"This was a 1940s shore cottage [back when] people were building randomly and then adding on to their houses," said Jenny Knoepfle of the home she and her husband bought on Cockey Creek, which is off the Magothy River.
Most of the rooms in the bilevel brick structure were crammed on one floor, including a corner kitchen, a dining area, a small living area and an even smaller master bedroom and bath. The first level of this "raised rancher" construction contained a finished family room and a utility area. While the house was in immaculate condition, the couple saw it as hopelessly dated.
"We were having a really hard time making this house pretty," recalled Jenny Knoepfle, a 41-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep with Cornerstone Therapeutics. "Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to redesign our house around the existing layout."
Matt Knoepfle, 38, and his brother, Mike, are in the business of buying up neglected and crumbling houses in Baltimore City and reconstructing them. Their company, Building Character LLC, has renovated properties in Federal Hill, Locust Point and Canton.
To help redesign the home, the couple called on H. Justin Seto of SETO Architects, a Baltimore architect that Matt Knoepfle had worked with on past projects for his business.
"The first thing we did was to paint the house white to get married in July, on 'seven, seven, o-seven,' out on the boat dock," said Matt Knoepfle. A reception was held on the large front lawn.
A year later, the renovation began in earnest. The newlyweds worked side by side on Seto's design with the help of company contractors.
One of the first orders of business was to raise the ceiling on the second level, remove the loft and build a third level. Seto, anticipating a very boxlike result, resolved the problem by designing a pitched roof and putting in one very large gable with glass doors in dormer fashion opening to a small patio. For symmetry, he added a smaller gable on either side of the central structure. The result is a seaside cottage-style home similar to those often seen on the New England coast.
It wasn't long into the renovation process that Jenny Knoepfle became pregnant.
"We wanted to be in the house by Christmas, and so [Matt and his crew] worked night and day the last two months," she said. "Finally, we moved in December 2008."
The Knoepfles now have two daughters, Lila, 3, and Georgia, 21 months. The wide drive in front of their home is outfitted with a swing set, a wooden fort with a slide and several large toys, along with a free-standing two-car garage, creating a busy foreground to the white brick house with the gables, four columns and a bright red door.
The foyer features carved balusters and railings up to the main living area. The open area showcases a modern kitchen and large living room, with a dining area in between. Walls painted a deep cream color are trimmed with white triple molding at the ceilings. Teak flooring offers rich contrast to the glazed maple kitchen cabinets and dark granite countertops. A kitchen island measuring almost 10 feet long and 4 feet wide required one large piece of granite for the countertop. GE Profile stainless-steel appliances and an induction cooktop range complete the kitchen's sleek look.
"The biggest change to the house was the wall of windows," said Matt Knoepfle, gesturing to the back of the home, where paneled windows and double doors open out to a large deck, two piers and a breathtaking view of the river.
"You buy a house to see the water, and we weren't able to see it before the renovation," he said.
The landing at the third level is awash with light from the double set of sliders at the center gable. A master bedroom overlooks the river. "I love our view. Thunderstorms are spectacular," said Jenny Knoepfle.
The girls' bedrooms are decorated in shades of pink. Soon, Lila and Georgia will be able to negotiate the steps to play in the finished lower level. In the meantime, a large collection of toys sits in the corner of the living room as an almost natural embellishment to the comfortable decor, with built-in bookshelves flanking a gas fireplace.
"The first time we saw this house, we boated to it from" Baltimore,]said Matt Knoepfle. "Now we have a place for entertaining our whole family."
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Making the dream
Dream realized: "The shore is gorgeous year-round," Jenny Knoepfle said. "Living on the water you can see birds, geese, ducks and schools of fish. Turtles come right up to the dock." About the home, she added, "Collaborating with Justin [Seto] allowed us to build the house our growing family needed while bringing a fresh, new look to it."
Personal dream touches: Matt Knoepfle enjoys the whimsical touches he has added to his home, such as a model electric trolley car whisking along little tracks atop the ledge over the back windows. He also delights in people's reaction to a porcelain sink bowl with painted fish that he and his wife purchased in Mexico.