Take a traditional fieldstone Baltimore house built in 1928, marry it to the 11th Cassandra in a long lineage of women named Cassandra, who comes with a taste for neutrals and minimalism, many heirlooms (and a husband with many heirlooms), and one room that is so drafty, smelly and dank that it’s been closed off for years. Then add to the mix designer Wesley Finnerty, owner of Antique Exchange in Hampden. What do you get? Newly designed rooms with flashes of color that make a house full of neutrals come alive, along with a refashioning of a rickety unused sunroom and a terrific closet in the master bedroom.
Although the first order of business was refurbishing the sunroom and creating the master walk-in closet, the owner knew she wanted more than just a rebuild. She wanted a designer’s touch throughout the house. She wanted her four sons to live in a place they would always find warm and welcoming. And, says the owner, “I wanted to entertain— for both business and pleasure.” So they knocked down a wall and opened up the kitchen, added a wood-burning fireplace and a room next to the kitchen where the boys could watch TV. Then the real design challenge started.
“I think mixing old and new is the way to make a house a home,” says Finnerty. “But the challenge with this particular home was that the owner’s taste is very neutral.” She concentrated on the owner’s love of a “pop of color.” In one of the boy’s rooms, she added a Jonathan Adler custom-made green and white rug and painted one of the walls a brilliant “carrot stick” orange (all the other walls are white). In the dining room, there was already a wall painted a fairly bold tangerine color, but the rest of the room was neutral. Finnerty decided to have curtains made that reminded her of “Neapolitan ice cream. No chocolate, but orange, pink and cream in these big, wide, horizontal stripes,” she says. “I was a nervous wreck the day they went up. It was a bold statement. What if the owner didn’t like them?” The owner loved them right away, which pleased Finnerty, who never wants to be one of those designers who instills her own taste and style in someone else. “I want the place to be the person’s taste, not mine,” she says. “I had to learn what the owner absolutely wasn’t willing to try and what she was willing to try. That way, going out on a limb works really, really well.”
Since Oriental rugs were off-limits— the owner finds them boring and predictable— Finnerty put in sisal rugs. “That makes the room very neutral from the floor on up, but continues to allow us to play around with the antiques and art,“ she says. In the living room, family china from Nymphenburg is placed decoratively in built-in, arched bookshelves, while above the fireplace hangs an original painting from Baltimore artist Lat Naylor. The round glass table, which was bought at auction, brings a touch of the modern and light compared to her husband’s George III secretary (circa 1790).
Step out of the living room and into the refurbished sunroom and Finnerty’s genius for working with neutrals and antiques, yet making them pop modern and minimalistic, is apparent. “When you have beautiful ‘forever’ items it’s fun to play with fabrics and upholstery to make them more refreshed,” she says. “The first thing I did was to purchase this wooden lacquer table with raffia from one of my design sources, Oomph! After that, everything just began to come together.”
Everything meaning the zebra rug (the owner didn’t want to clash with the idea of an old Baltimore house, but at the same time, she wanted her home to be a little younger) to the subtle turquoise beadboard ceiling, to the custom-made turquoise sofa and two white-and-citrus yellow chairs. They’re mixed in with heirlooms, antiques and traditional pieces such as a 1790 George III cellarette, a coin silver pitcher, an Early American candle lantern (circa early 1800s), a Pennsylvania cherry Chippendale tavern table, a New England/Mule blanket chest and more.
“We have a lot of random colors going on in all this neutral. They play off each other and make the sunroom bright. You don’t always think of these colors together,” she says, pointing to the sofa and chairs, “because they don’t really make sense, but aqua and citrus are a combination you’ll often see in some antique china, like Mojolica. Sometimes I’ll get my inspiration from china.”
Since the renovation, the owners use the sunroom all the time. The husband is out there all weekend, reading the paper, doing his work. Says the owner, “He’s thrilled to have a place to put his feet up during the weekend.”
Above the sunroom is the master bedroom closet that, says the owner, makes her feel “a little Oprah-ish.” The room is as large as the bedroom and features a marble “island of drawers,” as the owner calls it. “It’s really the perfect height,” says Finnerty, “and the marble is good for spilling coffee on when you’re getting dressed in the morning.” To save money, Finnerty had looped wool geometric floral wool remnants made into rugs. “As with the round glass coffee table in the living room, these rugs are super inexpensive. Everything doesn’t have to be crazy expensive.” The closet shelves (custom-made by Closet Innovations) are white with open shelving (no doors to close), and the scalloped pendant lights soften up the squareness of the space. “You don’t really look at the clothes,” says Finnerty, “because the lights are so pretty. They add a bit of femininity to the closet.”
“And that’s exactly what those curtains do to the dining room,” says the owner. “With six men in the house, a little pink was needed!”
Design Wesley Finnerty, Antique Exchange, 3545 Chestnut Ave., 410-532-7000, http://www.antique-exchange.com
Architect Ratcliffe Architects, 10404 Stevenson Road, 410-484-7010, http://www.ratcliffearchitects.com
Contracter Owings Brothers Contracting, 1912 Liberty Road, 410-781-7022,http://www.owingsbrothers.com
Closets Closet Innovations, 800-610-8110, http://www.closetinnovationsmd.com
Originally published in Baltimore Style’s March/April 2011 print magazine.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIK KVALSVIK