House here, house there


Compromise: A second residence in Abingdon helps a Baltimore couple find "a medium where we were both happy."

August 25, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For most people, Abingdon is a bustling Harford County community of new homes. But for Frank Derr and Maria Pulvirenti, Abingdon is a peaceful retreat tucked along the scenic Bush River.

Finding this hidden section of Abingdon, known as Long Bar Harbor, didn't come easy to Derr and Pulvirenti. They had almost given up their search for a new home.

"We went to open houses almost every Sunday for one year," said Derr. "Sunday afternoons became very depressing. We were basically looking in Baltimore City, but by the end we were looking everywhere."

After marrying seven years ago, they wanted to buy a house together. The problem was that they couldn't find something they could both agree on.

That was until Pulvirenti's father found an advertisement for the home in a real-estate sales catalog. They both thought the house looked great in the ad and decided to check it out.

"We were ready to give up, then we found this house really by luck," said Pulvirenti. "We both walked in and said we like it. We went back to see the house three times that day and put a contract on it the next day."

The house they found was a contemporary with a view of Bush River and steps away from the Bush River Yacht Club. The house and location were beautiful, but not at all what they were looking for.

Derr and Pulvirenti had agreed that they wanted their house to be brick or stone, have oil heat and no garage in the front. The house they bought is cedar, with electric heat and - yes - a garage in front.

"We saw this house, and it had nothing we wanted, and we loved it," said Derr.

Part of the reason house hunting was a little more difficult for Derr and Pulvirenti was that he owned a home in Baltimore. At the time, his job with the municipal government required him to live in the city. So that's where they started the house search.

They narrowed their choice to the city neighborhoods of Guilford, Homeland and Roland Park. What they found were beautiful homes, but too large and with too much upkeep for the two of them.

Then they opted to do something a little unorthodox. Rather early, they decided to look outside the city limits, knowing that if they found a house, it would be in addition to Derr's home in North Baltimore.

And that's what they wound up doing. Though Derr now works for the Baltimore school board and no longer is required to be a city resident, the couple kept his old house and the one in Abingdon.

"The houses together are like a marriage compromise," said Pulvirenti, who works for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

"Certain nights we stay there, and certain nights we stay here. Having both houses and maintaining both houses is still cheaper than some of the homes we looked at. I know it sounds weird, but this house helped us find a medium where we were both happy."

After looking at many older homes, the two decided that a newer home, with little upkeep, was what they wanted. That's just what they found.

Built in 1986, the house sits on a half-acre and was in immaculate condition when they bought it from the original owners.

"Everything was cleaned and perfect when we walked in," said Pulvirenti. "The way they built the house and the way they took care of it was wonderful."

They call the original owners from time to time, especially when they are about to make an improvement. When it recently came time to stain the cedar house, garage and deck, Derr and Pulvirenti phoned the old owners for advice.

The house has needed so little upkeep that in the five years they have lived in it, the only other major project the couple have had to tackle was in the yard.

Although the wooded back yard worked well with their expansive 1,500-square-foot deck, they decided it was too dark and dense. So they removed about a dozen trees and seeded for grass.

Derr and Pulvirenti paid $213,000 for the house and estimate that they have spent an additional $20,000 on the staining, the yard overhaul and installing a large dog run.

They now have their home, an open, inviting, two-level contemporary, just the way they want. The upstairs holds a master bedroom with bath, a guest bedroom and a third room that was converted into an area for Pulvirenti to display her doll collection and relax.

The master bedroom affords a wonderful view of the water through custom windows.

The main level opens to a kitchen and dining room area, with a floor covered in light-brown tile. Because the builder installed extra windows on the south-facing wall, the sun keeps the tile warm almost the entire year.

Centerpieces of the area include an English wood-burning stove and a round, rosewood dining table hand-carved in China. The main level also has a powder room.

Off the open kitchen and dining room is a sunken living room surrounded in glass that faces the deck, gazebo and yard.

The outside of the house has lighting set to a dimmer switch. In winter, when the trees are bare, the lighting can be turned down, and in the summer, when the trees are in full leaf, the lights can be turned up.

"It's just so quiet and relaxing here," said Pulvirenti.

The house offers plenty of room for the two of them and their dogs, Asta, a smooth fox terrier, and Ethan, a standard dachshund.

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