Federal Hill home is a family oasis

Ann and Dominic Wiker loved life in their Federal Hill home. As a professional couple in their 30s, the neighborhood was ideal — they could walk to most attractions, shops and restaurants. It seemed there was always something fun going on outside their door.

Then parenthood happened, and with it came the idea of moving to the suburbs. They would move, but they wouldn't leave Federal Hill. Nine years later, the Wikers — mom, dad, 9-year old Alex and 7-year old Tommy — have, to their delight, become a poster family for raising children in an urban environment.

"Every time we thought about leaving, we were depressed with the idea," Ann Wiker, 45, said of those days before the family moved to William Street. "We didn't know there was such a strong family element. [We] started to connect with other parents and realized that the same neighborhood that had offered everything we wanted as young adults was going to be a great place to raise kids."

The Wikers bought their three-story home in March 2007 for $395,000. Their first task was to remove the Formstone that covered the exterior facade, revealing the original brick underneath. They replaced all of the windows, remodeled the kitchen, installed central air conditioning and built a playroom in the basement for the kids.

The house, built in the 1880s, has four bedrooms (two on the second floor and two on the third), along with two full bathrooms and a powder room. The interior, with its 101/2-foot ceiling, measures 15 feet wide in the front third of the home and 12.5 feet where the outdoor sally port begins. By Federal Hill standards, that is a wide home.

The 90-foot interior depth allows for a large living room, spacious dining room, kitchen, laundry room and mudroom, each room lined one after the other from the front of the home to the back alley.

"Growing up in San Antonio, I [hadn't] imagined living like this," said Dominic Wiker, a 43-year old development director for The Time Group, a housing investment firm in Mount Vernon. "My friends from home can't believe 15 feet is a 'big' house."

The "big" feeling begins when you step from the vestibule to the living room, and is enhanced by the high ceilings throughout the home. A soft yellow paint covers the living room walls, and natural light floods from two side-by-side windows almost 7 feet high.

Two easy chairs sit in front of the windows, providing a particularly warm feel with their jewel-toned upholstery. A neutral-colored sofa sits opposite a fireplace and large bookshelf, its placement marking the parameters of the room and providing a hall-like walkway to the rooms beyond. A jewel-toned love seat and end table are tucked into the wall directly in front of the staircase, while a beige rug and an old cobbler's bench-turned-coffee-table heighten the richness of the Brazilian rosewood flooring found throughout the house. It's little wonder this is both Ann and Dominic's favorite room.

"When we moved in, we had a hodgepodge of hand-me-down furniture and neutral-color walls," said Ann, curator of Art Exposure, a mobile gallery that places artwork in commercial venues. "Last year, I got frustrated with how boring it looked and started repainting the bookcase, refinishing end tables, et cetera. We bought a new couch, love seat and armchair; my mom made new curtains, and then the finishing touch was some new artwork, including new glass work and a mobile."

In fact, Ann's artwork highlights every room in which it is found. And she didn't just buy the artwork — she created it.

For example, in her dining room, over the home's second fireplace, is a large landscape of a field at sunrise. The green of the grass and the soft yellow of crops in the foreground embellish a red, barn-like structure, the focal point of the painting. Taking a cue from the painting, the walls here are sage green over soft yellow, with a white chair rail in between. An oak hutch, buffet and table create an atmosphere of solid simplicity.

On the second level, the couple's master bedroom is situated at the front of the house, while the other areas include an office, a TV room and a rear balcony.

The third floor features two brightly decorated bedrooms for Alex and Tommy. Equally cheerful is the basement playroom, filled with toys, books and games. Noticeably missing is a television set, a deliberate move to encourage the children to use their minds and creativity as they play.

Future projects are planned for the home — the couple wants to expand the third floor to max out the depth of the lower two levels. This will allow for the children to have larger closets and their own bathroom. They also want to redo the second-floor porch and put in a backyard parking pad.

In the meantime, the Wikers continue to enjoy and appreciate all that Federal Hill has to offer, which includes lots of other kids and a charter school in walking distance where their children attend. Very little seems to have changed for Ann and Dominic Wiker, except that now their family is complete with both children and Chino, their dog.

"We can leave our front door without a plan at any point and stumble upon something going on — a festival, live music, a museum exhibit. We have a lot of friends in the neighborhood so it feels small-town to us, but we have easy access to good dining, and cultural activities, [and] we get the best of city living, too," Ann said.

The Wikers will be one of several homeowners participating in the Federal Hill House Tour on Nov. 1, from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, go to historicfederalhill.org.

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