After the Fire
A Tale of Rebuilding
On a summer’s day in August of 2017, my friend Julie was spending the afternoon at a friend’s home, relaxing in the pool with her 7 year old daughter, when she received a notification on her phone from her home security company. The fire department had been deployed to her Roland Park home.
Immediately she raced back to the house, to her horror, to find firemen breaking down doors and windows, flooding her home with water to contain a fire that was started from a sealing torch mishap on her roof, while repairs were being done. And just like that, the nightmare began. It would be a rebuilding project of epic scope that would consume her family, and an extensive team of contractors, builders and designers for the next year, like a full time job.
The fire department, thankfully, succeeded in stopping the flames from burning the house down. However, the smoke from the fire and the huge amounts of water used to extinguish the flames caused extensive and irreparable damage to floors, furniture and much of the family’s personal belongings. A massive purge began, to get rid of everything that could not be salvaged. I can only imagine how difficult it was, parting with so many items, and seeing my home in such a state of destruction. There are few people I know who could endure such a traumatic event, and turn it into one of the most inspiring stories of rebuilding I’ve ever witnessed, like my friends Julie and David managed to do.
When David and Julie moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia in 2012, they really didn’t know where to begin. Starting a blind search in city like Baltimore city with her many unique and diverse neighborhoods, was not an easy task. How could they narrow down exactly where they wanted to be? After seeing countless houses in both the the county and city, they kept coming back to Roland Park, and knew this was the neighborhood for them.
After putting in contracts on a few different homes, they needed to make a decision. While they loved the house they bought and were happy with their choice, there were some things they thought they would want to change, in time, to make it more their own. While they never would have wished for such a catastrophe, the rebuilding after the fire allowed them to realize the vision they had for this 100 year old beauty, in need of some love.
An event like this can be paralyzing, and in these times, we need a community – a network of friends, family, and professionals to support us, and get us through. Julie and David were able (thankfully, with excellent insurance coverage) to call upon some of the best of the best to help them with this massive undertaking of recreating their most valuable asset.
Friends rallied, and helped with the emotionally devastating process of cleaning out all that could not be saved. Someone in the neighborhood knew of a home very close by, available immediately for rent. The family was able, within a few days, to relocate, to another beautiful Roland Park home for the duration of the reconstruction. Coincidentally, the family who owned that home had also suffered a massive fire, and were happy to help. Fate had shone a ray of light, at a dark time, indeed.
After the fire and initial demolition and clean-up, the looming task of restoration began. The weekly Friday planning sessions commenced, with the invaluable expert assistance from Smithouse Construction and Ziger/Snead Architects. When Julie recalls working with these designers, she speaks of them like a life line … like deeply trusted friends who not only made her life livable again, but crafted her house into the home they had dreamed of it becoming. Theirs was a true collaboration – a continued conversation over many months, as they reassembled the house of their dreams. Her relief and gratitude is still palpable when she talks of them, and the end product says it all.
Smithouse Photo Credit: Halle von Kessler
In the weeks and months of planning, I looked forward to hearing the latest updates, and conjured up images of what was being masterfully reconstructed. I, along with Julie, couldn’t wait to see what would come of their efforts.
With 50% of the house gutted to the studs, the designers and the Phillips were left with a bit of a blank canvas. As is the case with almost every old house, time and living had taken their toll, and a number of issues were uncovered and brought to light when the walls came down. Now was the time to fix these problems, and in this case, make the house even better. With skill, creativity, and the knowledge of historic Baltimore homes, the teams at Smithouse and Ziger Snead set out to restore the home, and make it even more usable than before, fitting the lifestyle of Julie and David, and their two young daughters … and of course the guinea pigs, Sugar and Cream.
The Living Room / Bedroom
The portion of the house that was damaged most significantly contained the living room, a small sunporch on the first floor, and the master bedroom on the second floor. Extreme care was given to the recreation, and reinvention of these spaces. The goal was to maintain the historic integrity of the house, while adding square footage and functionality. The living room was restored and enhanced. The sunroom became larger, and therefore a very desirable second, yet more informal family room. The original Master bedroom was transformed into a gracious dressing room, with ample, open concept closets, as well as custom built cabinetry. An addition was made to accommodate the new bedroom, with cathedral ceilings, and plenty of natural light – a stunning new modern space for this lovely traditional house.
When they bought the house, both David and Julie agreed they wanted to completely redo the kitchen one day. Although not damaged irreparably in the fire, now was the time to make it theirs. From top to bottom, the kitchen now suits the family’s needs and aesthetic. With a huge center island, the family can enjoy casual meals together, work on projects, or just hang out. No detail was overlooked, and the space is joyful and crisp, yet warm and inviting.
Timing is everything, as the old saying goes. When Julie and David tried to picture the finished product of the restoration, there was something missing: Artwork. David’s father, a skilled artist and sculptor living in New York, was moving out of his current space, and had many pieces from his collection that needed to find a new home. The need for art in the Roland Park house was soon fulfilled, as they were able (and grateful) to accommodate the new additions. The new white walls provide a perfect backdrop for the dramatic artwork, and every piece, ranging in style, fits seamlessly into the family’s home.
Let there be Light
I always notice and appreciate the dramatic and effective lighting when I’m in Julie and David’s home. The fixtures they chose are artworks unto themselves, and the light they emit creates a warm and welcoming feeling. I just love the design of the pieces they chose, with guidance and expertise from Jones Lighting.
In August, one entire year after the fire, all the work was completed. Julie and her family moved back, and settled into their house. Julie says she can’t imagine ever leaving. The girls are thrilled to be back in their own rooms, with their toys and treasures. And yet, every Friday, they drive over to the block they lived on for one year, to walk to school with the friends they made there. Amazing, isn’t it, what we can create – friendships, art, beauty and gratefulness for all the love that surrounds us, even amidst such hardship and loss. Congratulations, my friend, on your beautiful “new” home. You deserve it.