Driving down Russell Street on the way out of Baltimore, it’s hard to miss the giant orange warehouse sign: WHAT IS AND WHAT CAN BE. This is the unofficial mission statement for the non-profit Second Chance. Its official mission: Retrain, Reclaim and Renew. That is, to retrain people, many just out of prison, for full employment; to reclaim building materials and architectural salvage for use in renovation and new construction, and to renew usable materials to help eliminate waste in the environment.

Mark Foster is the founder and CEO of Second Chance, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that has created thousands of “green collar” jobs for the hardest-to-employ in the years since it started in 2001. At the time, Mark and his wife Mary Blake were looking for historically accurate materials to fix up their own house in Roland Park. The complications of finding and repurposing architectural salvage sparked the idea for Second Chance. “There are basically two ways to go with this kind of business,” says Foster, “for-profit and non-profit. Serving the community made it an easy decision.”

Second chance house
Photo by Anne Gummerson.

The idea is simple and appealing. When people donate unwanted building materials or architectural salvage, they get a tax deduction of the fair market value of the materials up to $5,000 (after $5,000, an appraisal is required). “People respond to the tax deduction, the benefit for people, and the environmental aspect,” says
Foster.  Second Chance trains workers in demolition and removal of materials, as well as moving the goods and managing the warehouse — a huge, 250,000 sq. ft. facility about the size of three Home Depots.

The size of the warehouse, and the fact that it is unheated in winter and uncooled in summer, can make it hard for customers to reimagine how to use the largely unsexy materials that form the bulk of Second Chance’s business. For every antique window, wrought-iron gate or mid-century find, there are hundreds of say, refrigerators — many of them brand new. Ditto toilets, sinks, stoves, doorknobs, tiles and reclaimed wood.

What they needed was a showroom. And for the past year or so, Foster has been building one, a “concept house,” piece by repurposed piece.

Second Chance house
Photo by Anne Gummerson.

This is the Second Chance concept house. Steps from the Loch Raven reservoir, and sitting well back on its two+ acre lot on Seminary Road, it looks at first glance like typical high-end new construction: an 8,300 sq. ft. shingle-style house with a circular driveway and a three-car garage in the back.

It’s impressive and stylish, with Hardiplank siding and architectural shingles, but the real story is on the inside. Here, reclaimed materials, both vintage and brand new, have been incorporated in the home’s design and construction. With them comes character and a borrowed history that brings the house to life.

Second Chance house.
Photo by Anne Gummerson.

When we visited back in March, the house was still in a raw state, its wood floors unstained, woodwork unpainted, tile and marble waiting to be installed.  These proved to be optimal conditions for observing the process of repurposing – how vintage and reclaimed materials are worked into an original home design. “Flexibility is the key,” says Foster, “You have to be willing to be creative, bend the plans, take a little more time to make things fit.”  

Through the (repurposed) front door, the house flows around to the left.  The first vista is through a mahogany-paneled library to a striking vintage fireplace on the far wall, its chocolate brown marble veined with streaks of white. As we linger, Foster describes how the carved paneling, taken from an old home in Potomac, was pieced into its new surroundings. The new joints and seams are visible when pointed out, but quality and workmanship are the main impressions.  

Second Chance house
In chocolate brown marble with white veining, a vintage fireplace acts as the room’s focal point. Photo by Anne Gummerson.

From the library, you walk through an antique oak double door, whose old hardware and soft patina were acquired in a former life in an Eastern Shore carriage house. “Windows and doors are the easiest things to repurpose,” Foster says, “especially in new construction. That, and flooring.”

Second Chance house
Double oak doors from an Eastern Shore carriage house. Photo by Anne Gummerson.  

Every room in the Second Chance concept house, with the exception of bathrooms, uses wood flooring removed from building sites by Second Chance training program participants – over a dozen sites in multiple states. The variety is tremendous: floors of English oak removed from a Bethesda residence. Random-width hickory, walnut, Douglas fir,  and heart pine. Cherry wood floors from the former Eastern Shore home of Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson!). Floors of heart pine from St. Peter’s Basilica in Baltimore. Eventually, they will be polished and uniformly stained, but now, in their unfinished state, the unique color and grain of each board is clearly seen.

As we come into the 40’x30’ expanse and 20’ height of the great room/kitchen, the effect is light, airy, and completely modern. Here, the windows and doors were recycled from new construction. A large wooden fireplace —  removed from a Florida home by Second Chance — dominates the wall on one end. At the other end are oak built-ins from a 1950’s home in Bethesda, customized for their new location. A cluster of spotlights, future chandeliers, at each end of the room are raised and lowered electronically when the bulbs need to be changed. The wiring and technology in the house are all new. “Technology is not really where you want to employ used material,” says Foster.

Second Chance House.
Photo by Anne Gummerson.

The first-floor master bath is clad top to bottom in marble tile selected from donated tile at Second Chance. The thickness and matte finish of the Carrera marble tiles make the huge steam shower (the house has three reclaimed but new steam showers) feel like a Roman bath.

Second Chance house
Photo by Anne Gummerson.

A large open landing on the second floor overlooks the great room.  Off the landing is a wood-lined office, with partners desks and cabinetry taken from the home of a retail magnate whose projected $21 million dollar home in York, Pa. was never finished. Much of its high-quality materials were donated to Second Chance.

Second Chance house
Bed alcove lined in repurposed timber. Photo by Anne Gummerson.

Every room in the concept house, it seems, has a story.  Architectural and building elements have been given another life, their beauty, and functionality now enhancing a new home, instead of being wasted in a landfill.  For Foster, and for the builders and homeowners who both donate and purchase materials from Second Chance, an even more important story is that of the people who work there.

“There are circumstances in people’s lives that you just cannot imagine,” says Foster. “For me, this whole thing has been a real eye-opener. You really should write another article on the people who have trained here over the years.”

Having a job is a big part of the solution for lives that have been interrupted by prison, addiction, and other major barriers to employment.  Second Chance has been a way forward for many of these people. “It’s hard work,” says Foster, “but training for sustainable employment is absolutely necessary.”  Happily for Baltimore, it’s a model that seems to be working.

The above story was originally published in the 2018 Baltimore Fishbowl Home & Real Estate Guide, published last month. To view the guide in its entirety, click here.

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