A fresh start
With two sons grown and out on their own, it seemed that it would be a cinch for Mark Hyman and his wife, Peggy Brennecke, to downsize from their large home in shady, hilly Mount Washington in northern Baltimore City.

"We agreed to go smaller and disagreed about everything else," said the soft-spoken sportswriter.

Seeking a smaller home, the couple still wanted lots of outdoor space. Brennecke, a Johns Hopkins radiologist, thought living at the Inner Harbor might be an interesting option and looked at various complexes in Federal Hill and Locust Point. One day, she spotted a listing in a north Roland Park townhouse community, which, as it turned out, was very near their old stamping grounds. At last, a house they could agree on materialized amid the old trees and winding streets off Roland Avenue. Shaded common areas and an enclosed front-yard patio on their end-of-group townhouse sealed the deal for the two — a good compromise, Brennecke said, with "light, privacy and views."

"There's not a window in this house [without] green outside it," her husband added.

The couple moved into their three-story dream home on July 1, paying $440,000 for a 1985 property with an interior in good condition, but dated.

At 2,500 square feet of living space, the house, boasting an open stairway to the third level and sliders to the front patio and back deck, was all the room the two needed. A bump-out solarium sits adjacent to a remodeled kitchen and den area. A front hall leads to the back of the house, with large windows drawing the eye outward while a cathedral ceiling open to the second level forces the gaze upward. An open dining room and living room feature red oak flooring. The couple extended that flooring over the ceramic tiles formerly in the foyer (as well as in the kitchen) for a warmer look.

"We bought the house in winter, and everything seemed cold, so we decided on a warm palette," Brennecke said, explaining the pale yellow paint on the walls throughout most of the house. In the kitchen, the combination of large windows and the room's southern orientation illuminates the rich glazed maple of the kitchen cabinetry. Paired with tan granite countertops and a collection of colorful ceramic pieces done by their nephew, Stephen Yaffe, the overall effect is much like a large caramel confection.

The adjacent den and sunroom-turned-breakfast-nook face an enclosed courtyard where wrought-iron furniture and a watering can sitting on brick pavement exude Mediterranean country charm. Inside, the area decor is decidedly contemporary, with bright geometric rugs, one placed at an angle under the set pieces, placing a different slant (literally) on the whimsical yet functional Nouveau art style of furnishings.

Living and dining room are furnished in contemporary pieces of microfiber, while floor plants define the two rooms without closing them in. Carpeting here is contemporary as well, but with soft swirls on muted earth-toned backgrounds.

A clever juxtaposition of furniture styles is found in the dining room where deco-style, high-backed leather chairs sidle up to one of the few pieces of furniture the couple kept in the move: an original mahogany, double-pedestal Podhast table crafted by the Baltimore furniture makers of the same name.

"We moved to a new house and bought entirely new furniture," Hyman said. "The only thing we knew was each other."

The open second level features a large master suite and marble bathroom, along with Brennecke's home office and the bedroom of their younger son, Eli, 21 and a junior at the University of Rochester. An additional bathroom and laundry room complete the second level.

Beams of sunlight tumble down from a segmented rooftop skylight. A second flight of stairs leads to an enclosed loft area, whose interior wall features two trapezoidal clerestory windows. Behind the walls is the bright office of sportswriter Hyman, formerly of the Baltimore Sun and now a freelance nonfiction writer on the subject with two books under his belt, one written with sportscaster Jon Miller.

The room is what everyone imagines the office of a sportswriter to be: walls and bookcases of memorabilia including at least a dozen bobbleheads of athletes, books published on sports from the last 60 years, and — in this sportswriter's case — a coffee table with a glass lid over a miniature croquet court, complete with balls and mallets — a gift from Miller to his buddy and colleague.

Among the couple's most important possessions are their original pieces of art, most of which hang on the walls. To that end, they hired a professional picture hanger to display them to their best advantage. Favorite pieces include a colorful abstract by local artist Sydney Hopkins and a large oil painting titled "Woman Raking Leaves" by Tammra Sigler.

Often couples who downsize will sing the mantras "less is more," "we walk everywhere," "we feel like we are on vacation," and so on. Where a community association is involved, there is the added perk of never having to worry about yard maintenance.

All these amenities and more work for Hyman and Brennecke. Hyman recalls fondly, "The first thing I did when we moved in was to find a friend who needed a snow shovel. Do you need a rake? Apply here."