Cozy Victorian needs attention But fireplaces abound, and it was affordable

Dream Home

November 23, 1997|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A trip to a bed and breakfast had this couple dreaming of a romantic getaway right at home.

Betsy and Chris Stein hadn't planned on buying a new house. After all, the couple had been married two years and already had a nice, three-bedroom Cape Cod on North Prospect Street in Catonsville that suited their needs just fine.

But then they went on vacation.

"We stayed at this bed and breakfast, and it was really neat," Betsy said. "It had a fireplace in the bedroom. Right then, I decided, I wanted to live in a home like this."

Chris was also sold on the idea of living in an older house. "I have always liked them. I don't like what's being built today."

The couple knew that finding a cozy, yet affordable Victorian home in the Baltimore area with all the charm of a country B&B would be difficult.

Betsy had very specific ideas on what her dream home would look like. Besides a fireplace in the bedroom, she also wanted a huge, wraparound porch and lots of bedrooms. Although the couple has no children, Betsy, 30, and Chris, 29, plan to have a family. "We want room to grow," she said.

But she didn't know if her dream home even existed. "I figured it would take five years to find the right place," Betsy said.

It took a few short months.

Betsy and Chris found a great place. And it was just a few blocks away on South Prospect Street in Catonsville.

There it was. A 108-year-old, 4,500-square-foot Victorian home with three floors, five bedrooms, three baths, two kitchens, five fireplaces and a huge wraparound porch.

It was perfect.

"It wasn't even marked for sale," Chris said.

But thanks to an amazing number of bizarre coincidences, the Steins found out that their dream home was indeed, for sale.

Through word of mouth, a friend from church learned that the house was available and got the Steins in contact with a real estate agent in California who was acquainted with the home's owner.

Still, they weren't sure about making the purchase.

"We kept driving by it every day," Betsy said.

Finally they decided to go for it. "It was in our price range," Chris said, "because it needed work."

Which brings the couple to where they are today -- living in a beautiful, old home that cost under $200,000 but needs a lot of attention.

"We moved into the house in June and have been working on it steadily," Chris said. "I figure we'll be done in 30 years."

Actually, the restoration is going along quite well. "Chris can do anything," Betsy said of her husband, who is a cabinetmaker.

"I've always been the type of person to do things myself," he said.

That's not the case with Betsy, who is a reporter for the Howard County Times. She comes from a family where people didn't even change their own light bulbs, she said.

"I have learned a lot," Betsy said. "I really learned how to paint. And I learned that when a heat gun gets too close to the windows, it breaks them."

That's not the only thing she learned. Betsy and Chris have discovered a few things about their house while restoring it.

It appeared that there was a small brick walkway near the kitchen door. But after some grass was cleared away, that small bricked area turned out to be a large patio.

And when Betsy and Chris moved some large, oak bookshelves in the library, they found a stack of papers that included a Hutzler's receipt from 1902 for a water bottle and some ribbon, old telephone bills and someone's real estate license from 1914.

The bulk of the restoration has been completed, Chris said. The floors have been refinished, the driveway has been completed and the downstairs kitchen is finished. The kitchen on the third floor will have to wait.

There have been some minor problems with the furnace. It broke down briefly last month. Those five fireplaces came in handy for a few chilly nights. But most of the remaining work is cosmetic -- lots of peeling wallpaper, scraping, sanding, cleaning and painting.

"We have to have the attitude that we will never be finished. This is a work in progress," Chris said.

"You have to be willing to live in a house that is not finished," Betsy said. "We're used to it. ... My mother thinks it's a mess. She asks me, 'How can you live like this?' But I think it's good to realize that it doesn't all have to be finished right now. All that is important is that it's livable. Which it is."

And as Chris said, maybe in 30 more years they will be done.

For now, the Steins are enjoying their new home. Upstairs in the master bedroom, Betsy shows off some antiques she has just started collecting, along with the mission-style bed that Chris built himself. And yes, there's that great fireplace in the corner, just as it was in her dreams.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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