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City blocks to country roads

Susan Guynn
News-Post Staff

(12/6) Will Morrow and Kent Ozkum renovated this historic log farmhouse near Emmitsburg. The project took two years to complete, including adding a wrap-around porch, custom-made window sashes and exterior wood siding. The homeowners wanted to create a home functional for today, yet mindful of the c. 1764 home’s history.

Emmitsburg -- Will Morrow and his partner, Kent Ozkum, loved the city life. Morrow, an urban garden designer, and Ozkum, an anesthesiologist, were quite at home in their Georgetown house -- the fourth historic home they had restored. So when Ozkum wanted to search for a country place, Morrow did not share his enthusiasm.

"I was definitely very skeptical. I was very comfortable in D.C," said Morrow, who grew up in the metro area.

But sometimes life takes you to unexpected places and presents opportunities not considered.

Trading city blocks for country acres

A once-thriving dairy farm in northern Frederick County, idle for about 30 years with its pastures rapidly being reclaimed by trees and weeds, seemed an unlikely match for these city dwellers. The 30-acre property was surrounded by working farms, a trout stream and was at the end of a gravel lane off a country road. The perfect place to escape the lightning-fast pace of big-city life.

The couple bought the farm and set about reclaiming the land and yet another house renovation. They named it Whitmore Farm, for Benjamin Whitmore, whose family farmed the property for many years.

"We bought it (in 2003) with the intent of making it a weekend place," Ozkum said. But once there, they began considering how to best make use of the property. "Initially, we would activate the farm and hire someone to take care of the animals," including poultry, sheep, goats, turkey and hogs.

"We hired someone to live full time in the house but quickly realized it wasn't going to work," said Morrow, noting that neither he nor Ozkum had previous livestock experience. "The more we got into it, the more we preferred to be up here rather than staying in town."

The couple began work on the house -- removing three layers of exterior siding and, inside, removing gaudy-painted plaster walls to uncover the chestnut logs of the c. 1764 main house and the stone walls of a later addition.

The kitchen floor was hard-packed dirt; the floorboards long ago rotted. "A sink and a hot plate were the kitchen," Morrow said. A second-floor bathroom was plumbed, but the sink didn't have a drain.

The house "had been Victorianized," Ozkum said, with the original windows replaced by the era's long, narrow sashes. During a later updating, the stairway was moved to create a center hallway, popular in Colonial-style houses.

"We wanted to take it back to its original condition" based on a pre-Victorian photo of the house, Ozkum said.

They reconfigured rooms and incorporated elements in keeping with the "style and spirit" of the house and consideration for modern functionality. They hired carpenters and craftsmen with the skills needed for such a project.

"The renovation took a full two years. We've been living here full time for about three years," said Morrow.

With many of the original details missing, such as moldings, Morrow said that allowed them to be creative.

"One of the things still here that guided us was some of the original random-width beaded boards" in the kitchen and an upstairs wall, Ozkum said. Beaded board is used throughout the renovated house.

Kitchen a challenge

Ozkum said the kitchen layout was most challenging because the room has five doors, three windows and a large cooking fireplace. Two built-in cabinets "from the 19-teens," salvaged from a house in Baltimore, provide storage in addition to the kitchen island, which fits neatly between the rear stairway and new half bath doors. The cabinet design incorporates the X-cross brace design found on the barn's exterior.

The log house was raised to create a crawl space and a new block foundation, faced with stones from the original dry-laid foundation. The dirt kitchen floor was dug out 6 inches and the ceilings "raised" throughout the house by exposing ceiling joists. The house is heated and cooled with a geothermal system, which uses radiant heat in rooms with masonry floors and a circulating system in the remaining rooms. The three wood-burning fireplaces were converted to gas.

The couple use antique armoires and built-in cabinets to maximize storage. A pine sideboard in the dining room was designed by Morrow. The stone fireplace mantel is an old cedar fence post. Displayed on it is a print by a D.C. artist and friend, Matthew Moore. On a visit to the farm, Moore became enamored with the variety of sheep and created a portfolio of sheep paintings and prints. This one is a portrait of Harriet, a Katahdin ewe.

Across the hall from the dining room is the library. The bark, twig and antler theme reflects Ozkum's connection to the Adirondack area of New York. The built-in cabinet doors are faced with birch bark and trimmed with twigs. Ozkum created the fireplace surround -- a tapestry of interlocking pieces of tree limbs. Deer antlers and a variety of unusually colored eggs laid by the farm's pullets continue the outdoor theme.

Morrow found a company in Montana that specializes in burl wood to build the stair banister and railing. At the top of the staircase is a display of botanical prints from a study on grasses. A similar display, featuring prints of various flora and fauna, is displayed in the back stairway. Each print is individually framed.

Morrow wanted the second-floor bathroom to look old. The floor is slate and the shower is tiled with an earthy-brown glazed tile that reminds him of the tile used in silo construction. The vanity is a flea-market cabinet repurposed for bathroom storage. It's topped with a rectangular white porcelain sink bowl and a pipe-inspired faucet. A new cast-iron tub is encased in wood, with the feet of the enclosure duplicating the curved design and dovetailing found in a favorite antique blanket chest.

One of the three guest bedrooms still has the original random-width floor. "You can feel the slant," Morrow said. "It's a reminder that you are in an old place."

The master bedroom is in the stone wing, over the kitchen. "Closets are an issue, but you need storage space," Morrow said, revealing the washer and dryer and clothes storage space hidden behind a fabric wall.

The bed headboard is made from cowhide and again incorporates the X-brace pattern. A door leads to the second-floor veranda that overlooks the barn, the windmill, garden and pasture. The verandah was part of the most recent phase of the project -- covering the exterior with oak siding, installing a hand-crimped standing seam metal roof and building a wrap-around porch.

The master bath features tiles handmade and hand-painted by a Maine artisan. "They have an individual rusticness and look like bricks," Morrow said.

The exterior work was completed in late summer, Morrow said, and includes a slate-floored porch that envelops three sides of the house; a mudroom and framing for a glass-walled Florida room. Morrow said the couple intended to keep the exterior logs exposed but decided to cover them with siding due to water issues.

"Everyone in the community was welcoming and supporting. What we've done here generated a lot of excitement," Morrow said, adding that when the Whitmore family holds its annual reunion in Maryland, a visit to the farm is often included.

With the major work complete, Morrow hopes to begin landscaping. As part of the farm's organic designation, the couple have already planted nearly 1,000 native hardwood trees as a buffer between adjoining properties.

The c. 1894 barn was in good repair and needed mostly cosmetic work. The couple raise heritage breeds of sheep, goats, chickens, hogs and rabbits. "All the animals are pastured which imparts different nutrition profiles and tastes to the products," Morrow said.

The farm's meat and eggs are sold at area farmers markets, through on-farm sales and are used by some area restaurants, Morrow said.