In 2001, Mike and Mary Landavere were renting an apartment in an old Victorian home in Catonsville when, after five years, they decided to search for a home of their own.
"House prices were climbing every month," Mary Landavere, a freelance decorative painter, remembered. "We had to [make our] move."
For the 40-year-old artist, the area and style of house seemed a clear choice. She had grown up in Catonsville and always appreciated older houses, especially their interiors.
"The house had to be old," she continued, "but Mike wasn't sure, because [he] can't fix things."
In 2002, the couple compromised and purchased a Catonsville Cape Cod built in 1964 and situated on a lushly landscaped 31/2 acres.
"If I couldn't have what I wanted, I decided I would create it." Mary Landavere said. "There was nothing as far as architectural interest here, but I felt I could bring something to it. I had an empty canvas."
Six years later, the canvas is not finished, but ample architectural interest has been added.
The Landaveres paid $215,000 for the "well-maintained, clean and in move-in condition" home. Over the past six years they have spent another $40,000 for upgrades, including a two-level deck of Brazilian walnut, new kitchen sink fixtures and a new bathroom sink, a two-zone HVAC system with humidifier, sliding glass doors off the rear family room and red oak flooring on the second level.
All the while, Mary Landavere worked on decorative painted finishes throughout the house.
A red front door accents the white aluminum-sided, 3,500-square-foot house with olive green shutters. Inside, a small flagstone area defines an entrance hall with stairs to the second level immediately ahead. A soft shade of mauve paint on the staircase walls suggests cheeriness and calm.
Mary Landavere's favorite room is the the dining room, with its walls painted to look like brown leather. The 11-by-13-foot room is sparsely but elegantly furnished in a Moroccan theme that features a multicolored glass fixture hanging from the ceiling.
Furniture here, as in the rest of the house, has been carefully and deliberately chosen at a variety of local antique, secondhand and consignment shops, as well as flea markets. A 6-foot oak table coordinates with a carved oak buffet and china cabinet dating from the 1930s. Accessories in the room include Moroccan clay pottery and velvet draperies in a swirl pattern of cream and light green. Ceiling molding - a feature she has always admired in older houses - has been meticulously installed and painted cream.
"The kitchen was very 1980s, but since we couldn't redesign it at this time, we wanted to make it pretty, fun and functional," Mary Landavere said.
Hanging cabinets from the ceiling, along with a counter unit, separate the kitchen space from a family room. The couple hope to remove the cabinets and counter and restore the space to the one large room it once was. In the meantime, Mary Landavere dealt with the claustrophobic appearance by removing the cabinet doors and painting the dark laminate in soft shades of green for a cool, tropical effect.
In contrast, the living room presents a warm, sunny ambience with walls painted lemon yellow and red linen draperies at the window. An eclectic mix of furniture includes an old church pew in oak and a large, leather club chair.
The Venetian-style plaster walls so admired by Mary Landavere in older homes became part of her life in the upstairs master bedroom, where she meticulously fashioned that look along with an exotic feel in a Moroccan-style heavy oak headboard on a king-size bed.
"The walls speak for themselves," she said. "The walls are the art."
Mike Landavere is proud of his wife's decorative accomplishments while summing up a continuing relationship with the house.
"We didn't walk into this house and say, 'This is our dream home'," he said. "We're in the process of making it that way. And it's always evolving."