New rehab points the way home

Wisconsin transplant Dana Ostrenga has spent the past 14 years on the south side of Baltimore.

The 37-year-old NASA scientist lived in Federal Hill and then in Washington Village, also known as Pigtown. When it was time for a change, she didn't want to move far, but she did have a list of requirements.

"I wanted a brand-new, turnkey rehab," she said, ticking off the items on her list. "I wanted location, a parking pad, lots of natural light, two stories, a finished basement, three bedrooms, two baths, and I wanted it to be diverse and kid-friendly."

This might have been a difficult order to fill — especially in the area around Baltimore's Inner Harbor — were it not for Matt and Mike Knoepfle, area contractors who buy neglected properties, gut them, rebuild and put them on the market.

"It's hard to find contractors who stand by their work," Ostrenga said. "They showed me this house as they were gutting it."

Ostrenga liked what she saw and happily negotiated a sale price of $305,000 for the two-story, brick end-of-group house in Locust Point.

With the deal sealed, the work began, and Ostrenga moved in last March, along with her 2-year-old black Labrador, a rescue dog she namked Kennedy.

"After living in a colder-style, modern house, I appreciate the warmer, more traditional aspects of this house," she said. "There's more of a Federal look."

She decorated her home to match the interior that features warm, Indonesian redwood flooring, a kitchen with dark walnut cabinets, recessed lighting and an entire wall of rugged red brick.

One of the great advantages in renovating the old brick rowhouses is the freedom to open the interiors and let the natural light in. Walls that once separated living room, dining room, kitchen are torn down, resulting in a space that appears far larger that its actual measurements — in this case 121/2 feet wide by 60 feet deep.

Ostrenga chose to paint the entire first floor in taupe, a rich contrast to the white trim of the ceilings and windows. The mellow shade also serves as a neutral backdrop for her traditional furniture, including a large, solid oak barrister's bookcase for her leather-bound collection of tomes, and a living room suite featuring a beige microfiber easy chair and ottoman and a brown leather sofa.

At the front door, blocks of sunlight from four large windows reflect on the wood floor like a bright path, illuminating the kitchen island's light granite countertop and the muted colors of gold, red and green running through homey throw rugs.

A swirling wrought-iron railing leads to the second story, where Ostrenga's office, painted in celery green, provides contrast to her apothecary-style desk and wood cabinet painted black and then distressed.

On either side of the long hall that runs from the front of the house to the back are two bedrooms, one a guest suite with a ceramic tiled bathroom and the other the master bedroom. Ostrenga's photographs, hung gallery-style on the walls, are colorful remembrances of her world travels, especially those taken on safaris.

"I love India," she said. "I have been all over the country and will someday adopt a child [there]."

An interior stairwell leads to the rooftop deck offering a panoramic view of the Baltimore's skyline and harbor, along with iconic neon signs like the one on the Domino Sugars factory, and the shipyards.

Ostrenga describes the area as vibrant and diverse yet full of tradition, with older neighbors of German and Polish descent, who are staunchly patriotic, as evidenced by the American flags flying from the houses sitting in two long rows leading to Fort McHenry.

"I am so happy in this neighborhood," she said. "I didn't get a tax credit, but I got a great house!"

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