The Alcarese home, built into a hillside in Baldwin, could not appear more like an Italian villa if it was built overlooking a valley in Tuscany. The only thing missing from the vista surrounding the home are tall, lanky cypress trees of the scenic wine-growing region.

From the road, the home's one-story elevation, built of brick along with board and batten siding, is nestled in lush, almost wild, landscaping. The full breadth of its construction is better seen from the rear of the structure, where the driveway abuts a flower-covered pergola that shades the brick path leading to the side entrance. Here, the door opens onto a breathtakingly large and bright kitchen.

Natural pine bead board cabinets add further warmth to the lemon-colored and textured wallpaper. Light ceramic backsplashes meet the granite countertops. Shelving along the room's periphery, built high up on beams where angular walls meet a cathedral ceiling, are filled with ceramic and clay pottery of all shapes and sizes. Double-handled jugs, urns, bowls and colored platters rest above a room furnished with pine hutches filled with Italian table settings. An angular center island is also crafted from bead board. A gas chimney, waist-level and built into the wall, resembles a pizzeria's brick oven.

Seated at the kitchen island, Vince and Barbara Alcarese are delighted to talk about the Harford County home they purchased new in 1978, and of the improvements they have made over the past 33 years.

"The kitchen is where Barbara and I spend a great deal of time cooking," said Vince Alcarese, owner of US Modular Group East Inc., a company providing designing and space planning. "[We make] Italian food, of course, from family recipes handed down and acquired from our many travels abroad."

After spending $86,000 on what they initially referred to as "an ugly raised rancher," the Alcareses set about making it the villa of their dreams. Since then they have invested more than $250,000 on renovations that include a new kitchen built where the two-car garage had formerly been and an extension of the house to add garage space. They increased the size of their dining room with an addition that includes large windows rising up to a cathedral ceiling. Finally, the couple designed and added outdoor decking in the back.

The formal dining room, adjacent to the kitchen, enjoys ample natural lighting from large windows on either side of the long, rectangular room with a half-cathedral ceiling.

"I designed [the room] this way so you could see right through the house," Vincent Alcarese said.

The dining room's rich paneling is painted white and covers the walls below the chair rail, while the walls above it are painted in alternating shades of lemon and lime. The walls provide a bold contrast to a contemporary suite that includes a long, rectangular table of deep mahogany with caned-backed mahogany chairs and a large breakfront. The room contains two more hutches, one designed of mirrors and the other, an antique piece from Ireland fashioned of distressed wood painted light green.

The living room offers a cottage feel in its decor. Comfortable and traditional-styled sofa and side chairs are upholstered in tonal white on white fabric and sit against walls of soft yellow. Accessories and pillows are light green or covered in a pink and red floral print fabric to match the drapes. An ebony grand piano sits in one corner. Built-in shelving units occupy an entire wall in the living room and are also found on the lower level and in the master bedroom.

"I'm in the space business," Vince Alcarese said, matter-of-factly. "And so I figure ways to utilize space."

Another interesting use of space is at the bar in the lower level. The window set behind it is flanked by shelves, where colorful bottles reflect the light.

Because the home was built into the side of a hill, a patio door from the family room opens a network of decks, dressed with an flowering plants and urns of colorful annuals, following the craggy terrain down to the end of the property. Wooden bridges are constructed over two large ponds filled with koi. Larger parts of the deck are filled with furniture. In one area, under a lighted pergola, there is a raised fire pit.

"The deck is very California," Vince Alcarese said. "The back yard was useless to us because it was so steep, so we tiered it with decking and ponds and a waterfall."

The waterfall gurgles and the movements of the koi — fighting for the food flung into the pond — are the only sounds in the stillness of the backyard.

"This is the way we want to live," said Barbara Alcarese, who worked for Bridgestone/Firestone Tire & Rubber Company before her retirement.

"And we did it all ourselves," her husband adds.

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Building the dream

Dream element: The dream home of Vince and Barbara Alcarese is set in the scenic countryside of Harford County. While basking in the pastoral beauty of their surroundings, the couple also enjoys being within a short drive of the busy thoroughfares of York and Timonium Roads.

Dream design: "Ours is an eclectic decor with an Italian villa feel. I don't know the style, really. I see cottage, contemporary and traditional," said Barbara Alcarese. "Can you imagine a large hassock used as a coffee table?"

Dream touches: The couple has embellished their home with collections and furnishings from their travels abroad. A set of ceramic dishes, white with raised lemons on the rims, was picked up in a little shop in Siena on one of the couple's several trips to Italy, while a landscape painted on wood and hung on the wall leading down to the lower level is a treat they purchased in Naples.