A curve in the narrow Severna Park roadway reveals a stunning view of the Severn River shimmering under the summer sun.
Another slight bend, and Karen Daborowski's home rises up on a small, lush green hill. The lower part of the house has a facade of stone. A stone retaining wall curves around the front of the residence. More stone and slabs of slate form the wide stairs and pathway to the front door.
On the right, rising above the stone wall, we can glimpse an umbrella deck set, placed on part of the tiered deck that runs along the side of the house. The upper tier is shaded by a colonnaded overhang.
The view from the deck is to die for.
Actually, several people have died at this house. Or at least, they acted that way.
In the past, the house has served as a set for re-created scenes of murders and other crimes for "America's Most Wanted," a television series that aired on Fox from 1988 through 2012, and, after that, on Lifetime in 2013.
Daborowski was employed by the show's producers for 17 years as a crime researcher and writer. Working from home, she is currently busy writing and conducting research for other TV reality series.
We arrive, expecting to meet a grizzled, world-weary, cigar-chomping crime expert. Instead, we're greeted by a chic, svelte, upbeat, divorced mother of three.
Yapping at her feet is Miley, a cockapoo.
Daborowski and her former husband purchased the land and the building on it in 2005. It was the neighborhood eyesore. The structure, built in 1958, was uninhabitable, overgrown with weeds and vines. Windows were broken. The interior had water damaged.
No one could miss the cringe-worthy residence while driving to the nearby community swimming hole, a riverside, man-made pond fed by a natural spring and rimmed by its own white sand beach.
The two created their own architectural designs, using graph paper and inspirational photos that Daborowski tore from magazines.
They worked within the constraints of the 30-foot-by-80-foot footprint of the original house, which was demolished. Local homebuilders Sue and Ray Green constructed the new dream house. Some plans were altered by serendipitous finds — like the windows that Daborowski purchased at an auction in Baltimore.
The kitchen layout was refined and installed by Kitchen Designs of Annapolis.
Interior designer Lisa Bell aided with the home's color palette and selection of the dining room wallpaper.
The property was full of surprises. Neighbors showed them the spot where there was once an indoor pool. A previous owner got tired of it and filled it with concrete.
The builders covered it with slate, turning it into a patio replete with a stone-walled fire pit.
"I grew up in the city of Agawam, Massachusetts," Daborowski said. "My dad had a boat. I spent a lot of my childhood aboard that boat on local lakes, Wickaboag and Otis [Reservoir], fishing and water skiing. I wanted to be near the water again"
Attending college at the University of Maryland College Park, she fell in love with the bay and the Annapolis-area rivers.
When she moved to this area, Daborowski and her family first settled in the Walden community of Crofton. She and her former spouse are the parents of James, Mya and Jack Nelson, ages 17, 14 and 12, respectively.
"This neighborhood is terrific," Daborowski said. "All the neighborhood kids love to sleep over here.
"Sometimes, 20 kids are playing basketball out front and eating pizza."
The house was planned not for looking at, she said, but for entertaining guests. Daborowski pointed out that there are no TV sets in front section of the main floor.
The main area of the first floor is open and airy. Directly ahead, a dark, handsome wooden sideboard table, topped with two voluptuous white lamps, is set beneath a large, round mirror framed with the same dark wood. All were finds at the Urban Country shop in Bethesda.
To the left, a staircase spirals up to the second floor.
On the right, one can see over a low cherry wood partition directly into the living room area. We walk around the partition and realize it is a long, low, cushioned bench. Drawers built in beneath the bench hold an assortment of craft supplies and odds and ends.
A pair of Baker couches, Daborowski noted, are covered with Ultrasuede. "I was thinking of the kids when I got the sofas," she said. "I can clean them with a rag."
The room's area rug and rugs throughout the house were Pottery Barn purchases, as was the furniture in the kids' rooms upstairs. Additional accents and furnishings came from a HomeGoods shop.
A few steps away, an oval hardwood table and complementing chairs, all from Ethan Allen, are placed in a corner with ample views of the Severn River.
Though there are area rugs in the living room and informal dining room areas, most of the wood plank floors are bare.
