Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams found his dream home after overhearing a conversation in the locker room.
As a newly drafted rookie in the summer of 2013, Williams was too busy learning plays and practicing to spend a lot of time searching for a house. When he heard then-teammate Ray Rice telling other players he was selling a townhouse in Pikesville, Williams decided to check it out.
"For some reason I said, 'This was it,'" Williams says. "It felt right at the time. I can't explain it."
He called his girlfiend, Alyssa Karel — now his fiancee — and told her, "You're going to love it."
The 2,100-square-foot townhouse, located on a cul-de-sac in the Grey Rock community, is spacious enough to accommodate the 6-foot-1, 335-pound nose tackle, Karel and their 3-year-old son, Ryder. The gated community is tucked behind a busy shopping strip off Reisterstown Road — private, yet accessible to the Beltway and the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility.
The couple paid $299,900 for the home, which was built in 1999. For the past two years, they have been gradually changing the interior decor to embody an Old World style that fits the home's stucco exterior.
The first project Williams and Karel undertook was updating the kitchen — swapping a white linoleum countertop for a granite one, adding stainless-steel appliances and replacing recessed fluorescent lights with or Thomas Edison-style lights (caged, bare bulbs). The couple's friend Amy Thomas, who is an artist, painted the oak cabinets a washed-out white, and Karel added dark knobs and hinges for a more rustic look.
It's a style Karel replicates throughout the house in light fixtures, hardware and furnishings.
"This is like our little farmhouse," she says.
Past the kitchen, the townhouse opens into the dining room, living room and office areas. A leopard-print rug beneath the dining room table complements the oak wood floors and mustard-colored walls. But Williams was initially dubious about the rug.
"He said, 'This is going to look hideous,'" Karel says. "I said, 'Just trust me.'"
Nonmatching dining chairs include two gray upholstered chairs Karel found at a thrift shop. Above the table hangs a photograph of Williams with their infant son asleep on his back.
The family kept the wall colors they inherited in the dining room and living room — mustard above the chair rail, chocolate brown below — but Karel painted the walls of the adjacent study putty gray. Thomas helped her arrange eclectic wall decorations in the living room, including a clock, keys and a cross.
Karel says her favorite part of the home is the open living room and dining room area, where Ryder can spread out his toys and she can play with him.
"Ryder and I do a lot of arts and crafts on the table," she says.
The upstairs, with three bedrooms, is a work in progress. But Karel's artistic sensibilities are evident in the guest bedroom, where she has painted broad gray-and-white stripes on the walls. White wooden picture frames decorate the walls, and a television stand she painted with silver leaf catches the eye. Pops of purple in the pillows, draperies and wall art stand out against the neutral background.
In the bathroom off the hallway, Thomas painted the cabinet beneath the sink to resemble the look and texture of snakeskin. Above the stair landing, Karel has arranged a group of crucifixes of various sizes and materials, accentuating the home's rustic decor.
The basement includes a family room where Karel often socializes with her female friends. Behind a closed door is the "man cave" —so designated by a Ravens-themed sign — where Williams unwinds with friends, playing video games and watching TV.
That room is dominated by a huge, plush bean-bag chair. Williams' high school, college and Ravens jerseys are framed on the wall, and game balls he received for outstanding play are displayed on the TV stand — along with rag dolls representing quarterbacks he has sacked.
Williams says this is his favorite room in the house.
"The wives hang out in the bigger room and we're crammed up in there, but we love it," he says.
For their next project, Karel wants to next decorate the master bedroom to give them more storage space for clothes. Williams hopes to install a downstairs patio. He says he is happy to let Karel take the lead on decorating decisions.
"Every year, I choose a room or two to do instead of overwhelming ourselves with all of it," Karel says.
She recognizes the uncertainties of building a life in the NFL, where any year could mean a trade and starting over in a new city.
"We take it day by day, and right now this is our home and we decided to make it our home," Karel says. If the day comes they must leave Baltimore, they will work to make another dream home, she adds.
"We'll tackle it once it comes," she says.
Spoken like a true football spouse.
Dream realized: The most important feature Brandon Williams and Alyssa Karel were looking for in a home was ample space, especially in the bathrooms. Karel says when Williams was hunting for houses, he "would always get in the shower to see if he could turn around."
Dream design: Since buying the home in 2013, Karel has gradually been transforming its standard 1990s decor to one that is more rustic and accentuated with earth tones. The transformation meant getting rid of a brass chandelier that Williams loved. "I liked it too, but it was very '70s-looking," Karel says.
Dream location: Williams and Karel say they love the Grey Rock neighborhood, which is a mixture of townhouses and condominiums. They spend a lot of time at the community pool during the summer and enjoy talking with their neighbors. "It's awesome," Williams says. "You see everyone with their kids and walking their dogs."