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The journey from a ranch-style house in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kan., to a three-story rowhouse in Baltimore was a move worth taking for MaryAnn and David James.

The couple chose to be closer to their grown son, a musician living in New York City. They were also eager for a change from their landlocked lifestyle in the Midwest and longed for the diversity and vibrancy of a big East Coast city — complete with a harbor view they could enjoy every day.

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After accepting jobs in metropolitan Baltimore and renting a house in Bolton Hill for two years, the Jameses finally found their dream home in Butchers Hill, high above the harbor they would come to love.

"We bought the home with help from [Baltimore's] Vacants to Value program that gave us a $10,000 grant, and from Live Baltimore that gave us $5,000," said MaryAnn James.

The 95-year-old house was converted from a storefront property and renovated before their purchase, but the couple decided to update the kitchen and bathrooms, have cabinets installed where needed, and have windows treated with Indow inserts for insulation and noise reduction. This installation, along with a tinting treatment on their 84-by-72-inch plate glass front window was a necessity for them along the bustling Eastern Avenue corridor.

"I always laugh when people stop in front of the window and check out how they look," MaryAnn James said with a laugh. "They don't think I can see them."

Once inside the 15-by-70-foot interior, a settled-in feeling belies the fact that the two have only occupied the home for only three months. But MaryAnn James, a 55-year-old choir director at Glenelg Country School in Howard County, had the entire summer to decorate, purchase furnishings and have all the construction work completed.

She describes her design style as "very eclectic, but deeply rooted in vintage."

Her refusal to have anything other than real wood in the house poses a small problem when working on a budget, hence her frequent visits to vintage secondhand shops and places like Baltimore's Second Chance. James is never happier than when she is making something "new" out of something old.

"I like to surround myself with pieces that have a story to tell," she said. "I wonder what home the piece was in and who lived with the furniture, prior to my [use]."

A particular standout — and a huge bargain — is a dining room set with Ethan Allen Chippendale chairs they purchased for $149 each. James and her equally industrious husband, a 58-year old driver for Normandin Transportation, upholstered the chair seats themselves. A breakfront and serving sideboard was purchased at Belle Patri, a combination consignment shop, antiques emporium and new furniture and accessories store in Jarrettsville, for $500. She painted these solid mahogany pieces with black accents.

Another find is among the items the Jameses brought with them from Kansas City. A combination kitchen island and cabinet is made of distressed wood with a painted sign on its exposed side that reads "Star Seeds," which MaryAnn James said came from the Kansas City stockyards. This interesting piece makes for a nice contrast in a contemporary kitchen that features wooden cabinets painted white, aluminum appliances, granite countertops and a tile backsplash in shades of gray, beige and pearl white.

James included gray, black and cream in every room, with each one accented with a different pop of color. To help with this design scheme, she called on interior designer Adrianne Kotula of WPS Paint & Decorating Center in Harford County.

Kotula picked out all of the wallpaper designs and suggested Roman shades for the windows.

"She appreciated that I had ideas, too, and wanted to add my own touch with accessories," said James, who made her own valences over the Roman shades. "She worked with existing pieces that we already owned."

Kotula's most obvious contribution was matching vibrant wallpaper designs with each room's decor. In the living room, she chose a medallion design in shades of black, cream and gray to coordinate with the Jameses' gray leather, club-style sofa. The pop of color in the room comes from bright red throw pillows and wall accessories.

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James' favorite room in the house is the second-floor office/guest bedroom. Needing a home office but also wanting a place for her overnight guests, she achieved the best of both worlds by transforming the large closet into a desk area, with shelves to accommodate a computer, printer and mail slots.

"When it's not in use, I just close the door," James said.

She then bought a convertible sofa bed with a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Her accent color here is yellow, designed around a yellow quilt with blocked white stars pieced together by her great-great-grandmother. Kotula chose yellow, white and gray wallpaper in a medallion print as a backdrop accent. A door at the far end of the room leads to a deck overlooking James' garden and detached garage below.

"Another thing about Adrianne is that she recognized my 'girly' side," James said.

And to prove that point, she leads the way to her what she calls "my diva room" at the front of the second floor. Here, in shades of gray, white and black with pops of pink, a boudoir fit for a queen has been created with lacy fabric and a pink, throne-like chair. A Victorian-era vanity and matching dresser painted black create a dramatic effect.

On the third level, in addition to the master bedroom, a door at the end of the hall leads to the Jameses' deck with a panoramic view of rooftops, church steeples and the harbor. David James often relaxes there in a pool chair and watches the boats activity through binoculars.

Back at street level, her body turned away from the mirrored-glass store window, MaryAnn James expressed her affection for their new city, with one caveat.

"We really love Baltimore … but we still root for the Royals, the Chiefs and the Jayhawks," she said. "Some things will never change."

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

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