Laurie and Tom Thoner had a spacious new house on 10 acres near historic Havre de Grace. An enviable situation for most, but they felt something was missing.
"It was in a cornfield," explained Ms. Thoner, a Havre de Grace native. "We really wanted mature trees and plantings."
Their desire for old trees led to their interest in old houses. But when they started looking, there wasn't much on the market in the immediate area. They wanted a big house for entertaining with adequate acreage to buffer it from surrounding dwellings.
"We started asking around by word of mouth," said Ms. Thoner, a real estate agent with her family business, Owen Realty Co. Mr. Thoner is a mechanical engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The couple soon learned that the main house at Mount Felix Farm, just outside the city limits, was for sale by its owner. Built in 1838 and situated on 15 acres on a hill overlooking the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, the 18-room Georgian mansion was just what the couple dreamed of.
They bought the house in 1990 but soon discovered they wouldn't be moving in any time soon.
Even though the previous owners had done extensive work on the house, which had sat vacant for many years prior, much remained to be done. Bricks on the main section of the three-story house, which also has two large wings, needed to be repointed, a costly and time-consuming process in which the mortar between bricks is replaced.
Inside, plumbing and electrical work needed to be done, cracked plaster walls needed repairs, porches had to be rebuilt, hardwood floors needed refinishing and, in some areas, had to be replaced.
After a full year of renovations, the couple moved in and set about redecorating, a task for which Ms. Thoner has a passion.
"My love is decorating. To me, it was a real challenge," she said. "After we bought the house, we couldn't afford to go out and buy all new furniture. So we had to make do with what we had. I like the fact that you can take old pieces and new pieces and make it work."
The trick, she said, was pulling their mix of antiques, reproductions and contemporary pieces together using coordinated fabrics, paint and wallpaper.
She chose a beige and rose color scheme for most of the house, including pale pink moire wallpaper that extends three stories from the foyer to the third floor. The three-story curved staircase, with its original railing, is one of the house's outstanding features.
The main section of the house contains a double parlor, large dining room and a den, which the original owner, John Mitchell, used as an office.
Upstairs are four bedrooms and a large bathroom, which now serve as the master bedroom and adjoining dressing room, a guest room and office. The third floor contains two smaller bedrooms -- used as an exercise room and storage room -- and one large bedroom occupied by the couple's 21-year-old son, Marcus. His room once served as a schoolroom for children, said Ms. Thoner.
In the west wing, original to the house, the couple enjoys a huge kitchen and breakfast area complete with the original hearth with iron cooking crane. The house has 11 other fireplaces as well.
Off the kitchen is a large screened porch and upstairs, accessed by a back staircase or through the main section of the house, are three rooms that would have been servants quarters. The Thoners use one room as a laundry room, another as a clothes storage room and the third was converted into another bathroom.
The larger east wing, added in the 1920s, contains four rooms, including a second kitchen, and 1 1/2 baths. The Thoners rent this wing to a family friend, using the remaining 14 rooms and four bathrooms themselves.
"We live all over this house," said Ms. Thoner, adding that they want the house to look comfortable, not like a museum. "A house like Mount Felix can feel stuffy and overwhelming, and we want people to feel comfortable when they come to visit."
Ms. Thoner's eclectic taste and collections give the house a less formal feel than it had in earlier times -- her antique china and hurricane lamps share a room with a stool covered in faux leopard skin, a matching gilded mirror with leopard skin inlays and brightly colored hat boxes.
According to local historians, the house has had many owners since John Mitchell, who made his fortune through agriculture and had it built for himself and his seven children.
The old house is an ongoing project, said Ms. Thoner, who has recently turned her attention to the grounds.
"We spent so much time working on the inside that we kind of let it go. Now that the house is pretty much set, we're starting to work on the outside," she explained.