the value for a house in Baltimore County’s Greenspring Valley. The house, lovely inside and out with pastoral views and lots of lush, green horse-y acreage, was owned and loved for decades by an old Baltimore family who had no intention of moving but faced an offer it could not refuse. 

So the story begs the question: How much would it take to make you move? We all grow emotionally attached to our houses, of course, but everyone has a “make me move” price. Real estate website Zillow, which lists and values properties, encourages home owners to list their “Make Me Move” price, calling it a “free and easy way to let others know what you’d sell your home for.”

In this economy, not many of us will be lucky enough to get that magic number. Even in a good economy, most of us wouldn’t be lucky enough to get that magic number, so it’s no wonder that when it does happen, it has neighbors’ tongues wagging.

Pandora Jewelry is a multi-million-dollar company headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. It employs over 5,000 people worldwide. Before its initial public offering last October, the BBJ reported the company hired Baltimore marketing company GVK to develop branding and communication strategies. Maybe the IPO windfall afforded the executive a giddy I-can-buy-whatever-I-want moment?

Tell us your Make-Me-Move price in the comments — maybe you’ll find a buyer. (We fully expect a commission, of course.)

Jenna Bush House Update


A visit to Federal Hill last week got me thinking, “What ever happened to Jenna Bush Hager’s house?” After a little digging I found this post from our friends over at DCCurbed. Seems that after the Hagars lowered the asking price, there was still a whole lot of nothing. It was taken off the market in the beginning of July and is being rented now for $2,650 a month. Do you think the renters call Jenna when the dishwasher clogs?

Rambling Roland Park Beauty


HOT HOUSE: 204 Ridgewood Road, Baltimore 21210

A uniquely designed shingle-style mansion in Roland Park, built in 1900.  Over five thousand square ft. house on a one acre lot, with eight bedrooms, five baths, six working fireplaces and porches with views: $1,195,000


What: Holy gables, batman! A prime example of this great American architecture style. What’s special, besides the wide, domed gable in the front, is the amount of natural light that floods the interior from large, well-placed windows on the south-facing rear of the house. Porches wrap the house and overlook landscaped gardens, sloping lawn and trees. Enter the grand foyer, where sunshine from a huge, leaded glass window at the top of the double-wide stairs pours down to illuminate the ground floor. Sightlines are nicely designed, there are views of porches and sky from nearly every room. Large dining room to the right of the entrance hall, with the gourmet kitchen behind — it’s distinctive turquoise cabinetry might not be your first choice, but it works. Left side of the entrance has the living room, opening to a family room behind. All these rooms are big, (like 20’x15)’ so you may need to up the furniture budget.

Upstairs, many bedrooms, brochure says five, you could call it eight. The master bedroom has walk-in closets and en-suite bathroom, all on the old-fashioned side.  Bathrooms could use some updating too, showers are small. On the upside, there are several very functional claw-footed bathtubs.  The third floor has a wonderful artists studio, with windows on three sides, a few other bedrooms and a fantastic long narrow, light-filled room lined with built-in cabinets and drawers, like a butler’s pantry. There are also several enclosed porches with leaded glass windows. Hardwood floors throughout, unfinished basement, four-zoned radiator heating and a/c.

Where: Ridgewood Road leads off of Roland Avenue heading south, turn right just a few feet before Cold Spring Lane. Many of Roland Park’s prettiest houses are here, and there are sidewalks wide enough for dogs and strollers, making the ten minute stroll to Petit Louis or Eddie’s a pleasure. Literally two minutes to 83, via Cold Spring Lane, so a 10-minute drive to downtown Baltimore.  

Why:  The third floor artist studio, the porches, the back yard, the wide and generous spaces, the wonderful windows.

Would Suit: Executive family new to Baltimore, can’t believe what $1.2 million gets you here.  Landed Baltimore family, ready to ditch the starter home, not ready for the Valley.  Architecture buffs.

Why not: You can hear, but not see, Cold Spring Lane behind the wooded backyard. 

