Maybe you have seen what is happening in Lauraville. The Red Canoe, Zeke’s Coffee, The Chameleon Café, and others dot the main street landscape. Sure you have, you have seen it. As you quietly make your commute to and from wherever you work in the city of Baltimore, you notice the changes along Harford Road.
Harford Road has always been one of the primary corridors into and from downtown Baltimore. But here, now, you are seeing it, along this strip of roadway: revitalization. And on your next trip through, just past the Safeway and before you hit the park at Herring Run, turn your head to the right. You will find Overland Avenue.
Up that road lined with tall maples, and follow me with a Google-mapping eye, you’ll get a 100-level survey in one of our area’s earliest suburbs. You’ll see Gothic and Colonial revivals, French and Victorian-detailed cottages, your classic foursquare, and a few house styles that I can’t squarely categorize.
Bungalows :: The Original Efficient Home
And a little ways up and around the bend, packed in a short row of houses that look strangely similar, a breed of house different from the others you have just seen. There, set atop a pitching lot, the windows under a shed dormer stare. They look down on you at the street and proudly say, I am an American bungalow.
Continue to zoom, though, moving through to the other side of the front door and in through the living room, passed the dining room, and into the kitchen, you will likely find AJ and Kenneth sipping coffee at the table in their breakfast nook.
Or, at least, this is how I found them on this rainy Saturday morning. This Saturday, you see, I joined a representative of the Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville (NOGLI) with designs of discussing this bungalow and AJ’s and Kenneth’s remodeling of, their work on, it.
If houses were to have names, we’ll call this one – Anneth (Ship Name)
Quickly, I took these guys as renaissance men. AJ’s Lucinda Williams t-shirt said, I am a musicologist. It was only few minutes later that this was, in fact, confirmed. A musician and a guitar builder, AJ teaches 3D woodworking at one of city’s prominent private schools. AJ bought this house in 1997, and he is quick to take the lead.
Then, it is Kenneth’s turn. I don’t recall what exactly he said first, looking up from his iBook laptop, but oh, British, I think. My eyes peel back over his left shoulder, from the garden at the rear of the yard, up the steps of the large multi-tiered deck, through the bank of windows that wraparound the addition there. Then, I focus. And after a few preliminary questions, I ask, So. Is this it? Is this the house?
Kenneth answers, People always ask, and he pauses, if you could go anywhere, right now, where would it be? He quickly provides the answer to that question. I always say, right here, he said, Looking out from this table in the morning, I am happy just watching the birds. Oh, and it hits me: Scottish. And they do have several tall bird feeders planted in their yard often gathering birds with earnest.
Developments in Northeast Baltimore
I have read it: I have read Eric Holcomb’s City as Suburb, a well-written history of our place here in Northeast Baltimore. It winds through the years of farming and gentrification, from the time of country retreat, to the full evolution into city suburb.
The year was 1918, and it’s in there; it’s in the book. The year after this home was deeded. The country was becoming more industrialized; building systems, too, were finding a new level of standardization and repeatability. With it, Baltimore grew. She expanded into her outlying areas.
Easily accessible home designs were delivered on the backs of improved over-rail and over-road transportation. And Lauraville, annexed by the city that year, was ripe for an explosion of single family homes. One could make the argument now that the development occurring here may have been America’s first housing boom.
As the foursquares began to pop from pages of pattern books and mail order catalogues, another house style was irrevocably affixing itself to the local landscape. With international roots and a strong contingent of vocal proponents, the bungalow was just there beginning its journey to American icon.
At that time, the bungalow turned a modest man’s hope for a little plot of land and a house of one’s own into, well, reality. For many, it symbolized the good life. The bungalow, in 1918, was the embodiment of the New American Dream and in lies the significance of the bungalow.
The Bungalow – or the ‘low For Short
The bungalow by definition is a one- or one-and-a-half-story house; they are still built today. For me, it works. Bungalows or ‘lows (a memory tool) are horizontal, and are low to the ground. They spread typically under a low-pitching roof and overhanging eaves, with most of its mass running from the front of a property to the rear.
