Halfway down Willoughby Road, a residential street in Parkville lined with traditional bungalows, sits an eye-catching house that looks as though it has been plucked from a seaside resort.
It is cheery. It is well-kept. And - for an unusual twist in a neighborhood of red brick and gray siding - it is blue.
Not just any old blue, but a blue the color of eggshells. Of cotton candy.
Elizabeth and Bryan Kahler weren't looking to buy a blue house. In fact, they didn't really want one. But the moment Elizabeth saw the bungalow, she knew it was the home she'd always dreamed of - before she even set foot inside.
"I was driving down the street to look at another house for sale," she said. "And when I saw this one, I just stopped. It wasn't the color, which, if anything, sort of scared me. It was the style of the house, which I knew was perfect."
Two weeks later, however, when the Kahlers finally reached the owners for a tour of the house, they were unpleasantly surprised. Inside, the little blue house was not so dreamy.
"It was not at all in good shape," said Elizabeth, 27. "But I knew we could make it work."
With a spirit that would not be dampened by creaky floors or peeling paint, Elizabeth persuaded Bryan to buy the house. In March, the couple handed over $126,000, packed up their place in Towson and moved in.
The home was relatively unchanged since it was built in 1932 as a wedding gift for a young couple just like the Kahlers. So the new owners, who are expecting their first child in April, decided to renovate the 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house.
The first step: New floors - hardwood on the first level and carpeting on the second - and a fresh coat of paint for every room.
Next, the Kahlers started on what they call the heart of their house: The kitchen.
Elizabeth, who works at home as a sales representative for PepsiCo., is an avid cook. Her first priority was overhauling the old kitchen, an awkward space with faded wallpaper and sagging cabinets. The couple transformed the room into a breakfast area.
"Everything had to go," she said. "I had a picture in my head of what I wanted."
Elizabeth focused on a hard-to-find shade of red to warm up the room and give it some character. But she couldn't find a swatch of color anywhere that resembled her vision. Then, by chance, she noticed a red label on her contractor's hammer - in exactly the shade of cranberry she was looking for. Still, it took eight trips to the store and six coats of paint to achieve the rich red that now covers the walls.
The finished kitchen is a mix of classic charm and art deco style. For the eat-in area, Elizabeth eschewed a solid wood table for a diner booth, which she purchased from a restaurant supply store in Chicago. The smooth white tabletop is decorated with black, heart-shaped place mats and a small jukebox.
A sunny, open breakfast room adjoins the kitchen, which the couple designed for family gatherings and casual meals. Off the kitchen, the Kahlers built a large wood deck overlooking their fenced-in yard.
Three months and $40,000 later, the Kahlers had transformed the old blue house. Although it now feels brand new, the house retains some of its original charm.
The den is illuminated by three stained-glass windows that date back to the house's construction, and an old accordion door closes off the bedrooms from the stairwell.
"It will make a great baby gate," Elizabeth said.
The Kahler's decorating style is eclectic, yet uncluttered. The house is filled with souvenirs from the couple's world travels, including Moroccan drums and Parisian oil paintings. Those pieces are mixed in with whimsical items like a gumball machine and an M&M dispenser. The central piece in their living room is a leopard-print chaise lounge, one of Elizabeth's favorite purchases.
"I do leave most of this up to Elizabeth," said Bryan, 30, an electrician. "She just knows exactly what she wants."
Elizabeth said her inspiration doesn't come from glossy decorating magazines. Instead, she gets it from her mother, Doris Franz-Poling, who lives two miles away in Overlea.
She's `a natural'
"Elizabeth always took an interest in what I was doing with the house," said Franz-Poling. "But she's definitely got a natural knack for putting things together."
The Kahlers still have a list of changes they'd like to make to their house - finishing the basement, renovating the bath - but for now, their primary focus is the arrival of their baby.
As for the house's blue exterior, the couple said they considered painting over it. Then Elizabeth found an old blue rocking chair at a local furniture store and had an idea. The chair now sits on the front porch, rocking in the breeze under the awning of their very blue house.
For now, at least, she's found a way to make it all work.