Four years ago, Cathy and Bill Marrow happened upon a 100-year-old house for sale on King George Street in historic Annapolis.
With its steep asphalt roof and multipaned narrow windows, the home reminded the couple of their many happy visits to the south of France and a lifestyle they found so appealing.
Cathy Marrow, a 62-year-old interior designer and home renovator, sized up the Old World-style cottage with the critical eye of a seasoned professional.
The interior was "dark as midnight," with worn wallpaper and chopped-up rooms. The back yard was so overgrown that it concealed an elaborate brick patio and walkways.
Still, she concluded that the house was a gem, a place she and her husband could call home.
"I have to always fall in love with a house in order to renovate," she said, "and I fell madly in love with this house."
The love affair cost the couple $400,000 and an additional $125,000 for a new roof, air conditioning, revamped plumbing and electrical upgrades.
An early order of business for Cathy Marrow and her husband Bill, 67, owner of Adventure Yachts in Eastport, was to spruce up the home's exterior.
On a visit to Arles in the south of France, they obtained a paint sample from a historic castle. Back home, they matched the soft powder blue, which at times turns a subtle shade of gray depending on the light.
Along with white window trim and a white washed picket fence enclosing a postage-stamp-size front yard, the couple felt they had their "patch of southern France."
The interior of the 3,000-square-foot home has a French-country motif. The 40-foot-long living-dining room has walls painted buttercup yellow on their top halves and taupe on the lower portions. Lines of definition are achieved by wide chair rail and ceiling molding. Dual fireplaces - one wood, one gas - are on opposite walls.
"It is very unique to have two fireplaces facing each other," Cathy Marrow said. The living room area features a classic scrolled-arm sofa upholstered in a heavy floral toile of gold and red. Two occasional chairs complement the suite.
Another standout in the room is a mahogany Queen Anne secretary. Vases with fresh-cut yellow roses and tulips grace the end tables and the top of an ornate, double-pedestal English dining table.
The front of the house boasts an enclosed sun porch with brick tiling and Victorian wicker furniture. Shaded by a large magnolia tree, it's an ideal place to watch the comings and goings on the busy side street.
Friend and neighbor Kurt Hornig considers the porch his favorite part of the house because "I can people watch while having a cocktail."
Entertaining friends and family is important to the Marrows, and the rear half of their house serves that purpose well.
A red glass-top center island dominates the kitchen-sitting area, its barstools looking onto a wall of cupboards.
An alcove off the kitchen holds a comfortable country sofa where guests can relax while waiting for dinner to be served. French doors lead to a fenced garden, where hemlock trees line the brick walk, and ceramic figurines pose beside wrought-iron outdoor furniture.
The house has twin front and back staircases. Both rise to a brightly lighted hallway leading to two guestrooms, a guest bathroom and master suite.
The front bedroom, decorated with a large brass bed and Colonial portraits, features views of the State House dome beyond neighboring rooftops.
Cathy Marrow calls the master suite her piece de resistance, decorated in the tones and style of an Impressionist painting.
Three rooms make up this relaxing haven where she has washed the walls with alternating light green and light blue hues. A king-size bed's blue and white bedspread embroidered in wildflowers conjures images of a Monet painting.
South of the sleeping area, a sunroom serves as an office.
A full marble bath and dressing room are accented with a light wood bureau and a chaise longue.
Gazing on her garden from the bamboo-shaded windows of the sunroom, Cathy Marrow took pride in the project of a lifetime.
"I'm not ever selling," she said.