March 25, 2007

House Hunting

Pigtown, the neighbourhood where I live, was having an open house day today, so two friends and I decided to check things out. C&D each live in houses that were total gut jobs and that have been renovated by a very creative designer/builder. D's house has a sunken living room (in what would be the basement) with an open catwalk, and lots of interesting details. C's house has a couple levels, up and down a few stairs to make it interesting.

We did the walkabout basically to see what's out there and to keep an eye out for houses for a friend who's looking. The housing stock where we live is mainly narrow (12-15 feet wide), all rowhouses and all about 100 to 120 years old. The houses were built for the railroad workers at the historic Mount Clare Yards of the
B&O Railroad, so they're not posh townhouses by any stretch of the imagination.

We noticed some interesting trends that we had varying opinions on:
  • Vessel sinks - I think that these are going to be dated very quickly. We saw some that were low sinks and some that looked like huge salad bowls plunked down. Some were clear plain glass and some were coloured glass. Vessel sinks and sinks in furniture can be very interesting, if done right. As I said before, you've got to work the keep the clear glass ones looking nice.
  • Overdone bathrooms - In a house that is between 1,200 and 2,000 square feet, how much room should that bathroom take up? Do you really need a shower and a seperate tub? In one house, which all three of us HATED, there was something called the "Buddy Bathroom". It had two identical vessel sinks, two toilets, two doors and one tub/shower, which bisected the room. The areas on either side of the tub were mirror images of each other. At first, we thought there was a mirror, but when we couldn't see our reflections, we figured it out. Now, this room posed all sorts of problems, not the least of which was why would you have two toilets in the same room facing each other? Seriously, would you ever, ever, ever use it while looking across the ten-foot room at another person? Roomies, partners, spouses, lovers? Not me! (Here are C&D checking out one of the tubs! ...kidding)
  • Kitchens - Some were beautiful and some seemed to have been planned by someone who'd never cooked before. Almost every kitchen seemed to have granite counters. I think that these can look spectacular, but in a dark colour, they can also look too heavy for a small kitchen. Lots of kitchens had brushed steel appliances, again something I can go either way on. We had one in my house in Wales (an American fridge!) and the children left fingerprints all over it. It never looked good. In a narrow rowhouse, a kitchen with dark granite and dark cabinets can just suck the light out of the room. We saw a bank of cabinets in another house that were about six inches short of the ceiling, which didn't leave enough room for much of anything. We also saw one kitchen that had school-bus yellow handles on the drawers and yellow and orange flowers for knobs. I thought I would gag!

  • Space planning - The smallest house we looked at was 425 square feet and the largest was about 2,000, so clearly, good space planning is essential. One house had balconies overlooking the front wall, sort of bumped back about four feet, which resulted in odd open rooms. Others were configured so that they had closet space, but not much room for a queen-size bed. This was also the house where the bedroom door couldn't have been more than 20 inches wide. One thing that we saw a few times was a bathroom door that opened out onto a narrow hallway, so that if you were walking down the hall and someone opened the door, you'd get smashed in the face. Pocket doors are a little more expensive, but they sure solve that problem! My old house was 600 square feet and 9.5 feet wide, so I know how to make a lot out of a little bit of space.
  • Oiled bronze fittings - Is it just me, or do you think that oiled bronze fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms are going to look dated in about 15 minutes? In my mind, chrome is classic and wears well. This oiled bronze thing is going to blow over soon.

All in all, we had a great time checking out what's available in the neighbourhood, seeing what ideas other builders had, what worked and what didn't, and most of all, spending a fun afternoon walking around on this wonderful spring afternoon.


  1. Sound like a lot of fun!!!It is always great to have a look in other peoples homes dont;t you think?xoxo desirée

  2. I agree with you on many points, esp. re: those bathroom sinks and the light fixtures. Classic never goes out of style! I think it's important not to follow trends b/c they look dated in a few years time. (PS- my Target had the de Borchgrave chair covers but in a muted print- not the fun one. Looked interesting, though).

  3. I just read about this in an emailing from Live Baltimore. Too bad I didn't read the email last week when I received it because I love neighborhood house tours.

    Completely agree about chrome being classic for kitchens and oil rubbed bronze being something that will look dated in no time at all. I love chrome faucets in kitchens and bathrooms. I'm a white porcelain fan also -- no vessel sinks for me.

    Also, making the most of a really small place is an art form and I think the artists who are truly good at this are few and far between.

  4. Same with the whole granite and stainless thing. Booooooring. I completely agree with you on all but one thing. The yellow flowered handles sounded adorable (heh heh.) Great post.

  5. my husband and I are fortunate enough to live in a perfectly designed- yet small space. I live in pigtown in a fantastic 2 BR 2 Bath complete rehab. The extrordinary work was completed by a local contractor named Bryan. He has several completed homes in the area, as well as 4 more on the way. While they do contain silver and granite- it is beautiful and complementary to the open , loft like concept of my home.

  6. Hey Neighbor! I think your blog is great and I'm excited about Pigtown's metamorphosis (maybe a lil' too much). I am a newbie to Pigtown (8/06) and I bought a rehab with the now "typical" exposed brick walls, vessel sinks, granite, and stainless steel appliances (plus, an excess of trendy contemporary touches). The exterior also bothers me because there's no "curb appeal" to it...just a plain brickface in front of a dismal concrete sidewalk. Because I'm design-crazed in general, I've become quite obsessive in my search for interior/exterior style for rowhomes (often lurking about Federal Hill for inspiration.). Wouldn't it be great if there was a "Best Homes of Pigtown Contest"? I'd love to see people take a more creative approach to their home exteriors (esp. container gardening). :)


Thank you for reading and commenting on Pigtown*Design. I read each and every comment and try to reply if I have your e-mail address.