Chip and Linda Olsen stand on the upper deck of their dream home located in the Pier Homes at Harborview.
Chip and Linda Olsen stand on the upper deck of their dream home located in the Pier Homes at Harborview. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Chip Olsen and his wife, Linda, grew up on Long Island. Their memories, reflected in framed photographs on the walls of their home, are of long afternoons sitting on sandy beaches or idly dangling their feet from one of the many piers along the shore.

Little wonder, then, that they would end up living in a home on a pier jutting 500 feet into Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Chip Olsen's job as senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis required travel and relocation, taking the couple from Charlotte to Atlanta. It was the opportunity to lead a regional office in downtown Baltimore that brought the empty-nesters to Charm City last May. While renting at the Inner Harbor, the couple checked out several areas in which they might settle permanently.

"We weren't sure whether we wanted urban or suburban," said Linda Olsen, a 48-year-old interior decorator. "We looked at a condo in Towson and properties in Homeland and Roland Park."

Both agreed they didn't want condo living but loved the idea of living on the water in an urban setting.

Ultimately, Realtor Bill Ganz of Exit Results Realty in Columbia found them the perfect place to call home. Last September, roughly five months after they came to Baltimore, the Olsens moved into their Italianate-style town home on the water.

"We feel like we're living in a boat," said Linda Olsen, indicating the water below the windows that, on this particular day, is calm as it reflects the steel-gray sky overhead.

"But I can walk to work," interjected her 50-year-old husband. "Did you know that [we are] within one mile of 63 restaurants?"

In addition to being a unique project, Pier Home at HarborView recalled the beach town they both lived in and the quirky kind of waterfront lifestyle they had been missing for 20 years.

The home they purchased had been one of the models for the community of 88 homes, 56 on two piers. It's five stories high, with each floor accessible by an interior elevator, as well as by oak staircases lined with family photos.

The ground level of the 3,700-square-foot interior consists of an entrance hall, bedroom and bathroom combination and access to a two-car garage. The second level is the floor the couple says they virtually live on, with its open living room, dining room and kitchen. The master suite takes up the entire third floor, while the fourth floor features a large family room and two guest bedrooms sharing a full bath. Finally, the fifth level opens onto a wrap-around rooftop deck, with a stunning view of the harbor, city skyline and hills beyond.

While the couple brought most of their furniture with them, they did invest in a few key pieces, such as a three-section cast-iron shelving unit in the living room, to provide a touch of Baltimore's industrial past.

Linda Olsen refers to her decorating scheme as "informal eclectic," where a heavy, Baroque-style dining room set shares space with smaller, more contemporary living room pieces in leather.

"My idea was to purchase basic pieces that will go in any color zones; that is, where [accent] colors [are] very interchangeable," she said.

And with the idea that even a new home can benefit from a little remodeling, their kitchen was the beneficiary of additional island space, stainless tile backsplashes and lowering of the breakfast bar to table height, which further opened the area around it. The couple also added another closet in the master bedroom, where dark cherry furniture placed alongside white bed linens creates a dramatic contrast. A drafting table in cherry wood also fits beautifully near the double doors leading to the third-floor balcony.

The fourth floor has been treated to a neutral decor with a wrap-around sofa in front of a wide-screen TV. Together with the guest bedrooms, often used by the couple's two grown daughters when they visit, this level doubles as a separate apartment, once again, with its own balcony. Likewise, the ground level with bedroom and bath makes the perfect suite for the couple's son when on leave from the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

"This is our motto," said Linda Olsen, pointing to a plaque in the kitchen that reads, "Live Life to the Fullest."

"We love our house because it brought us back to the water. And it's small enough for two people to be comfortable, yet big enough to have 16 people for Thanksgiving dinner and give them a place to sleep."

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Making the dream

Dream element: The Pier Homes at HarborView are located off of Key Highway in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Dream exterior: The homes are built of stone over masonry with a decidedly Mediterranean feel. The piers themselves are surfaced in cobblestone, and each townhouse facade bears wrought-iron railings and hand-forged doorways in a scroll design. "I've always wanted to live in a house with a castle door," says Linda Olsen of the exterior. Each town home also features its own garage and rooftop terrace. Additionally, all five floors have private balconies and each home, a two-car garage.

Dream touches: "There isn't anything hanging on the walls that doesn't mean something to us," Linda Olsen noted, referring to an entire wall of black-and-white photos from Florida, taken by Clyde Butcher, a photographer whose work they collect and admire, and a large painting of tulips on canvas that she had commissioned from a small postcard. A large framed print of the exterior of the Merchant Marine Academy displays the alma mater of both father and son.