Elizabeth Liechty knew she wanted to purchase a home in Canton, mostly because of the area’s “melting pot of eclectic, down-to-earth people.” But the thought of living in one of the neighborhood’s typical narrow rowhouses wasn’t something she was willing to do. “I wanted a space I felt comfortable in,” she says. “I grew up on a farm and am used to big, open spaces, and I wanted my home to reflect me as an individual.”
So, in November 2002, when she happened upon a working auto garage smack in the middle of a city block, Liechty— a 40-year-old estate planner with Charter Financial Group based in Millersville— knew this was the site of her future home. “It wasn’t even for sale, but a friend said she knew a realtor who knew the guys who owned it,” she recalls, “so I talked them into selling and bought it on a handshake. You just don’t do that anymore, so that was a cool thing.”
From the beginning, amidst broken-down jalopies and massive piles of car paraphernalia, Liechty could envision the final product, and served as general contractor, interior designer and all-around go-to person on the project. In April 2003, after getting the space rezoned from commercial use to residential, workers were finally able to begin demolition. She decided to keep the original cement floor, “complete with all the oil stains,” as well as the cinder blocks behind the walls. “Everything else is brand new,” she says.
Liechty’s goal was to retain the industrial integrity of the original street-level garage, which houses the kitchen, living room and dining room, then add two additional floors that complement that modern feel but also reflect her personality and family background. To retain the industrial feel, ceilings were kept high— a generous 16 feet— and exposed ductwork was added. The only enclosed spaces on the second floor are a bathroom and a closet, with walls that do not extend to the ceiling. “Where there were enclosures, I wanted them to feel like they were floating,” she says. “Otherwise it would have taken away from the feeling of open space.”
Downstairs, even the kitchen cabinets appear to float and reflect the modern, industrial look of the home. Liechty hired an Amish cabinet company from her parents’ hometown in Indiana to create stainless steel and faux-wenge (oak that’s stained to resemble the high-end dark-chocolate wood) cabinets. She chose marble countertops, and all professional-grade appliances, including a built-in espresso machine.
Ascending the steel cable staircase, visitors are struck by the juxtaposition of the industrial chic backdrop with Amish quilts displayed throughout much of the second floor. “I call this my heritage room,” Liechty explains. Her family tree has Amish roots, and Liechty has been collecting quilts for years and wanted to surround herself with them. “There’s something about quilts that just makes people feel welcome,” she says. Some of the collection adorns the walls, hanging from dowel rods, while others are displayed on wooden racks and even in a traditional Japanese wedding box.
There’s no doubt Liechty enjoys hanging out with friends— and the entire third floor is devoted to entertaining. The loft-like space includes a seating area with a full bar that opens onto a breathtaking 600-square-foot deck, with a built-in grill, outdoor shower, sound system and a nearly 360-degree (continued on page 100) panoramic view of the city. “I’m somewhat higher than any of my neighbors so I’ve got a view of the water and downtown and can see the Natty Boh sign,” Liechty says. “It’s absolutely beautiful at night— this place was made for entertaining.”
So which aspect of the home is Liechty most fond of? That would be the glass-enclosed atrium, complete with hot tub and a three-story stone cascading waterfall, an amenity she insisted upon from the onset of the project. “I love natural light and it really draws you into the home,” she says. Liechty landscaped the space with predominantly indigenous plants, along with a few Asian-inspired ones, such as a miniature red maple tree. “I wanted it to be really healing,” she says. “It’s Zen for me.”
And thanks to her rural upbringing, Liechty is able to enjoy the waterfall year-round. “When you have horses and cattle you have to install electric water heaters in their water so it doesn’t freeze in colder temperatures,” she explains. “So I just plugged one of those in here.” She even added a steel fire ladder to access the hot tub directly from her second-floor master bedroom.
Decorating this large, open space may have intimidated many, but not Liechty, who’s lived in industrial-style spaces in Chicago prior to moving to Maryland. “I’ve lived in warehouses before, so all my artwork and furniture are big pieces,” she says. To unify the space, Liechty chose earthy tones, and selected oversized upholstered furniture for the living room and warm woods throughout— a rustic alder table in the dining room, for example. “As big a space as this is, I didn’t want it to be stagnant,” she says, relishing the fact that friends feel comfortable when they come to visit. “They bring their dogs over to run around,” she says, “plus I’m not worried if someone spills a glass of red wine. It all just adds to the character of the cement floor.”
The only new piece to her Canton home is a sentimental one: a large painting of Liechty’s dog, who passed away during the home’s renovation. Her favorite work of art, however, is the baby blue 1998 custom Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail, positioned front and center inside the front door. “I ride it, but it also looks great in the house,” she says. “It’s also one of the reasons I left the concrete floors.”
So why is Liechty, who doesn’t possess any professional training in construction or design, so successful at transforming a seemingly undesirable auto garage into a 4,600-square-foot (not including the atrium, deck and garage), sophisticated urban abode? “It’s really the same thing I do for a living,” she explains. “Most of my clients have done some structural work when it comes to their estate planning, but it’s taking what they have as a base platform and building on it. I did the same thing here. I started with a great foundation and worked on it from there.”
Liechty adores her home, which was completed in December 2004, and— even with hindsight being 20/20— wouldn’t change a thing. Plus, she gets a kick out of the reactions of family and passers-by. When her mom first came to visit, Liechty asked her opinion of her new home. “She said, ‘I love the quilts.’ So I asked again: What do you think of the rest of the house? ‘It’s different,’ she said.” Liechty admits, “It is different but that’s what I wanted it to be.”
But perhaps the best reactions come from delivery people. “They say, ‘Wow! Is this a bar?’ and I say, ‘No, it’s my home.’ And they reply, ‘This is some crib! Has it been on that MTV show?’” Liechty smiles. “Not yet … but thanks.”
Plantings: Natural Plantscapes, Baltimore, 410-790-2416
Hot tub: Chesapeake Spas North, Severna Park, 410-384-9750
Lighting: The Light House of Lewes, Lewes, Del., 302-645-1207
Closets: Aesthetic Closets, Hampstead, Md., 443-507-0451
Systems networking: Starr Systems Design, Baltimore, 410-494-4310
Glass: Beltway Glass & Mirrors Inc., Baltimore, 410-247-5766
Floors: Family Floors, Severna Park, 410-647-1115
Stone work: Atlas Stone Fabricators, Gambrills, Md., 410-923-4005
Cabinets: Dutch Made Custom Cabinetry, Harlan, Ind., 260-657-3331
Iron work: George A. Eckart Co., Baltimore, 410-566-3400