Dream home

Mark Carter, left, and Rebecca Yenawine, right, sit in the living room of their dream home, which is located in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood. One of their cats, Che, is on left. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / December 13, 2011)

Rebecca Yenawine and Mark Carter are accustomed to awe-struck looks when visitors cross the foyer of their 19th-century rowhouse in Reservoir Hill.

The four-story brick Victorian, built circa 1870, is sprawling — some 6,000 square feet. And with six bedrooms, four baths, 14-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and a prominent spiral staircase, the space evokes grandeur and elegance.

Yet despite the home's loftiness, the couple has managed to create a sense of warmth and intimacy.

Rich colors, traditional furniture, global accessories, art and photography meld seamlessly to complement the historic architecture. Dozens of windows bring in sunlight by day, while soft glowing lighting at night completes the ambience.

"It wasn't cozy before Mark moved in," says Rebecca Yenawine, 39, while curled up on a living room couch across from her husband, as their two black cats, Che and Francis, slink by.

"My style was having wide-open space for yoga or dancing, with a couple of things on the wall," she says. "I'm not a good decorator, but Mark is. He helped to make this house gorgeous."

For his part, Carter was happy to lend his style imprint to a house that he applauds for its "great bones."

"I'm someone who loves cozy spaces," he says. "And while these ceilings are impossibly tall, when we light candles and fragrant incense, there's a feeling of nurturing and love."

Situated on a leafy city block, the house provides a soothing sanctuary for Yenawine and Carter, fellow youth advocates who met eight years ago at a community function. They tied the knot on Sept. 11, 2010.

While hailing from different backgrounds, both have similar values about helping others. Home and hearth are very important to them.

Yenawine, raised in Manhattan, came to Baltimore as a college student back in the '90s. When her parents split and her mother relocated to California, she yearned to set down roots.

"I felt like I didn't have anywhere to go," says the Goucher College graduate, who heads the nonprofit New Lens, a youth-driven social justice organization that uses art and media to incite change. "I'd become very attached to Baltimore and the neighborhood, so I decided to buy this house."

Purchased in 1994 when Yenawine was in her 20s, the property cost $87,000. "My mother helped me get the mortgage. My posse of girlfriends all moved in together and paid rent. It was a fun, crazy group house."

Carter, who grew up in Philadelphia, came to Baltimore more than a decade ago to help create youth programming. Today, the licensed social worker, who holds degrees from Temple University and University of Pennsylvania, is the program manager for Ele8, a community education initiative in East Baltimore.

Though it's been years, Carter can remember a time when he had nowhere to call home.

"I was couch hopping and going from place to place," Carter recalls of a period between undergrad and graduate school. "At one point, I lived in my car. So home has become exceedingly important to me."

That sentiment shows in the care the couple have taken to maintain the nearly 150-year-old house, which Yenawine says was in good condition when she first moved in nearly two decades ago. "It hadn't been chopped into apartments," she recalls. "At that time, I did only minor things, but we've since done other renovations."

With nary a white wall in sight, the couple has painted rooms in hues like ocher, taupe and tangerine-pink. They replaced windows to make them more energy efficient. The hardwood floors gleam, part of a recent "deep cleaning" of the entire house from top to bottom.

Meanwhile, Carter has meticulously incorporated various design elements throughout the house. "Every room has character," he says. "I listened to the historic feel of the house and tried to be bold in the aesthetic."