Like many empty-nesters, Karyn and Don Haasen flirted with the idea of a change in lifestyle — the kind that comes with a new home in a different locale. In their case, the move was from suburban Bel Air to a renovated rowhouse in the Upper Fells Point area.
"Don and I spent a lot of our free time, when we were still living in Bel Air, exploring various towns, festivals, art shows, restaurants, museums, [and] flea markets, always dreaming …that it would be fun to live in a place where we could walk to everything," Karyn Haasen recalled. "Eventually, we came to the conclusion that Baltimore City basically offers more of everything. Trying out an urban lifestyle was an adventure we both thought would be great."
Since 50-year-old Don Haasen grew up in Southwest Baltimore, the move was like coming home. As a bonus, it also placed him much closer to his workplace in Columbia, where he is senior vice president of alternative banking methods at Sandy Spring Bank.
And while the couple always loved old houses, neither wanted to take on a huge renovation project. What their real estate agent found for them was a three-story, brick rowhouse, circa 1870, already completely renovated and left in impeccable condition by the former owners who had spent decades there.
"The house was better than move-in condition," Karyn Haasen said, adding that she never even had to put a paint brush to a wall.
The 55-year-old freelance writer and Web content developer calls the furnishings in her home "my eclectic hodgepodge," explaining that she and her husband are always on the lookout for pieces they can find in scale to the house, and acknowledging that can often be a challenge for a space that measures just 12 feet wide.
The common denominator in their interior design is warmth, which is palpable from the front door entrance. An open layout reveals walls painted olive green and a soft creamy yellow. Oak flooring glistens softly against the kitchen's cherry cabinets and shiny black appliances. From the front to the end of this first level, floors drop a step by room, only to rise a step creating a variance in the ceiling height, from a 12-foot tray ceiling in the living room to a 10-foot ceiling in the dining area, and back to 12 in the kitchen.
With the help of interior designer Marianne Fisher of Row House Interiors LLC, the Haasens learned how to think about ways to enhance narrow spaces in their home while using every square foot for space and storage.
For example, Fisher suggested built-in cabinets and shelving in the living room and dining area. The couple also hung a large mirror against the brick wall in the dining room, which opens up the area. The mirror, hung horizontally, is an old carved door with the original beveled mirror intact.
Scale in furnishings is as important as design, especially in narrow rooms. Aware of that fact, the Haasens have placed mostly Colonial and traditional chairs and tables in the space. Oriental-style carpeting, as well as reading nooks illuminated with low and directed light, add as much to the coziness of the home as the couple's great collection of artwork.
"One of our favorite artists, Maria Cavacos, lives just around the corner," said Karyn Haasen. "She has lots of pieces in the Fells Point Gallery, and that's where we first saw her work. She does collages, often cityscapes [that] capture the feel of Baltimore, even though usually they are not any specific place. We have two of her pieces and absolutely love them."
Artwork and sentimental family pictures are found throughout the home and its three bedrooms, as well as in a second-story landing, an area large enough to be a sitting room.
Karyn Haasen, who said she loves holiday decorating, looks forward to decorating for Christmas and enjoying activities with the neighbors who all socialize with one another.
"We have a really strong and active community association that keeps everyone abreast of local issues and represents our interests with the City Council," she said.
But most of all, the couple enjoys the city lifestyle that, perhaps, is the greatest amenity of her dream home.
"We love the energy — there is always something going on, in Patterson Park, at the Creative Alliance, in Fells Point or the harbor," she said. "We live among artists, activists, amazingly smart young people from Johns Hopkins, and folks who have lived here forever and can tell you about the history, which we love. The blend of all these people results in a really strong feeling of community."
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