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Family weathers the storms to create ideal rowhouse


The tale of Stefan and Christine Rubin's Charles Village dream home starts in 1973. Its chapters include an inheritance, storm damage, a family reunited and, ultimately, a loving renovation job.

In 1973, Stefan Rubin's parents, Richard Rubin and his wife, Kay Halle, purchased a two-story brick rowhouse on Abell Avenue for $10,000. Then, as now, the street was wide, tree-lined and quiet.

The street extends for four blocks, from East 30th Street to University Parkway one block east of Guilford Avenue. Not conducive to through traffic, Abell Avenue is visited by people with a purpose.

The couple raised a son and daughter in the circa 1920 home. After a 1983 divorce, Richard Rubin moved to Mount Washington and Halle made her home on Cape Cod.

In 1991, their grown son moved back to his childhood home, renting the property from his dad until the mortgage was paid off two years later. His father then deeded the house to him.

In 1997, Stefan Rubin, 34 and a title agent with Artisan Title in Baltimore, began renovations. His wife, Christine Rubin, whom he married a year later, said the couple spent an initial $25,000 to update the home's kitchen and its one bathroom, and to repaint the interior and exterior. All was comfortable - for a while, at least.

The next phase came five years later, with what began as a disaster for the young family, which by then included a 3-year-old son, Brooks. In December 2002, the Rubins' flat roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.

"We had to move into an apartment across the street," Christine Rubin said. Reconstruction was delayed because of the heavy volume of weather-related claims.

"And then in April," she said, "a freak snowstorm leaked water into the house down into [the walls'] Sheetrock."

Christine Rubin, 35, who owns the Fleur de Lis floral shop, was pregnant with her second child and distraught over yet more damage to the home. Her mother-in-law came down from Cape Cod to help out, promising to stay until Mother's Day.

Homeowner's insurance paid $60,000 for the couple's new roof and the replacement and refinishing of several interior walls. The Rubins decided to spend $20,000 more to install central air conditioning and replace all of the windows in the 2,500-square-foot house.

By July 2003, the Rubins were able to move back into to their home. Daughter Mazie was born a month later. Halle, having remained in Baltimore past Mother's Day, decided to stay on, taking over the rental of the Rubins' apartment across the street. She has kept her Cape Cod home for visits.

Christine Rubin looks back philosophically on the past few years, marveling at a happy ending to a bizarre series of events.

"We got our house completely refurbished," she said. "We enjoy our mother-in-law, who's happy to return to the old neighborhood, and she takes care of our children while we're at work."

In the design of her refurbished house, Christine Rubin incorporated her love of a "modern, clean look with touches of vintage warmth." Her touch begins on the front porch where the carved, wooden spindles of the railing are painted red, white, gray and blue in totem pole fashion. A double-door entrance opens onto an interior that stretches almost 50 feet.

Two adjacent walls of the living room are painted warm red, contrasting with the white 8-inch molding that surrounds two large front windows and the room's other two cream-colored walls. A wool carpet with a red background bears a design of cartoon-like flowers, stars and hearts in light pastel shades.

The pine and wood inlay floors here and throughout the house are original. A country sofa is dressed in a ruffled white and pastel pink slipcover for a homey touch, while the opposite wall showcases a long wicker credenza. Shelving and shadowboxes display a variety of brightly colored vases, jars and pottery.

"This was my prettiest room," Christine Rubin said as she entered the dining room, now a playroom.

Though there is no table, there is a mahogany buffet and china closet. The hearth and mantel of a once-working fireplace houses colorful toys. As in the living room, a wool carpet with fanciful markings rests atop the polished floor.

The updated kitchen is at the rear. Christine Rubin's aim for this room was to combine "playful, modern and country" while maintaining a "fresh and youthful" look. New white cabinets and shelving hang against slate gray walls for contrast.

Black granite countertops, a chrome ceiling fan and light and a steel industrial table lend an air of a professional kitchen. Touches such as a ceramic, blue rooster cookie jar and live goldfish add a homey touch.

Christine Rubin considers the master bedroom on the second level her favorite room. Soft pink walls, bay windows with custom plantation blinds, an old suite of furniture painted white, a rocker and baby's crib in the corner are all reminiscent of a cozy, farmhouse setting.

By contrast, Brooks' room at the far end of the second level has bright apple-green walls and plenty of colorful toys lying about.

Among the many things the Rubins appreciate about Charles Village is the number of children in the neighborhood. Christine Rubin especially enjoys the nearby Waverly Farmers' Market, which operates all year. The area's cultural and ethnic diversity is also a big attraction.

'I can't think of many people in Baltimore [other than] Charles Village residents that can walk to an African, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Korean grocery store all within five minutes," she said, laughing.

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