In 1988, with only three months to relocate from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen, Stephen Hoffman and his wife, Sharon, set out to find a house in Maryland.
The couple started their search with a historic house in Harford County that had been recorded in the Aberdeen Heritage Trust. According to the entry, the "Cole House" was originally a small log house, built in the mid-1700s on a parcel of some 100 acres that had been deeded to Col. James Cole.
For the Hoffmans, it was a house with potential.
"This was the first house we looked at," said Stephen Hoffman, a 58-year-old salesman for a commercial roofing products manufacturer. "I love history, and I saw the house's potential, and I kept looking at where, and how, it could be expanded."
He was sold on the Colonial farmhouse constructed of white oak logs.
"As a courtesy, he showed me two more houses," said Sharon Hoffman, 51, who works at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center,
The couple paid $132,000 for the farmhouse and the two acres it sits on. They moved to the house in December 1988, and since that time, the Hoffmans have been working to improve every corner of the rectangular Colonial, while overseeing a few additions — including two now-grown daughters.
Over two decades, the couple estimates, they spent $150,000 on features that include a new driveway, a cooling and heating system, a kitchen remodel and a new great room that opens onto a patio and landscaped backyard, which is the bulk of the 2-acre property. With the addition of the great room, the interior of the house was expanded to 3,000 square feet.
The great room, built of knotty pine, has a cathedral ceiling and large windows, including a four-paned arch window that looks out on the backyard. The decor here is comfortable traditional with an overstuffed, tan leather suite of furniture, a wide-screen television, and copious potted plants basking in natural daylight pouring in from the windows. A country bathroom, also in the addition, features Italian tiles. French doors of birch wood and glass close off the great room and its vestibule from the rest of the home.
Both the kitchen and dining room are laid with Brazilian tiger wood flooring. In the kitchen, black appliances contrast with warm, glazed maple cabinetry. Granite countertops join backsplashes of neutral shade granite tiles.
"I was so allergic to horse hair, I thought I would have to leave the house when the kitchen was torn apart," Sharon Hoffman said of the material used to seal up the openings in the logs 250 years ago.
A kitchen wall bears a framed artifact that was found while during the renovation — a Baltimore American newspaper dated Nov. 24, 1909. Beautifully intact, the broadsheet featured an article about keeping the church out of politics, and another recounting a visit to the capital by Chinese officials eager to find out how business affairs are conducted in a big country.
The Hoffmans had the wall between the dining and living room torn out and replaced with a half wall, allowing for a much larger, open space at the front of the house, where an oak staircase climbs to four bedrooms on the second level. One is used as Steve Hoffman's office. In a corner of the bedroom office, a narrow door opens onto a staircase that, at one time, led to the third-floor attic and servants' quarters.
It will be a difficult decision for the couple when it comes time to think about moving on.
"This home has the memories of my youth; I poured my love and labor in [it,]" said Sharon Hoffman of the past 23 years. "This house is our legacy."
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Making the dream
Dream element: The Harford County farmhouse sits on almost two acres of land off a busy local road. "This is probably the best-kept secret in Aberdeen," said Sharon Hoffman. "No one would guess that two acres are here."
Dream design: The three-story Colonial features a welcoming front porch in the center of the symmetrical façade. A steeply pitched roof adds to its farmhouse appearance along with a semicircular front driveway. A walk behind the original house reveals its L-shaped addition and beautiful exterior landscaping. "We call this Paradise Grove," said Stephen Hoffman of a backyard filled with red maple trees, willows, oaks and a cherry tree. "Many of the trees are home-grown and nurtured," Sharon Hoffman pointed out. "Every time we lose a tree, we plant a new one. Seems like I drag a hose all summer long, — I feel like a fireman."
Dream interior: The farmhouse itself has dictated the interior decor, where comfortable and utilitarian antiques and upholstered traditional furniture share space with the modern amenities of electronics and kitchen appliances. An inviting dining room features an oblong dining table of oak surrounded by bow-back chairs on a large hooked rug over Brazilian hardwood flooring. The home is filled with collected framed art that includes pieces purchased from the annual Coconut Grove, Fla., art show, ship prints, and cityscapes purchased when the couple lived in Heidelberg, Germany.
Dream exterior: A particular personal touch that Stephen Hoffman built is a backyard pond and fountain where water lilies glide on the surface and the granite ledges are surrounded by miniature evergreen trees and bushes.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun