If you have ever seen a Currier & Ives holiday greeting card— snow on the roof of a Victorian house, a wreath at the door and a Christmas tree glowing warmly in the front bay window — then you can picture the home of Michael Sotir and his wife, Carolyn Black-Sotir.
The Sotirs live in a three-story, turn-of-the-century structure fashioned of cedar siding, with a wrap-around front porch, floor to ceiling front windows and a slate roof. And while the holiday season is still weeks away, the glow of autumn foliage embraces the home in the Sudbrook Park neighborhood just northwest of Baltimore.
The couple had lived in Bolton Hill until 1989, and with their first child on the way, they decided it was time to purchase a single-family home. Michael Sotir — now owner of Blue Print Builders — had worked in historic renovation and the two wanted a house and a neighborhood with history.
"I will never forget driving slowly through the neighborhood in awe of the beautiful old homes, and then my heart skipped a beat when I saw a "for sale" sign in the yard ahead of me," Carolyn Black-Sotir remembered. "As I drove towards the house, it slowly revealed itself in all of its splendor."
Four months after that first visit, the stately Victorian, built in 1897 and designed by Baltimore architect George Archer, became the property of the Sotirs at a cost of $269,000. They were, amazingly, only the third owners.
While the three-story, 6,000-square-foot house was certainly livable, it wasn't long before the couple realized what a mammoth challenge they had taken on to make their historic house a home. Looking back on it 22 years later, they marvel at the fruits of their labor.
"We wanted to preserve the beauty and the charm but also update [the house] in order to enjoy the comforts of a modern home," explained Michael Sotir, who estimates that the cost of updating, renovation, repair and maintenance easily exceeded the original purchase price.
The couple, while raising their family of three boys, landscaped outdoors and added new cedar shakes on the exterior structure, while tackling interior updates such as heating, plumbing and electrical. Additionally, they undertook a complete kitchen remodel and installed state-of-the-art showers in two of the home's four full bathrooms and new fixtures in the first-floor powder room.
The heart of the Victorian's interior needed no makeover. Its decor, decidedly late 19th century with arts and crafts accents, basks in the warmth of old wood, built-in bookshelves, leaded windows with wavy glass, heavy pocket doors and eight working fireplaces. The house has six second-floor bedrooms, that, like the rooms on the first floor, enjoy an open, circular flow. The third floor houses office space.
The home's grand entrance hall has the feel of an English country manor house, with tapestry fabric on the walls, chestnut trim around doors, rich pine flooring, a built-in seat under mullioned windows and a magnificent chestnut staircase leading to the open hall of the second floor. Rooms are masculine in feel, cradled in the richness of wood paneling and furniture pieces above which hang original paintings in gilt frames.
The dining room, with it walls painted a deep raspberry is formally furnished with an eclectic suite whose common denominator is the deep patina of the wood, from mahogany to oak. Four throne-like carved chairs flank an oblong table, looking much like a dining hall in a Tudor estate.
A music room features a grand piano and the living room appears right out of academia, with tall bookshelves against carved paneling, a table set for study and leather furniture placed around a roaring fire in an Italian molded brick fireplace.
"Yes, this could be a library room at Harvard or a gentleman's club," said Carolyn Black-Sotir, a professional vocalist and teacher. "We have learned to be very resourceful in furnishing the rooms. We are big on reuse."
The couple points out that their furnishings are a result of 22 years of diligently hitting the auction houses and consignment shops. They have also made use of connections in the building business. For example, the kitchen's warm maple cabinets and spacious center island are the handiwork of an Amish cabinetmaker contracted to Blue Print Builders.
The couple also turned some of the quirky aspects of the house to their advantage, such as a parking lot behind the home that the previous owners installed to accommodate cars when the home was rented out for weddings. A perfect place for their boys to play when they were little, the area has found a new life, as what Carolyn Black-Sotir calls "a dream refigured."
"Gone is our parking pad on steroids," She laughed. "Instead I have a bluestone patio with a fountain and gardens."
The house today, not too far off from the home it was in the bygone days of Currier & Ives Christmases, still gives the couple pause over 100 years later, as they both remark, one after the other: "This is a house with a personality. It's a great holiday house."
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Building the dream
Dream element: The Sotirs' stately Victorian home sits on two acres in the charming and historic neighborhood of Sudbrook Park. In speaking of its location, Carolyn Black-Sotir said she finds that the area has many advantages. "We are located just one mile over the city/county line and one mile from the Beltway, which gives us quick and easy access to Washington D.C. and Baltimore," she said, "we are within walking distance of the metro, which runs directly to Johns Hopkins."
Exterior design: The three-story Victorian is built of cedar shakes and clapboard with a slate roof. Floor to ceiling windows open onto a wrap-around porch. Old trees surround the house.
Interior design: Taking their cue from the fairly undisturbed interior, the Sotirs built upon the existing wood original to the home. Leather furniture enhances the built-in pieces. The second floor's open hallway with its circular flow allows for set furniture pieces. The walls are painted an old gold shade that both brightens the area and serves as a handsome backdrop for hung paintings and tapestries. One of the first things Michael Sotir built was a skylight on the third level hall to add brightness to the area.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun