Rebecca Yenawine and Mark Carter are accustomed to awe-struck looks when visitors cross the foyer of their 19th-century rowhouse in Reservoir Hill.
The four-story brick Victorian, built circa 1870, is sprawling — some 6,000 square feet. And with six bedrooms, four baths, 14-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and a prominent spiral staircase, the space evokes grandeur and elegance.
Yet despite the home's loftiness, the couple has managed to create a sense of warmth and intimacy.
Rich colors, traditional furniture, global accessories, art and photography meld seamlessly to complement the historic architecture. Dozens of windows bring in sunlight by day, while soft glowing lighting at night completes the ambience.
"It wasn't cozy before Mark moved in," says Rebecca Yenawine, 39, while curled up on a living room couch across from her husband, as their two black cats, Che and Francis, slink by.
"My style was having wide-open space for yoga or dancing, with a couple of things on the wall," she says. "I'm not a good decorator, but Mark is. He helped to make this house gorgeous."
For his part, Carter was happy to lend his style imprint to a house that he applauds for its "great bones."
"I'm someone who loves cozy spaces," he says. "And while these ceilings are impossibly tall, when we light candles and fragrant incense, there's a feeling of nurturing and love."
Situated on a leafy city block, the house provides a soothing sanctuary for Yenawine and Carter, fellow youth advocates who met eight years ago at a community function. They tied the knot on Sept. 11, 2010.
While hailing from different backgrounds, both have similar values about helping others. Home and hearth are very important to them.
Yenawine, raised in Manhattan, came to Baltimore as a college student back in the '90s. When her parents split and her mother relocated to California, she yearned to set down roots.
"I felt like I didn't have anywhere to go," says the Goucher College graduate, who heads the nonprofit New Lens, a youth-driven social justice organization that uses art and media to incite change. "I'd become very attached to Baltimore and the neighborhood, so I decided to buy this house."
Purchased in 1994 when Yenawine was in her 20s, the property cost $87,000. "My mother helped me get the mortgage. My posse of girlfriends all moved in together and paid rent. It was a fun, crazy group house."
Carter, who grew up in Philadelphia, came to Baltimore more than a decade ago to help create youth programming. Today, the licensed social worker, who holds degrees from Temple University and University of Pennsylvania, is the program manager for Ele8, a community education initiative in East Baltimore.
Though it's been years, Carter can remember a time when he had nowhere to call home.
"I was couch hopping and going from place to place," Carter recalls of a period between undergrad and graduate school. "At one point, I lived in my car. So home has become exceedingly important to me."
That sentiment shows in the care the couple have taken to maintain the nearly 150-year-old house, which Yenawine says was in good condition when she first moved in nearly two decades ago. "It hadn't been chopped into apartments," she recalls. "At that time, I did only minor things, but we've since done other renovations."
With nary a white wall in sight, the couple has painted rooms in hues like ocher, taupe and tangerine-pink. They replaced windows to make them more energy efficient. The hardwood floors gleam, part of a recent "deep cleaning" of the entire house from top to bottom.
Meanwhile, Carter has meticulously incorporated various design elements throughout the house. "Every room has character," he says. "I listened to the historic feel of the house and tried to be bold in the aesthetic."
The living room blends comfort and sophistication with plump armchairs and curvy couches covered in plush velvet and other fabrics. It's offset by Carter's collection of African artifacts, including an intricately carved bed now used as a table, tribal masks, colorful kente cloth and other textiles, as well as beaded jewelry. They were acquired during travels to Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and other countries.
Other rooms have contemporary touches. The adjacent formal dining room features a long table made of reclaimed wood that was once a bowling alley lane.
"They cut it to size and we set it on farm-style table legs," says Yenawine.
The couple's favorite room is the kitchen, with its large island, cabinets crafted from wooden shutters, and a marble fireplace. Some of Yenawine's original paintings hang on the walls. From the windows, one can view the garden, which has a stone pathway, and seating to enjoy nature.
As the house tour continues, requiring a trek up a dizzying number of stairs, the upstairs vibe is equally artsy and eclectic.
Walls and hallways double as galleries lined with black-and-white photography. One tableau highlights images of famous "freedom fighters" while another showcases contemporary nudes.
Besides a guest room, each has individual areas that double as work spaces and retreats; Carter has jokingly dubbed his area a "man loft," instead of a man cave.
Yenawine, a trained painter who briefly attended MICA, has an upstairs art studio, a downstairs exercise room where she practices yoga, and a dressing room she refers to as "my boudoir." Decidedly feminine in tone, it's adorned with glittery Indian tapestry, and a painted Asian chest that was a gift from a family friend.
The den, where the couple head to watch movies, is crammed with hundreds of shelved books, music and memorabilia. The third-floor master bedroom is spacious and airy, with a brightly patterned Indian canopy over the bed.
The house also reveals a series of charming finds in various nooks and crannies. They include a clawfoot tub in one bathroom, a vintage American flag with 48 stars and even a high-backed church pew from an AME congregation in upstate New York which dates back to the 1850s.
With so many treasures packed in every inch of the house, the couple says that packing would prove near impossible, should their respective careers ever take them elsewhere.
"If we had to move, it would probably break my heart," says Yenawine. "At every stage of my evolution, this house has been a place where people grow and feel nurtured, where there's generosity. We feel lucky every day to live here."
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Making the dream
Dream element: Rebecca Yenawine and Mark Carter reside in a 19th-century rowhouse in Reservoir Hill. Built circa 1870, the house is among many Victorian, Italianate and brownstones in this historic Baltimore neighborhood a few blocks from Druid Hill Park.
Dream design: The four-story house spans 6,000 square feet and boasts 14-foot ceilings, multiple windows, six bedrooms, four baths, hardwood floors and a wooden spiral staircase. There's a tiny front yard, and a backyard garden has a stone path.
Dream interior: The eclectic decor includes richly painted walls, traditional furniture, textiles, global accessories from Africa and Asia, art and photography. Pieces include a dining room table crafted of reclaimed wood from a bowling alley lane, a vintage American flag, and an AME church pew that dates back to the 1850s.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun