When the time came to stop renting along the Essex waterfront and purchase a home of their own, Kevin Barnett and his then-pregnant wife, Lisa, began scoping out Baltimore neighborhoods.
"We couldn't afford a lot of the houses in the county," said Lisa Barnett, who works part time in the Adult Literacy Program for the Community College of Baltimore County.
Their eight-month search brought them to Hamilton in the northeastern part of the city, where the variety of architecture and close-knit neighborhood ambience appealed to them.
There, in the summer of 2004, they found an asbestos-shingled home built in 1900, and situated at the crest of a hill on a side street off busy Harford Road.
"I walked in and didn't want to leave," Lisa Barnett remembered. "I said, 'This is it!'"
The couple paid $175,000 for the two-story home, which includes an attic and family room addition, along with an entrance hall, kitchen, dining room, parlor and three upstairs bedrooms.
While the house was in fairly good condition, the Barnetts spent about $20,000 on plastering and painting, refurbishing the Georgia pine floors upstairs, converting a second-floor kitchen into a large walk-in closet and replacing all but three large Victorian windows.
As with many clapboard homes of that era, the many large windows and 10-foot ceilings lend a feeling of spaciousness to the rooms.
A covered front porch leads to a foyer, where splashes of colored light fall from a stained-glass transom over the front door and a diamond-shaped window on the staircase. Beyond, a country kitchen is dominated by a large, almost floor-to-ceiling cupboard made of poplar. While it came from another house in the neighborhood, this impressive piece is of the period and the Barnetts use it as a combination china closet and pantry. Well-worn drawers define the cupboard's lower half while lace-curtained glass doors conceal shelves on top.
Bull's-eye molding hugs the door frames both here and in the other rooms, and a tin ceiling in the kitchen adds to the turn-of-the-century charm. What was once the home's small back porch now houses kitchen appliances, separate from the eating area. A pass-through reveals a dining room painted a vivid peach, made all the brighter by a bay of three windows.
The family room, painted a two-tone cream and cadet blue, is housed in a 40-year-old addition. Two microfiber sofas, bookcases and an entertainment unit fill the room, along with toys belonging to the couples 3 1/2 -year-old daughter, Sarah. Windows on the east and west sides of the room look out to a fenced yard.
"One of the things we wanted was a yard," Lisa Barnett said. "And now we have a quarter-acre."
The parlor in the front of the house bears a distinctive turn-of-the-century flavor in its decoration. Lace curtains hang from the two front windows, while a reproduction Duncan Phyfe Empire-style sofa commands the area between the windows. A red brick fireplace is on the west wall, installed with a gas line but no flue.
"I have a friend who said he'd build a chimney for me," laughed Kevin Barnett, owner of a Budget Blinds franchise.
The second level of the house has three bedrooms. In Sarah's nursery, walls have been hand-painted with a variety of animals - a "shower gift to me from a friend, who did the work in a day," said Lisa Barnett.
Pleased with their home, the Barnetts find the neighborhood friendly, with young families moving in all the time.
"I have a sense of being a steward to this house," Kevin Barnett said, "to take care of it because it will be here long after us."