Most are adorned with at least a front porch. All are draped with ample windows for air flow and light. In principle, the idea of the bungalow, at least in its day, was to fit as much living as possible into a relatively small space. Typically, this meant a forward-facing first floor living room and one or two bedrooms nearby.
The bungalows, at the time of their proliferation, were practical. Their practicality, though, in cost of construction and in scale, seemed to extend beyond its physicality. No space designed without purpose, these bungalows lock into their surroundings like few home designs before them.
The idealists would say: This is architecture communing with nature. With foundations built often of indigenous materials, and many meant to stand like they are almost naturally exiting the earth, the exterior dimensions force themselves indoors to create cozy settings for family bonding and other activities.
Meet Your New Old Home
Was it an arranged marriage? No. AJ admits when he was shopping some twelve years ago, he was drawn first to row homes elsewhere in the city. Some of these, you may know, have been maintained with a preservationist’s hand. Others, as AJ points out, are tattooed with cheap paneling, and fail horribly at hiding their years of neglect.
With many of these, you get a downtown setting, stretching up three floors. It can be appealing, especially if the price tag is right. And in 1997, for AJ, it may have been. He was ready to go, but he also had some thinking to do.
With three floors come stairs; maybe a few more than one guy needs. You see, AJ knew some things. He knew more house, of course, means more to furnish and clean, more to upkeep, more to heat and cool, and more square footage to use for the calculation of taxes. More house, in general, means more money and more long-term expense. Were there row homes that were priced right? Maybe. But were these economical for AJ? Maybe not.
Then, on the recommendation of his real estate agent, he turned to Lauraville. Was it in the right location? Well, yeah. Close to downtown, and close to Towson. Still only a five-mile drive to work for AJ. This bungalow on Overland Ave. was perfect for him. But still there was a little room to grow.
Home as Extension of Self
As an employee of Constellation Energy, and working with BG&E specifically, I think Kenneth dropped it first, and my thoughts quickly rolled with it that morning. The discussion turned briefly to the word Efficiency. And this piece follows.
This house makes a great study. This bungalow suits them well. Efficiency with them has been about designing, and implementing a home plan that flows with their lifestyle. Not just energy-efficient, but totally efficient.
It’s about freedom and choice, Kenneth said, Not being tied to your house and its financial demands. For him, the Lauraville bungalow gives them the flexibility to travel and to recreate. AJ adds, You always want to keep an eye on value; you know, you never want to overbuild.
As they proceed to list of some of the work they have done, (and we will discuss in the 2nd part of this article) it appears these thoughts have never been too far from the backs of their minds. The decking, the retrofitted AC units, and the bathroom and kitchen remodels all fit into the overall goal of making this house a home, and an efficient, energy and otherwise, one at that.
So here, I again ask myself: doesn’t all renovation, and further any home, start with the person(s) and the sensibilities they bring to the various home projects?
The Best of Both Worlds
Holcomb tells us that when Lauraville and communities that surround her were developed, large plots of land were sub-divided and sold to builders in small tracks. (This explains a lot in our area.) Hence, as I have suggested above, some house styles were often repeated one next to the other.
But does this mean that this bungalow is cookie cutter? No way. Sure almost identical houses appear on either side of it, but AJ and Kenneth have made this one their own. Then, or now, it has always been about taking it and putting a unique, personalized touch on it.
Through the years, the bungalow’s exterior has been dressed with elements from almost every significant architectural movement. With this project, these guys added a large multi-tiered deck stepping down to a well-groomed garden. A great investment, in style, and Now, of course, but that project in all ways exemplifies the early architects’ vision of house connected with nature.
But let us take it just one little step further, and provide the 21st century urban take. Kenneth continues, It’s the best of both worlds. Community and Privacy. House connected with not only nature, but also with community. And in Lauraville, you will find that, not just on Overland Avenue.
Note there is a little uncertainty surrounding the year this house was actually built. If new discoveries come to light, I will provide. Please see Part 2 dedicated to what AJ and Kenneth have done and still plan to do (Coming on or around May 1). Thanks to Kenneth too for providing pics.
Next in this Series: The Bridge :: Remodeling a Bungalow
>> More Moxie (Related Links):
*A Great Resource on Bungalows