Baltimore County Estate With A Grand Past Languishes in Foreclosure


I am often approached by friends with ideas for “Houstory” subjects. While I appreciate the enthusiasm (truly, I do), there have been some suggestions that have been off. For example, a friend told me about a house in her neighborhood where a murder had taken place in the ‘50s. Today, the same house is subject to late night police intervention to settle frequent domestic disputes. The angle for the story, she breezily explained, would be a prediction that history would repeat itself in this same, apparently cursed, home. Um, thanks anyway.

So you can understand my hesitation when, in the spring, my most eccentric friend suggested a story on a house he had discovered on one of his “drunk dog-walks.” (Don’t ask. I certainly didn’t.) “It’s old, romantic and oozing history,” he said, “one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen…we can go look at it now.” My friend knows extraordinary homes (some might tie his eccentricities to a life of dysfunctional privilege), so my curiosity was piqued. When he revealed the house had been put up for auction and no one had bid, I knew I had to see it. I had an hour to kill before carpool, he seemed relatively sober; off we went.

We drove slowly up the very discreet and lovely Stewart Road in Stevenson, noting all the pretty houses as we passed, and there are plenty. (Some of them are still inhabited by the descendants of the early owners of the house we were headed to spy.) At the end of the road we came to a newish-looking security gate, half covered in overgrown grass with a brass plate that read “Cliffeholme.” The locked gate forced us to officially trespass, hopping over it and continuing on foot–nervously. We agreed, if caught, we’d say, “We’re interested in the house.” Only when I got a full view of the place did I (in Gap yoga pants and a dirty T) realize just how lame that excuse would seem.

Cliffeholme is simply breathtaking. It is a tudor-style masterpiece on 9-acres that, to my eye, makes the country aesthetic of the typical Baltimore County mansion seem crude and even a little Podunk. Maybe it was because I was in the throes of an affair with the BBC series Downtown Abbey, or maybe because The Secret Garden was the first book I really fell for, or because I had just seen the beautiful new film adaptation of Jane Eyre, but I was mesmerized. I could see past the sad signs of decline (the home has been uninhabited for three years) and pictured Cliffeholme in its heyday: little girls with huge bows in their curls playing on the lawn, a father returning from the hunt dressed in natty riding gear, ample-bosomed servants scurrying to fix supper as an aristocratic matriarch looks on. Turns out, I was right on the money.


The house that eventually became Cliffeholme was built in 1848 by James Howard, son of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard. As president of the Baltimore and Susquehanna railroad, Mr. Howard was responsible for building the “Green Spring Branch” of the local train route–he built his house adjacent to the newly erected “Eccleston Station.” Sadly, he sold the house a mere six years later, when his wife, Catherine, died. One can assume that the house held too many memories. Adding to the romantic tragedy is a deed dated nine months after her death that listed the widower as “James Howard, Lunatic.”

Better days lay ahead for Cliffeholme when it was purchased in 1872 by Charles Morton Stewart from Robert North Elder. Stewart bought Cliffeholme as a summer house. At the time, it was “a square, deeply walled old house, rather plain in appearance inside and out,” according to Dawn F. Thomas who wrote The Greenspring Valley: Its History and Heritage. Mr. Stewart was a shipping magnate who made his fortune bringing Brazilian coffee to the United States. With oodles of money, 18 kids and loads of fancy friends, the Stewarts were ready to splash out on their new summer pad. Two large parlors were constructed along with a study, picture gallery, library and “dancing room,” while the basement was outfitted to house the kitchen, laundry, servants’ quarters and a “lock-up” storeroom. Now party-ready, Cliffeholme served as a backdrop for all types of elite social fun. The Stewarts held a variety of fox hunting events and timber races on the grounds as well as a literary and artistic salon which counted Charles Dickens among its guests. Eleanor Stewart Heiser, a daughter of Charles Morton Stewart, recalled the family’s grand travel style in her book, Days Gone By.

“Two wagons transported steamer trunks to the estate, while the older children and servants traveled by steam train to Eccleston. Finally, Mrs. Stewart and her coachmen, dressed in the Stewart livery, green broadcloth piped in red with a gold lace band around the black silk hat, headed out with the little ones in the family carriage.”

