Home & Living
The Lake House
A renovation revives a 1919 farmhouse on Lake Montebello.
Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face. And so it was for Greg Bernard and Joe Lazzaro.
In June of 2016, the couple—Lazzaro, an interior designer, and Bernard, a manager of plant nurseries and garden centers—was looking to relocate to Baltimore after several years in San Francisco. The sticking point was finding a neighborhood and a house that felt like home. Lazzaro had grown up in Dundalk and later renovated and lived in houses in Bolton Hill, Charles Village, Evergreen, and Mt. Vernon. But none of those neighborhoods felt right. House-hunting excursions in other areas came up empty, too. But the solution presented itself when the couple visited an old friend of Lazzaro’s who was throwing a graduation party for her youngest child.
The woman lived in a 1919 farmhouse overlooking Lake Montebello in Northeast Baltimore. With both of her kids now off to college, she was facing an empty nest and thinking of selling the house. That night, as Bernard—a New Orleans native—stood at the kitchen sink washing out a gumbo pot, he had an epiphany.
“I looked out at that,” Bernard says, gesturing to the lake, which is framed by mature trees and ringed by walking and biking paths, “and I said, ‘I want to live in a place like this. This is where I want to live.’”
That suited Lazzaro just fine. As it so happened, he knew the house well, having done some renovation work on it over the years, including redoing second- and third-floor bathrooms for his friend, and giving the daughter’s bedroom an “under the sea” theme.
Bernard took the lead outside, wielding a chainsaw to cut back overgrown shrubbery and plotting the eight garden beds on the east side of the house. The lake-facing side of the house is now centered around the two-story bay window.
Inside, Lazzaro focused on reorganizing the “very inward-looking” house to improve its flow and to maximize its western views over the lake.
Fast-forward to about a year later, a deal was struck with the friend, and Lazzaro and Bernard were the proud owners not just of a lakeside home, but also a pretty ambitious rehab project. So they immediately set to work, harnessing their professional skills to turn the ideally situated-but-unremarkable house into what Lazzaro envisioned as “a glassy gallery on the lake.”
“We were demo-ing it ourselves,” he says.
“We tried to save money as much as possible. Where we could do the jobs, we did them.”
Bernard took the lead outside, wielding a chainsaw to cut back overgrown shrubbery, plotting the eight garden beds on the east side of the house, and tearing down a eight-foot-tall fence that impeded the lake view. In its place, he planted a soft perimeter of cherry laurels, skip laurels, and roses.
Inside, Lazzaro focused on reorganizing the “very inward-looking” house to improve its flow and to maximize its western views over the lake. This involved relocating the front door from the left to the right side of the house, and removing several interior walls to allow for a view from the living room through the dining room into the kitchen, and then out the back door.
“The idea of being able to look through the house completely was important,” he says. “The chandelier in the dining room and the lights in the trees at night create a kind of twinkly transparency, which we really like.”
A view from the reinvented kitchen.
On the exterior, Lazzaro, who has been in business as Joseph Lazzaro Design for 18 years, imposed a rustic simplicity that favors symmetry over flash.
He centered the lake-facing side of the house around the two-story bay window, had all the windows replaced with elongated, four-pane models, and clad the home in vertical, board-and-batten siding. Most noticeably, the couple removed an enclosed brick porch at the front of the house and added in its place an airy, three-sided wraparound porch, which, in nice weather, is where they like to spend their evenings, sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.
And then there was that kitchen.
“It was the obvious problem,” says Lazarro. “It was an L-shaped kitchen around the old powder room and back hall. We wanted to have a room that was square-ish.”
The idea of being able to look through the house completely was important.
To carve out that space, the couple bumped out the walls and relocated the powder room, which is now tucked by the stairs and boasts a sink made from a 17th-century water trough Lazzaro had plumbed.
The result is a rectangular main kitchen area with a small, square alcove off to one side that functions as a quasi butler’s pantry. The arrangement leaves the main area, which is anchored by a center island/bar, open for guests.
“Joe and I like to entertain,” says Bernard. “When you throw parties, where does everybody wind up? The kitchen.”
The new and improved kitchen features a mix of old and new materials. A six-burner Wolf range with a soapstone backsplash complements the original wood floors, which the couple discovered under six layers of flooring. And the wood countertops were planed from rafters salvaged from the home’s garage.
The walls in the master bedroom/library suite are coated in Benjamin Moore Midsummer Night, a dramatic shade of brown-gray-black that allows for Moorish design elements to pop.
On the third floor are another full bath and a long multipurpose room with a built-in desk that looks out across the lake.
Upstairs, the reinvented spaces reflect the same eclectic style.
A master bedroom/library combo was created by inserting a cased opening between what was once two separate bedrooms. The walls are coated in Benjamin Moore Midsummer Night, a dramatic shade of brown-gray-black that allows for Moorish design elements—like a jewel-box pendant light and octagonal night tables made by local furniture firm McLain Wiesand—to pop. And at the foot of the enormous mahogany-frame bed is a balcony that overlooks the lake.
“When it’s not roasting hot, it actually feels like you’re in Nantucket or something,” cracks Lazarro of the watery view.
Across the hall is a dressing room furnished with Stickley-style arts-and-crafts dressers. And down the hall is a full bath and Lazzaro’s office, that previous child’s bedroom still boasting that “under the sea” paint job.
“Eventually, it will be a grownup studio,” he says with a shrug.
On the third floor are another full bath and a long multipurpose room with a built-in desk and a window seat, which is often occupied by the couple’s two rescue tabbies, Jasper and Dot.
A little more than 18 months after pulling up outside, Bernard and Lazzaro are thrilled with the house’s transformation. But it’s the lake that provides the magic.
“There are only six freestanding houses on the lake,” notes Lazarro. “It’s nice in afternoons, after we finish a long day of work, to come sit out here. We’ll grab a cocktail or something and just breathe.”