Dream home
(Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun)

Many buyers looking for a lovely and quaint place to live in Baltimore City would probably have torn down the crumbling wreck of a house (in a perfect downtown location, however) in favor of rebuilding from the ground up. Not so with Kevin and Shelley Horten, who greet their guests at the side entrance of a completely rehabilitated, end-of-group rowhouse in Federal Hill.

"When I first moved to Baltimore, I had never lived in a city," noted Kevin Horten, a 45-year-old vice president of Supplies Unlimited, a building supplier in Southwest Baltimore and an Ohio native. "Once I decided this was the lifestyle for me, it was time to start thinking about rehabbing my own home."

In 2003, he found the ideal place to make over. It was in the heart of Federal Hill, a few blocks from the Charles and Light streets' business sections and the ever-burgeoning activity and growth along Key Highway.

He paid $185,000 for the derelict property he would soon turn into his dream home.

"I knew I wanted a very industrial, contemporary home," he continued. "I really wanted a house that looked like it could be in lower Manhattan but was smack in the middle of Federal Hill."

And so Horten ("Horty" to just about everyone who knows him) elicited the help of John Bolster of New Renaissance Architects & Builders Inc. in Baltimore. The two men, in 14 months (and at a price tag of $225,000), would completely renovate the house, adding a third story, and a deck above that, accessed by an enclosed space for a small refrigerator and sink unit. They would raise the front half of the first level to allow for a full-size club room below. Most of the ductwork was exposed, along with the entire west wall's original brick. The most dramatic feature is the atrium in the central portion of the house, which is completely open to the fourth level, with a floating steel staircase zig-zagging up three levels and past a second-story catwalk that Horten refers to as the home's "wow factor." The staircase sits like an abstract sculpture, splitting the interior in two.

"I think when you stand in the dining room and you can look up four stories, it is an amazing sight," he said.

From the central dining room, the west (or front) end of the house is elevated a half level to the large "game room." Here, in a space painted a shade of old gold, a pool table takes the spotlight. The periphery features a bay window onto the street, the exposed brick wall with a fireplace, a long bench cushioned in royal blue and two areas with raised pub-style table and chairs. A painting by local artist Shelly Wilkerson of Maggie, the family's German shepherd, hangs on the wall next to the cue rack. Exposed beams on the ceiling add to the industrial look of the home.

Directly below the game room is Horten's favorite spot in the house — the club room.

"Being a sports nut, there is nothing I enjoy more than having my fellow Buckeye or Cleveland friends over for a game," he said. "Watching sports on the 61-inch TV with surround-sound brings the game right into your living room."

The kitchen is at the rear of the home, adjacent to the dining area. The lime-green walls in this area offer warm contrast with the maple cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances. Clerestory windows above the cabinets' ledges provide ample lighting for potted plants.

Three years ago, Horten married Shelley Ryan, a 42-year-old logistics analyst, who, he says, put the final touches on making the house a dream home. .

"I think Shelley's favorite spot is in one of the chairs on the catwalk, [reading] a good book or a magazine," Horten said "It offers a great view of the rest of the house [while providing] the solitude perfect for getting lost in a good story."

A hall of windows on the second level separates the front of the house from the back. An office on one end is a virtual football shrine complete with a barrister's bookcase filled with NFL helmets; the guest bedroom is at the other end. A full bath sits in the center of the hall.

Climbing the stairs and arriving at the third level, which was a full addition to the house, it's clear that it was modeled on the layout of the existing second floor. A workout room is at one end, and a master bedroom and bath at the other.

The rooftop deck offers the perfect place to relax with friends and to take in a 360-degree view of other rooftops, steeples, the harbor and downtown buildings.

"I think the biggest reason I consider this my dream home is because we took a blank canvas and turned it into something incredible," Kevin Horten said. "Of course, having Maggie and Jack (the couple's other dog, a 13-year-old black Lab) wagging their tails when you come home from a long day would put a smile on anyone's face."

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Send an email to homes@baltsun.com.

Federal Hill House Tour

The Horten home is part of the inaugural Inside Federal Hill House Tour, sponsored by Federal Hill Main Street, a nonprofit organization focused on community revitalization efforts. The tour is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20, from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 each or two for $40. For more information, visit historicfederalhill.org or call 410-727-4500.