But it stood in the middle of 85 acres of farmland, with cows grazing in the distance and sweeping views of rolling countryside all around. That's what convinced them to buy it as a second home.
"We always wanted a place in Maryland that reminded us of our trips to France and Italy," Mazaroff said. "This was a little bit of Italy in Baltimore County."
A former Venable law firm partner, Mazaroff works as an arbitrator and recently wrote a book about the early years of the Walters Art Museum. Dorman, who has worked in government and the private sector, is a member of several boards, including the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland SPCA.
Maintaining a primary residence in Bolton Hill, the avid art collectors and patrons use the farm as a retreat.
The countryside in Maryland is "gorgeous," Dorman said. "We just fell in love with the place."
Twenty-one years after they bought the 1830s farmhouse, Dorman and Mazaroff have completed a glass-and-steel addition that allows them to take full advantage of the panoramic vistas that drew them to the property in the first place.
The addition serves as a perch from which they can survey the landscape. On one end is a 17-foot-square living and dining space, enclosed on three sides by floor-to-ceiling glass walls held up by the steel. On the other is a 14-foot-square screened porch, also framed by steel columns. In between is a kitchen that serves these new 'rooms with a view,' and the rest of the house as well. From every inch, the owners say, they feel as if they are outdoors, even though they are inside.
"This is our favorite place" in the house, Mazaroff said of the addition, which received a 2011 Excellence in Design Award from the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.. "It's beautiful. My favorite time of year is the spring, when everything is blooming. The fall is beautiful. In the summertime, it's pretty spectacular too."
While they enjoyed the rustic ambience of the old farmhouse and corrected many of its shortcomings over time, the owners say, they still had to live with the relatively small windows typical of rural dwellings that are two centuries old.
Mazaroff said he and Dorman wanted the project to reflect two of their loves — the landscape and architecture.
"First," he said, "we wanted to maximize the view, because the view of the countryside is so terrific."
And from a practical standpoint, he said, they wanted to replace an older family room that was unlivable for much of the year.
"It was falling apart. It was uncomfortable in the wintertime, with the breezes coming through the walls."
To design the addition, Dorman and Mazaroff hired Baltimore-based architect Charles Brickbauer, who is well known for working in a Modernist aesthetic, and interior designer Bob Berman, co-founder and partner of Johnson-Berman Architectural and Interior Design of Baltimore.
Brickbauer worked early in his career with Philip Johnson, the New York architect who made a splash in the late 1940s when he designed the "Glass House," one of America's earliest all-glass residences, for himself in New Canaan, Conn.
"We knew that Charles had worked for Philip Johnson," Mazaroff said. "We've been to see the Glass House, and we had something like that in mind. ... It's the inside-outside relationship."
Brickbauer, who worked on the farmhouse addition with Chris Daly, said he quickly concluded that the best approach would be to create a glass-and-steel addition to replace the older family room. The structure contrasts with the stone and wood sections of the farmhouse, creating a dialogue between old and new. But the relatively modest dimensions keep it from overpowering the rest of the house.
The painted steel structure is cantilevered slightly over a concrete foundation that provides storage space and lifts up the main living area so it appears to float above the sloping hillside. The screened porch sits flush with the land. Precisely laid stone walls provide an aesthetic buffer between house and hillside, while helping control soil erosion and providing a setting for gardens. At night, the two living spaces glow like beacons in the dark.
In the southwest corner of the living room is a free-standing fireplace with a rectangular enclosure made with black granite by John Gutierrez Studios of Baltimore and a metal chimney kept as slender as codes would allow so as not to obstruct views.
By putting the fireplace near one corner and locating the main door near the opposite corner, the architect created a circulation pattern that encourages most people to enter the room on a diagonal. It is as if the room is an arrow, or the prow of the ship, with the fireplace corner providing a focal point that draws the eye to the best views. Accentuating one corner also "introduces a dynamic in a space that could easily have been static because it's square," Brickbauer said.
Like the house itself, the interior design is a mix of old and new. Dorman collaborated with Berman to select furniture and finishes that work well with the architecture.
Dorman said she wanted furnishings that essentially "disappear," so they would not upstage views. The Oriental carpet in the glass room was selected, she said, because it receded into the landscape, like the forest floor. "The idea is to see the outdoors as much as possible," Dorman said. "That's what I wanted to see, not the furniture."
Berman agreed that the goal of the interior design was to maximize the impact of the views.
"It was a minimalist palette and a limited number of materials," he said. "Nothing shouts. The view is the main thing. Everything else is background."
In terms of furniture selection, the owners' taste is "definitely contemporary" and informed by their travels to Europe, he said. "They like French and Italian."
Berman said the owners already owned a few pieces that they wanted to use in the addition, including an oak dining room table that fit the space perfectly and set the tone for other choices.
The kitchen cabinets and built-in book shelves, fabricated by M.S. Moeller Cabinetry and Millwork of Westminster, are also oak, to go with the dining table. Dorman purchased vintage chrome-and-leather dining chairs online. The kitchen counters are made of a light gray "CaesarStone," a synthetic material with the durability of natural stone.
According to Berman, the matching leather sofas, from B & B Italia, were arranged on either side of the fireplace to reinforce the diagonal circulation pattern. "The fireplace was a given," he said. "There were not a lot of options."
The palette of browns, grays and other neutral colors imparts a sense of warmth without upstaging the landscape outside. The lines of lamps, ottomans and other furnishings are straight and rectilinear to echo the grid of the steel infrastructure. The designers struggled to find a ceiling fan that would not stand out and ended up using a Modern Fan "Pensi" model with slender white blades and a single spotlight that illuminates the coffee table below.
Inside the screened porch, too, furniture was selected with a neutral color palette and low lines that don't compete with views. Matching lounges encourage people to put their feet up and perhaps read a book from the shelves off the kitchen. Dorman bought two matching tea tables created by a Korean artist she admires, Hun-Chung Lee.
Another design challenge was the owners' desire to have a flat-screen television set in the glass room. The solution was to hide it in an oak case behind one of the sofas and install a motor that raises it when someone wants to watch TV and hides it the rest of the time. When the TV set is down, the enclosure simply appears to be a slender console behind the sofa.
Although Dorman and Mazaroff have an extensive art collection, not much of it can be found in the latest addition. Ever since the 1800s, the farm house was "beautifully situated" to show off the landscape, Dorman said. That was the idea of the addition as well — "to frame the views. That is the art in the room."