A professional contractor can walk into any house and assess its strong and weak points. Tony Newton, 49, and owner of his family-run construction business, found a home in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Ten Hills with many more strong points than weak ones.
"We literally became stalkers of the neighborhood," said Renee Newton of the couple's hunt for a home on the market in the neighborhood where every house is different and there is a great sense of community.
In July 2003, the Newtons bought a 1925 Dutch Colonial, constructed of cedar shake and situated in grand fashion on a triple lot.
Tony Newton recalled that the house "had great bones," while his wife remembers "stripping wallpaper that was literally falling off the walls."
Still, their instincts were good - the house had potential, and Tony went to work on improvements.
"The idea was to take one project at a time," he said.
In the first year, they painted the interior walls of their 2,500-square-foot home. In the second year, the exterior cedar shake got a fresh coat of yellow paint. Year three saw the installation of central air conditioning. By year four, Tony was itching to build an addition on the rear of the home.
The home cost $275,000 and, to date, the improvements have totaled $175,000, including $110,000 for a 20-foot-by-21-foot kitchen and family room addition that is now the heart of the home. Here, an overstuffed leather sofa faces a flat-screen TV, and built-in bookcases flank multipaned windows. Original, abstract art fills the walls, which are alternately painted burgundy and soft mustard. The kitchen area boasts dark-cherry cabinets, stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops.
Brazilian cherry wood floor planks are set at an angle to add interest in the bright, naturally lit room.
The floors in the rest of the house - oak in the first-floor dining room, living room, hallway and sunroom, and pine in the three bedrooms on the second level - were meticulously refinished and varnished. Still, Renee's attitude of comfortable living is evident when she says, "We are raising children, not floors." And so the odd scratch or two hardly bothers her.
Additionally, her love of color is evident in a dining room painted a light shade and dark shade of pumpkin separated by a cream-colored chair rail; a living room painted a rich cream color; and a sunroom with windows draped with gauzelike yellow fabric.
Girls will be girls and the couple's 12-year-old daughter, Jillian, has one wall of her bedroom painted in wide stripes of alternating green and pink, and the others in a pastel purple shade. The two Newton boys, Jacob, 13, and Josh, 10, share a room.
While Tony Newton claims it was the two French doors leading to a second-story porch off the master bedroom that sold him on the house, it appears from its homey interior decor that it was really the couple's vision for a warm and welcoming gathering place for their friends and family members that clinched the deal.
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MAKING THE HOME THEIR OWN
* Adding elegance. The Newtons added ceiling molding in every room for a comfortably elegant feel, and to make the ceilings appear higher.
* Creating comfort. Tony Newton created a family room and kitchen that is easily a self-contained living area, complete with powder room.
* Keeping connections. Inherited family furniture pieces, as well as original artwork, keep their friends and family a part of their daily lives and conversation.