Eclectic mix of styles, periods and colors fills couple's home with an air of whimsy

September 16, 1990|By Linda Lowe Morris

It's the pig that makes you suspicious. None of the othe houses has a pig. You can go for blocks around in any direction in this staid enclave of tidy brick Georgian Colonials and no pig.

But here on the porch of the home of Denise Tomlinson and her husband Paul Gorman stands a 250-pound cement hog, surveying the garden and smiling a Mona Lisa-type smile.

"I thought it would be fun to have outside as a garden sculpture," says Ms. Tomlinson, "but it's so heavy it would probably sink into the yard. It took three men just to get it out of the back of the car."

Still, the pig is a perfect introduction to what's inside: Through the doors of this otherwise traditional Baltimore home is a place where the furniture makes you smile.

In rooms where other people would have slapped down Oriental carpets and then covered them wall-to-wall with reproductions of Chippendales and Sheratons, Ms. Tomlinson and Mr. Gorman have instead brought in folk art, primitive pine antiques and painted furniture, then added a few pieces of clean-lined contemporary furniture.

It's a style that's hard to define -- an eclectic mix of old and new and whimsical. But it's the colors, a counterpoint of bright colors against black and white, that seem to make everything work together.

"I like to live like a fantasy," Ms. Tom-

linson says with a laugh. "The one thing we hear a lot when people come to visit is 'Oh, we never expected it to look like this.' You know, young people you'd think would be more attracted to this, but when we have older people in particular over, they're just amazed by it."

The now-pristine white walls and wood floors belie their statwhen the couple bought the house three years ago from a woman who had lived there since the house was built in 1940. Although the house itself was basically in good shape, it needed a great deal of cosmetic work and some renovation.

"It was a real challenge for us," Ms. Tomlinson says. "There was so much nicotine on the walls it took five coats of paint to finally stop it from bleeding through."

They had to have new pipes put in throughout the house and to rebuild the porch roof, but their most ambitious project was a new kitchen.

"We lived without a kitchen for two months while we waited for the cabinets to come," Ms. Tomlinson says. "We had a cooler on the porch. Thank goodness it was winter."

They completely gutted the old kitchen down to the wall studs, then built the new one with white walls and cabinets ("It's tiny but it feels more spacious that way," she says), pale blue counters, a pale blue-and-white-checked tile floor and black appliances.

Cabinet doors have porcelain knobs made in the shape of fish and painted with vibrant pastel designs by McKenzie/Childs, a husband and wife design team from New York.

Ms. Tomlinson, who is a manufacturers' representative for companies that manufacture fine home and garden accessories, did all of the decorating in the house. Although she has no formal training in this, she seems to have a knack for color and design -- something that comes in handy in her business, which involves working with not only store owners but interior designers.

"I've always liked it," she says. "I used to redecorate my parents' house. They'd go away or something -- you know, when we were kids -- and come home and I'd have the furniture rearranged for them. They'd have a fit."

She has also enjoyed collecting antiques for a long time, she adds. "Especially primitives. I just think Shaker style is so nice -- the simplicity of it. And then when you can add color to it, it makes it even better for me."

She has used bright colors in almost every room, often as a counterpoint to solid black or white or to black and white checks.

"I don't know why but it just appeals to me that way. Black and white you can carry throughout the house and then just accent it with the bright or intense colors. I think it's a fun house to live in."

In the dining room, the chairs are Shaker reproductions painted black with black and white woven seats. The dining table and a console table (which also unfolds to become a second dining table) are also black.

The color in the room comes from the hand-thrown and hand-painted china by McKenzie/Childs which is displayed in an antique English pine hutch in the dining room. A carved pig by folk artist Nancy Thomas and brightly painted wooden watermelon slices by Howard Kohn also add color.

Ms. Tomlinson has been collecting folk art for about 15 years. "I appreciate a lot of other types of art but I still am drawn mostly by color to folk art," she says.

In other parts of the house are other sculptures by various artists -- a wooden swan and a wooden zebra by Howard Kohn; an acrobat sculpture, a giraffe and a carousel by Nancy Thomas; a sunburst and a small bust of a man with a long pointed head by Daniel Hale. There are also wall sculptures, painted cabinets and side tables by Ivan Barnett.

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