When architect John Mariani set out to find a new home in the city, he was sure of one thing: he wanted a warehouse, not a rowhouse. But while riding his bike through the streets of Canton in 1997, he discovered a building that was both.
At the time, the former home of an exchange for the Baltimore Telephone Co. was being used for storage by the Egan Boiler Service Co. and wasn’t for sale. A month later, it went on the market and Mariani grabbed it. With extensive renovations, he created the perfect blend of warehouse and rowhouse to call home.
Built between 1910 and 1920, the 1,600-square-foot brick building features white limestone keystones and enormous arched windows. It has the air— and, originally, the floor plan— of a commercial building. When Mariani, a Baltimore native, bought the house it was simply a large empty box with no second floor. The challenge was to find a way to maintain the commercial feel of the building while creating a livable, comfortable space.
Visitors enter through purple double doors and find themselves on a shelf-like landing, from which they can descend to the yet-unfinished basement or ascend to the first floor. Once inside, it’s clear that everything has its place— clutter is nonexistent and furnishings are utilitarian yet comfortable. The open, airy living room is sparsely furnished, the couch flanked by bookshelves filled with architecture books. Sunlight floods in through the large arched windows, which required new glass and frames— just one of the major changes made to the house by Mariani, who drew up the ambitious renovation plans himself.
“Conceptually, the idea was that the container was brick.The inside is different forms,” comments Mariani, whose Baltimore architectural credits include the Performing Arts Center at Lutheran High School and the interior of The Wine Market restaurant, among others. Perhaps the most striking of these forms is the large vertical cylinder that curves out halfway across the first floor. Covered in diamond-shaped aluminum roofing shingles, the cylinder hides a storage closet and encloses a spiral staircase that leads out to the roof deck from the second floor, another of Mariani’s additions. Its shape is meant to create volume and also to contrast with the rectangular shape of the house. From the street, passersby can see it extend up through the roof.
Besides form, Mariani is also interested in texture— almost every room of the house boasts a mixture of smooth and rough surfaces: wood, metal, glass and brick. In the living room, an original wooden beam soars overhead, intersecting with the exposed brick wall. The aluminum-covered cylinder wall rises from a floor covered in end-grain wood flooring (in which the ends of two-by-fours, instead of the lengths, provide the surface area) creating an unusually durable floor. “Because you’re going with the grain, it’s so strong you could drive trucks over it,” says Mariani.
At the rear of the house, in a kitchen that’s spare yet welcoming, maple cabinets are topped by concrete countertops and overhung with open stainless steel shelving. The flooring is blue linoleum, “like what your grandmother used to have,” says Mariani. Offering an alternative to the larger dining room are a booth and table, over which hangs a colorful silkscreen by the late Baltimore artist Tom Miller called “Crab Feast.”
Industrial-style light fixtures, the sort found on construction sites, light the way along the curved stairway that leads to the
second floor, where a kind of catwalk links Mariani’s office at the front of the house with the bathroom and bedroom at the rear. From the walkway, visitors can look down to the first floor and get a sense of the openness of the living room space, the only room in the house that retains the original 18-foot ceilings. It’s also a good spot to get a closer look at the arrangement of black and red wooden tiles installed on the wall above the dining room, created by artist Karen Lemmert specially for Mariani.
In Mariani’s office, a porthole window offers light and evokes the home’s nearness to the harbor, just a block away. Down the hall in the ample bathroom, suede paint creates a matte texture that contrasts with the sheen of the dark blue tile in the shower and the tumbled-tile floor. The central feature of the room is a large antique iron clawfoot tub, which Mariani had lifted up to the second floor before renovations were complete to avoid hauling it up the narrow stairwell.
The top of the forced-air ventilation system peeks over the floor; Mariani left the ducts exposed and is able to manipulate the vents to maximize the effect of warm and cold air. Adjoining the bathroom is the master bedroom, also lit by one porthole
window. Here, the brick walls are painted white, and candles sit inside recesses in the walls that once held wooden joists in
the building’s former life.
The basement is the only untouched space, but Mariani has plans for that as well: a guest bedroom and second bathroom.
“Then I’ll be out of things to do!” he says, laughing.