For many years I had the great joy of transforming the once-proud shells of brick row homes into safe, affordable housing while working for Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. During that time, I saw what weather and neglect could do to a home. It is a testament to their durability that so many stand to this day, and that with a lot of sweat and hard work all but the worst shells can be brought back to life.
As a home inspector, I get to see all kinds of construction, in all conditions. But nothing is a dear to my heart as the humble façade of a Baltimore row home. Red brick, stucco or Formstone, they are the enduring face of Baltimore.
My first home in Baltimore was a shared three-story Painted Lady on Guilford Avenue in Charles Village. I loved the charm of the creaky old wood floors and the many architectural details. It was while living there that I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and got to know them in a very different way. Gutting the interior of a home on Frisby Street in Waverly was an eye-opening experience. For the first time, I saw the bones of a house laid bare. I was hooked. For the next ten years, I worked for Habitat for Humanity, here in Baltimore and also in Tampa, Florida, where I got to see houses from a very different perceptive. But that’s a story for another time.
It was always cool to enter a boarded-up house for the first time. It was eerie, knowing that you might be the first person to step in there for years or decades. Then the long, slow process of rehab began: demolition, structural, roofing, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and on and on. And then, one day, it starts to look like a house again. The drywall goes up and covers all the hard work of a myriad of volunteers and skilled tradespersons. It’s hard to remember those first steps inside the crumbling shell, all the hard work. And soon after that, a family comes and makes it a home again.
It’s been over a year since I left Habitat. A year of professional growth, starting a new business from scratch. It’s rewarding in its own way. But I miss those first steps into an old home and the last ones when the smiling homeowner shuts the door behind me.