Empty rooms, ingenuity and a goal. When Laurie Betz bought her first home, she began with little more. Her goal: to furnish frugally but with style.
When the Baltimore Design Center opened its doors, it, too, started from scratch. Whole floors of the former livery stable stood vacant, but developers dreamed of stationing there a bevy of bustling interior design services, retailers and custom furnishings makers.
These days, in Ms. Betz's north-of-the-beltway condominium and in the design center's brick building at North Avenue and Howard Street, the cavernous space is filling up. Ms. Betz, 28, counts herself among the pioneer clients of the design center. With its help, her style has evolved from the collegiate look to young professional chic. And the design center, which unlike those in Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles is open to the shopping public and not just to the trade, wants to multiply its successes with more clients like Ms. Betz.
First, Ms. Betz's story:
A hand-me-down sofa, a desk, a faltering TV and a favorite curtain and comforter set sufficed for furnishings when Ms. Betz bought her condo. "It was as empty as could be when I moved in. I wanted the place to be comfortable and I wanted to buy decent furniture, not knock-down furniture, but things that would last," she says. "I'm not married, so I don't want to go Ethan Allen and spend tons of money, and I want things that would fit in later." She turns to pat the arm of a cream-colored love seat. "Some day this may be family room furniture."
She knew she needed help. Through her work as director of communications for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, she often toured model town houses. It was inside one of these that she saw the work of Kathy Fine, design director for Papier Interiors and Design Group, the flagship tenant of the Baltimore Design Center.
Ms. Fine introduced her to the center's other services: a library of sample books, a painting and wallpapering contractor, a drapery workroom. Then the transformation of the empty condo started full steam.
"I thought the best thing to do right away was get a plan together," says Ms. Fine. Ms. Betz needed neutral, basic furniture that would make the condo livable and move with her to future houses. Also needed were colorful accessories to fill the space and give the condo hominess. Like many clients, Ms. Betz couldn't do it all at once, so they crafted long-range and short-range targets.
Ms. Betz pulls out her guide, an embellished floor plan, and uses it as she gives a visitor a tour of her condo. The plan gives her confidence about decorating, she says, because she knows exactly which colors will go on which walls, and what purchases she's saving money to complete.
For the living room, they selected the love seat and matching sofa, and a pine coffee table and armoire. The armoire purchase, says Ms. Betz, epitomizes her think-of-the-future approach to decorating. It is convertible. For now, it holds papers and music, but it has hooks and later can be moved to a bedroom to hold clothing. "I have to think, what am I going to do with this in 10 years? I want to decorate intelligently," she says.
Ms. Betz fell in love with the copious roses, ruffles and stripes of contemporary French country style, and the color blue, so they became her accents. (She admits that she also chose the florals, in part, because she wanted to but can't surround herself with house plants: Her cat Whoops has a penchant for knocking over pots.)
She selected Waverly solid and floral fabrics from books in what is now the center's Design Resource Gallery. She sent them to Designer Drapery Manufacturers (also in the design center) to be sewn into many welt-seamed and ruffled pillows. The drapery company also made a matching table topper, which she placed over a store-bought table skirt for an inexpensive layered look. She added a rocking chair and throw to the room. And she bought several super-size baskets to hold her extra pillows. Using these, "She could fill up space quickly without spending a lot of money," says Ms. Fine.
Down the hall, the bedroom is a good example of style at economy price, says the interior designer. They started with Ms. Betz's balloon-style curtains and multicolored, flower-spray patterned comforter. Adding blue and white striped wallpaper on only one wall in the bedroom set the scene. "You don't have to paper the whole room to get the effect," Ms. Betz says. The paper is continued in the adjoining bathroom. She used Acropolis, a wallpapering contractor in the design center, for the papering. To save money, she painted the white walls. A white rattan mirror and night stand and family photographs finish off the look.
"It's so exciting because it's my first house and everything I've bought is a reflection of the style I'm developing," says Ms. Betz. "I walk in and feel it's 100 percent me."
What Ms. Betz's condo and the Baltimore Design Center most have in common is what decorators call "potential."