"The kids track a lot of sand in here. Keeping rugs to a minimum helps a lot with the cleanup," she said, beckoning us over to the kitchen.
A sign on a side counter proclaims:
Eat it or starve!
In addition to the main double stainless steel sink, there are two more in the granite-topped island. One is a smaller rinse sink, and the other is a steamer sink for steaming crabs, other shellfish and vegetables.
With a giggle, she showed off the kitchen's two dishwashers.
"I need it with three kids and all the company," she said. "If I ever have another house, I'll do it again."
Down a side hallway, we pass a suite of rooms. They were expressly designed to be flexible. The smaller of the suite's two rooms is where the kids store art supplies, electronics and games. The second room is a bedroom with a queen-size wooden sleigh bed. A full bathroom joins both rooms. In the event of a short- or long-term visit by an elderly relative, the kids' area can be emptied out and converted to a sitting room for the guest.
Across the hall is the family's formal dining room. The carved wooden dining room set, from Ethan Allen, is set on the bare floor, enhancing the room's understated elegance. The curtains were found at a Calico Kitchen shop.
Farther down the hall, an archway leads to an informal family room furnished with cozy Ultrasuede upholstered chairs. The room's ceiling rises to the height of the second floor. On the second floor, a rounded balcony overlooks the area below.
Have a hankering for a few fresh s'mores? The hearth of the fireplace, featuring a tall, rough-hewn stone flue and a stone bench, is piled with logs ready to be lit.
A few steps away is Daborowski's office. Files are neatly lined up on one side of the heavy wooden desk. It coordinates with a three-part wooden cabinet-and-bookshelf unit along one wall.
"Live a Good Life," reads a line of standup wooden letters.
Down into the basement we go for a quick tour.
One hallway, tiled with slate, leads to side entrances to the garage and driveway. Opposite a large doorway is a wall lined with open blond wood lockers. There's a space for each family member to stash outerwear, sports equipment and boots.
Another doorway opens to reveal a large, wood-paneled screening room. On two levels are seven pale La-Z-Boy armchairs with cup holders face a large, wide-screen TV.
On the right side of the room, a set of bookshelves can be pushed aside, like a secret door, revealing an exercise room with a double-chair weightlifting machine, a treadmill, an exercise cycle and free weights. They all show signs of regular use.
The slate tiled bathroom features two fluted, clear glass sinks set into a thick glass counter. It includes two showers, too. One is a regular shower and the other is a steam shower — basically a steam room with the look of a shower.
Up the entrance-making staircase we go.
Daborowski's favorite room is the second-floor laundry room.
"I love it here," she said. "We don't have to carry laundry all over the house. But next time, I'll put in two washers and dryers to handle all the laundry."
Her bedroom, like the rooms throughout the house, is devoid of clutter and froufrou.
Her large, modern wooden sleigh bed is set into a wide, tall recessed window. An oversized tufted leather ottoman nestles at the foot of the bed. It matches an upholstered leather armchair and its smaller, companion ottoman nearby. It's one of Miley's favorite spots.
Her bathroom, like the one in the basement, features two showers. Plus, it has a full, deep Jacuzzi tub. The room's tiles, like the tiles in the basement, are from Home Depot Expo, as are the cream colored, wooden cabinetry.
Mya's room is a bright fuchsia. On one wall, she's constructed an inverse pyramid composed of photographs of herself, family and friends and mirrored letters that spell out "PEACE."
The wall above her bed is aflutter with paper butterflies and a caricature portrait drawing of Mya as a young girl. A pair of backpacks are slung over the posts framing her headboard. On the bed, in the pile of pillows, is one she made from a green and white striped oxford shirt.
A connecting bathroom, a bright shade of creme de menthe, leads to James' room, painted a shade of lime green. His bed is covered with a simple, bright blue spread. The room has a sturdy window seat bench, set into a window crowned with an arched ellipse.
A wooden desk displays his growing collection of ball caps.
Jack's room is last. We take a look.
He is a teen.
"Did I say I love this place?" our host asked.
"My kids catch crabs that we steam for dinner. There's always dozens of kids here, in the yard or on the lawn. Our home is close to D.C. and Baltimore and only 31/2 hours by car from New York City," she said.
"I wake up every day and it's beautiful here."
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