Debbie Zager and her husband, Ben, in their dream home at Harborview.
Debbie Zager and her husband, Ben, in their dream home at Harborview. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Debbie and Ben Zager moved around the greater Baltimore area five times in the past 20 years. Three months ago, they moved into a townhouse in the Harborview residences in Baltimore, and now the couple plans to stay put.

"This is what I wake up to in the morning," said Debbie Zager, gesturing from her second-floor balcony to a view of sailboats moored at the Harborview Marina and, in the distance, boats gliding toward the outer harbor and the grid of the Domino Sugar sign atop the iconic waterfront factory.

"Commuting downtown from Pikesville every morning was horrendous," said the 54-year old legal nurse consultant for Venable LLP. "We always loved the city and didn't want the maintenance involved in yard work, so I started looking in all the neighborhoods down here."

And when the two discovered Harbor Island Walk, just inside the community's Key Highway entrance, and the four-story town houses with rooftop decks, they knew this was home.

The Zagers bought one located in the middle of the block that was 10 years old and had been the model home for the development. Impressive from ground level, the home's four-story exterior is tan brick with white trim. Thirteen steep steps lead up to the front door. And while many townhouses have interior elevators from the garage to the rooftop deck, the couple's house does not.

"At first, I was taken aback by those front steps and all of the running up and down four [flights] inside," Debbie Zager said. "But now I love the extra space I have without an elevator and I've got buns of steel!"

The back of the 3,200-square-foot home faces east, yards from the water's edge. A man-made canal flows behind the lower level patio and garden, where it empties to a large pond with a fountain in the development's central courtyard. A garage, bedroom and bathroom for the Zagers' 21-year-old son, Brian, a college student, are on the ground level.

A living room, dining room and kitchen make up the second level, with an office and the master bedroom and bathroom on the third level. The fourth level, with its wide rear windows, provides a stunning view across the water to Canton and the winking eye of another of Baltimore's iconic signs, the Natty Boh man. Debbie Zager laughingly calls this level the "BZ Lounge," because it is the favorite hangout of her husband, Ben Zager, a 50-year-old businessman who took over his family's scrap metal business.

Comfortably furnished with a seating area, a widescreen TV above one of two fireplaces, and a stocked wet bar, the room is where he entertains friends and family. A bedroom belonging to the couple's daughter, Molly, a 19-year-old college sophomore, is also on this floor.

One last set of stairs leads to a small room that opens onto a rooftop deck and a 360-degree view of Baltimore, the harbor and points beyond.

"I always wanted to live on the water," said Ben Zager, hands in his pockets and standing on the rooftop. "I'm close to work, and I love to walk around the harbor and to the restaurants."

The home's furnishings are bright, contemporary and whimsical. The Zagers are collectors of art, both serious and whimsical, from Broadway wall hangings to framed watercolor streetscapes.

"I like fun. I like to look at things and laugh," said Debbie Zager. "And I didn't have to buy one piece of furniture — everything fit!"

Color, metal and glass dominate the lower level, where a three-piece contemporary living room suite features a purple microfiber sofa, its undulating camel back almost cartoon-like. A glass-and-metal dining room set is offset by a custom, burl wood buffet table. Above the buffet is a painting of colorful flowers created by Molly Zager. Mirrors in a variety of contemporary frames are hung throughout the house, reflecting outside views. A gas fireplace warms the area.

Debbie Zager favors light woods in her furniture and metal built-in units, although she plans to change the kitchen cabinets from their original white laminate to a darker wood tone. The V-shape of her kitchen island where a range has been inserted into a black granite countertop is a favorite place to stand while cooking and gazing out at the boats in the harbor.

"This is a dream view," she said. "You feel like you're in a resort town down here!"

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Building the dream

Dream element: The Zagers' townhouse is located in Harborview, a residential community in Baltimore. Their neighborhood has been designed around a man-made canal system that brings the waterfront of Baltimore's Inner Harbor to doors of the residences. The cluster of townhomes creates comfortable courtyard spaces and water views of the nearby marina.

Dream design: The townhouse is brick with a four-story elevation that features front and rear decorative gables. A variety of paving materials and patterns, as well as pocket gardens, offers a European feel.

Dream interior: The wide, open flow of the home allows for the couple's large, contemporary style furnishings. Metal shelves, along with glass table tops over multi-colored, block carpeting draw the eye inward while the harborfront activity propels the eye outward.