Today they would definitely be in the private plane set.

“There were 13 master bedrooms. A large veranda encircled the house, which Mother had measured to know how many times ‘up and down’ made a mile, and on rainy days many constitutionals were taken there.” The Stewarts occupied Cliffeholme for nearly 60 idyllic years. Halcyon days, indeed.

The next chapter in Cliffeholme’s story belongs to Charles Alexander, founder of Alexander & Alexander, the Baltimore insurance brokerage. He purchased the home at the height of the Jazz Age (another delicious image) and initiated a renovation that is responsible for many of the home’s distinguishing characteristics. He covered its facade in cream-colored stucco and changed windows to casements with mullions and leaded glass. He added a great window set over the entrance, enfusing a Masterpiece Theater flare. Other architectural highlights include the marble fireplaces and mantels (13 in all), finely detailed crown and dental moldings and mahogany paneling. He also renovated the bathrooms with I920s fixtures like elegant porcelain pedestal sinks and tubs large enough to hold visiting President William Howard Taft, who was a hefty 300-plus pounds. Charles Alexander died in 1958 and an auction of his books, paintings and antiques was held a Cliffeholme. (Can you imagine the treasures?)

A year later, Cliffeholme was sold to Reuben and Beatrice Fedderman. The Feddermans owned an East Baltimore furniture store and spent their time raising two kids and tending to their business. The days of the large glamourous parties and illustrious guests were over. Decades later, when the house became too expensive to heat, Mr. and Mrs. Fedderman took up residence in the basement, leaving the upper floors to the vagaries of benign neglect.

When the couple finally decided to sell the house in 1998, it was in need of major renovation and languished on the market for years. Laureate Education Chairman and C.E.O. and Sylvan Learning founder Doug Becker bought it with plans to renovate it with his new bride. The newlyweds ultimately abandoned the plan and soon the house was on the market again.

Unfortunately, Becker had done little to the place (he never moved in), so it faced the same obstacles that kept it on the market before: tons of expensive renovations, unlivable quarters due to disrepair, and a massive house too big for family life in the new century.

One of the many obstacles to purchase were the contingencies. Every potential buyer ordered a house inspection and the results–termites, an oil tank buried beneath the yard, major roof repair, replacement of all systems–soured the deal.

In 2002, just when Becker had verbally closed the deal with a local family, Larry Cohoon, a Texas businessman who found the property for sale in the Wall Street Journal, swooped in with a $1.1 million cash offer, no contingencies.


An out-of-towner in one of Baltimore’s most storied houses? The new owner made neighbors uneasy. But at least he had the money to fix up the place–or ruin it depending on your taste.

The discovery of a website devoted to the house, with shots of the “parking lot,” increased suspicion about the Texan’s motives. Was he planning to use it for some other purpose? Weddings? Bar Mitzvahs? These possibilities never came to pass thanks to a move by neighbors to put the property in the Maryland Historical Trust.

One year and $2 million later, the house was transformed, and in 2004, Melinda and Steve Geppi, head of Diamond Comics and Baltimore Magazine publisher, bought the mansion for $4.8 million. 

Geppi’s financial woes are well known so we won’t go into details here, but after he placed the property on the market in 2009 for $7.7 million, the house went into foreclosure and eventually to auction in 2010. Bidding opened at $3.7 million, but no one bought it.

Bank of America owns Cliffeholme now. It still maintains its old world luster but with the added vulgarity of modern times: custom audio and lighting, a wine room, a home theater, a gourmet kitchen with granite up one side and down the other, and, of course, a gym.

Where are Cliffeholme’s next house-passionate, extravagant party-throwing owners, and mightn’t they like to open the gate and have me over for a casual design consultation? Wait, first let me change from yoga clothes to cocktail.

Stemmer House Sells in Eleventh Hour


The Sun reported last week that Stemmer House sold the night before it was to go to auction. But to whom? The Sun could not get the details. We have been poking around all week to get someone to identify the new owner so we could report it to you, dear reader, but to no avail.  Now we appeal to you: Does anyone know who has the house estate under contract?

Let us know in the comments.