Europeans would have a laugh at our expense over what we consider an old structure. Nevertheless, Monkton's Stone Haven Farm, owned by Dan Saffer and his wife, JoAnne Duffy, had been standing for eight years when Handel's "Messiah" was first performed. The home's rugged stones braved winter two decades before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and years before Baltimore City became incorporated. By American standards, it's really quite old.
A long narrow lane off a main road in northern Baltimore County leads to a circular stone wall, inside of which are a fountain, trees and myriad poinsettias. The main house is a two-story Butler stone structure set on nearly 5 acres. The property includes a large barn several yards from the house and a later addition that is a reproduction of period clapboard.
The home's main entrance presents a picture of Colonial-inspired Christmas decoration. Freshly twined garland climbs the door frame to a pediment embellished with apples, oranges and a pineapple. Inside the farmhouse's original 1734 section, the warmth of a fire, the crackling of wood, stone walls and one of three lavishly decorated Christmas trees plunge the visitor into a festive holiday environment worthy of Thomas Jefferson himself — who just might have been a guest in the mid-18th century.
The 4,503-square-foot lower level consists of a very large living room — once two smaller parlor rooms that Dan Saffer opened up — the dining room, great room and study, the kitchen, breakfast room and enclosed converted smokehouse.
The couple purchased the property in 2004.
"We've redone four homes in the past, and we loved doing that," said Dan Saffer, a 60-year-old plumbing contractor, whose expertise and vision not only resulted in installing new multi-zone heating and air conditioning, but also in creating a huge outdoor patio overlooking Gunpowder Falls and fashioned from Butler stone the couple salvaged from old bank barns.
"When we purchased the house, we removed some interior walls that changed the floor plan from several small rooms to one larger, interconnected space," Saffer explained. "This allows for a great flow between rooms. We also incorporated the original smokehouse and breezeway into the kitchen."
"In warm weather, we open the doors through [the area] for lovely breezes," said Duffy, a 61-year-old psychologist at Sinai Hospital.
The smokehouse is where the second tree is located. Beleek ornaments, miniature trophies from the couple's grown daughter's Irish dancing days and old bulbs and Santas grace the fresh Norwegian spruce bows.
The kitchen, itself an update, boasts green marble countertops, including a 10-by-41/2 -foot single slab for the island. Twin stainless-steel stoves sit side by side under a flagstone backsplash. Cabinets of glazed maple glow from the candlelight of a brass chandelier.
By contrast, an elegant crystal chandelier hangs over a triple-pedestal, 31/2 –by-12-foot mahogany table in the formal dining room. Waterford crystal pieces that the couple use every day gleams in the china closet. Silk-embroidered draperies hang at the windows.
"My favorite room is the one we call the study," Saffer said. "It is very cozy, with the fireplace and its original deep-paneled walls. We use it every day."
The third tree of the house, decorated in colors of emerald with a painted arrow pointing to "Mayo" on its highest bough, sits in a place of honor here next to a second roaring fire.
Duffy's collection of Irish memorabilia is throughout the home. Frequent trips to the Emerald Isle have yielded warm and everyday items, such as peat bricks for fireplace burning and to framed landscapes purchased at Irish galleries, festivals and in the artists' homes.
"We love sharing our Irish collections and our Christmas decorations," Duffy said. "Most importantly, we [are] very happy to share the soul of our home with people who get that it's all about people, not things."
Her husband, who considers every home they shared together over the years a special place, adds, "From married-student housing to Stone Haven Farm, my wife and I have opened our house or apartment to friends and family alike, changing [each] from a house to a home."
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