The Laurelford community off Falls Road in northern Baltimore County is resplendent in its variety of stately, custom-built homes. Predominately Georgian and Colonial in style, they rest on large landscaped lots surrounded by tall trees.
One of the first houses in the neighborhood - built in 1988 - was set apart in both space and style. Placed off the beaten path on nine wooded acres at the end of a cul-de-sac, the contemporary design, with its brick construction and commercial-looking doors and windows, was the joke of the neighborhood. Many residents referred to it as the fire station.
"I took on the challenge of making the ugliest house in the neighborhood a warm and friendly place," said current owner and interior designer Kathie Werhane.
She and her husband, Charlie Werhane, chief operating officer of Enterprise Community Investments, purchased the home and land in 2001 for $560,000. It had been on the market for several years, according to the couple, much of that time as a rental property. Consequently it wasn't in the best of shape.
Kathie Werhane had her own agenda for the property, one that six years later showcases a new home raised from the skeleton of the old one.
"We took the house all the way down to the studs, both inside and out," she said, leaving only the load-bearing columns.
Acting as her own general contractor, Kathie Werhane began with her personal designs drawn on graph paper and then taken to an architect. Her plan was for an informal, yet elegant French farmhouse-style design.
The couple moved into the basement of the original structure and moved from floor to floor as work was being done on what became their 10,000-square-foot dream house.
"I liked the challenge of creating around what needed to stay," she noted, adding that being on the site the entire time was a definite plus for immediate changes.
To date, with many interior details still undone, the couple has spent nearly $700,000 on the home's transformation. The once red-brick exterior is now stone and cement board siding.
A gabled roof provides a farmhouse feel with square windows peeping from it. Beyond an arched front door of solid oak lies an open circular layout with oak flooring and wall niches filled with vases of fresh flowers. The 90-foot-wide entrance hall has a clear view to the breakfast nook in the rear where the setting sun glints through tall trees beyond three bay windows.
A French country kitchen gleams with maple cabinets with countertops and a cooking island of polished granite. Clay tiles from California that have been hand-fired, painted and glazed create a geometric design above a Viking range that sits inside a maple fireplace mantel.
A butler's pantry opens to the dining room where a floral needlepoint rug lends a casual but elegant tone. A carved oak refectory table stretches an impressive 12 feet; a large bronze chandelier hangs overhead.
Across the hall in the living room, a sparkling white cut-faced marble fireplace offers contrast to dark leather furniture and heavy hunter green draperies that cover French doors that open on the brick front porch.
The family room took the longest time to redo - three months of 12-hour workdays. In the manner of a classic men's club, the walls are of paneled oak with an oak coffered ceiling. The fireplace is of quarried stone, commonly called Western Maryland stone.
The second level consists of a master suite and another three suites, all with separate baths. The third level, still in need of furniture and window treatments, has cozy dormers and features room for an office and living area in its south wing, with a fourth bedroom suite and bath on the north side.
As Kathie Werhane prepares to decorate her home for the Baltimore Symphony Associates Home for the Holidays tour, she expresses great excitement in sharing the nearly completed project.
"It's a totally different house, now," she said, "with years of projects still in it."
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