The story of Fred and Jan Hallahan's dream home is one of a near miss.
The couple, seeking to downsize from their Ruxton home and looking for total first-floor living, visited a custom-designed house in Lutherville that offered a first-floor master suite.
The home, designed by architect Donald Ratcliffe in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, featured a sleek, low-slung exterior profile. It was constructed in 1985 as the private residence of a local builder.
"It was love at first sight," said Jan Hallahan, the 65-year-old former owner of Trillium women's fashions in Green Spring Station. "But we would be scaling up instead of down."
As it turned out, the home's second owner changed his mind about selling. It wasn't until 18 months later (after the Hallahans had placed a deposit on another home) that the owner called and asked if they were still interested.
"We bought the house in three weeks for $900,000," Jan Hallahan said. "There are two large bedrooms upstairs, but we live completely on the first floor with six large rooms, four bathrooms and three fireplaces."
The most breathtaking aspect for most visitors is just inside the foyer where the home's interior layout presents itself as a series of rooms, some sunken, others not, and from any given point, at least four rooms can be seen.
"The eye just doesn't know where to go, there are such long sight lines," said Fred Hallahan, 72, and owner of a housing consulting firm. "It's deceiving from the outside, but when you get inside, the house opens up to you."
Walking around the periphery of the sunken living room, a visitor has views of the dining room and kitchen at the rear of the 4,700-square-foot home. From a table in the breakfast nook, the kitchen, family room, laundry room and a small part of the dining room beyond an open swinging door can be seen. Large rear windows look out onto a large deck and an attached greenhouse with a hot tub built into a floor of terra cotta tiling. A finished basement for seven grandchildren adds another 3,800 square feet to the home.
"The contractor spared no expense, since the first owner was a builder," Fred Hallahan said. "[The house] has every bell and whistle. We still haven't figured out what all the switches are for."
The couple has also added their own touches and improvements to the home. Cosmetic renovations include painting, red oak hardwood floors for the entire first floor, a kitchen extension into the family room and the installation of skylights. A new roof and new kitchen appliances as well as a completely renovated master bathroom completed the upgrades.
Fred Hallahan shows off the home's features, including built-in radiant heat, the German-engineered Poggenpohl kitchen and a garage workshop.
As for home furnishings, Jan Hallahan delights in American and English antiques and fine reproductions with, she says, "pops of Oriental influence" in fabric and paintings set against walls painted in shades of celadon green, yellow and coral. The only exception to the wall colors is the chocolate brown on the walls in the front den, where dark ceiling beams and light molding, as well as the painted white brick of the fireplace hearth, provide rich contrast. Among many heirlooms — furniture, glassware and art — Jan Hallahan points out two beautifully framed and stitched samplers done in 1844 by her great-grandmother when the woman, Elizabeth Smith, was a 12-year-old child.
The home's first-floor bedroom suite is stunning with a painted brick fireplace to the ceiling, mahogany Chippendale-style four-poster bed, framed flower prints on the walls and yards of floral window valances sweeping in deep scallops on a picture window. The look is traditional and comfortably elegant.
Beyond the bedroom windows magnificent flowering bushes and trees include cherry, magnolia, forsythia, mulberry, an apple and a large cedar.
"All of them pop, one after the other, so there are constant blooms in the spring," Jan Hallahan pointed out.
Back in the kitchen, which she refers to as the perfect place for preparing dishes for the couple's frequent entertaining, Jan Hallahan reflects on her dream home.
"There is not one thing I don't love about it," she said.
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Making the dream
Dream element: The Hallahans' home in Lutherville is among the largest of the 99 homes in the community of The Meadows at Greenspring. A 40-acre pasture lies directly behind the property, providing lovely views of farmland and rolling hills.
Dream design: The house, constructed of brick and cedar shake, has an Asian-styled, low-profile exterior, an overhang the length of the facade and gracefully landscaped koi ponds at the front door.
Dream interior: The Hallahans have decorated their home in European and American antiques as well as fine reproductions of period pieces. Standouts include a hand-stitched needlepoint rug, a bronze antique fountain in the dining room, along with a gilt-framed painted portrait of Jan Hallahan's grandmother. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping architectural feature in the home is a fieldstone fireplace in the family room, the hearth of which extends the length of an entire wall, corner to corner.