From the outside, the 1950s row house looks just like its neighbors on a quiet, established street in Towson. But inside, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
An American Empire sofa covered in black mohair, a 19th century ottoman upholstered in polka dots, Louis XV country chairs, Chippendale reproductions, a hand-painted Japanese screen, fringed draperies with tassel ties, a sisal floor covering and walls of deep terra cotta combine to transform an uninteresting room, devoid of architectural significance, into a rich showcase of interior design.
Each room of this small house reflects the confident touch of Ellen and Patrick Jarosinski, a young couple who forged the interiors of their first home into statements of their own style -- a look influenced by Europe and dominated by a love of antiques.
Because she is a designer at the H. Chambers Co. and he is an architect, managing retail and corporate design for MNC Financial, they have well-defined ideas on how they want their home to look. Luckily, they like the same classic designs and a sense of the dramatic.
Both are hooked on American Empire furniture, a style that reached the height of popularity in the early to mid-1800s, following the lead of French furniture makers who pushed the style to great heights during the First Empire of Napoleon -- 1804 to 1813.
While displaying many of the details found on French pieces, American Empire furniture is more massive and less decorative, she says. They like its clean, geometric lines and rich veneers. They also find it much more affordable to collect than antique furniture from other periods.
The Jarosinskis began working on their home before their wedding in 1989. Mr. Jarosinski moved in early to make cosmetic changes geared to updating the structurally sound 40-year-old house. They decided to put their money into furnishings -- pieces they plan to take with them when they move to a larger home sometime in the future -- rather than making costly renovations.
They replaced a 1950s kitchen floor with black and white tile, harvest gold and avocado appliances with white ones, and gold-speckled counter tops with white surfaces. And they added a small breakfast bar and shelves to the small galley kitchen. The new structure serves as an eating area and as a display area for her collection of majolica.
But, mainly, the Jarosinskis painted the interior walls -- the kitchen and bath in white, the master bedroom in a custom-mix marsh green and the guest room in camel. They painted the trim and moldings in the living and dining rooms, plus the wainscoting in the dining room, a true white, and picked the brownish-red terra cotta wall color from a polka dot on a piece of Yves Gonnet fabric.
"Many people are afraid that dark paint will make a room so much smaller, but if it is done properly, it won't," says Mrs. Jarosinski, who had no timidity about using so much dark color in a rather compact area. "It will make the room dramatic." She used white as a contrast and to highlight the design of the rich mahogany chairs in the dining room.
The polka dots were the starting point for the first-floor color scheme. Although the material is contemporary, almost op-art in color and pattern, she felt confident about using the material as the focal point of her sophisticated, eclectic design.
"I just fell in love with the polka-dot fabric and I wanted to play off all the colors, the greens, browns and terra cotta," she says.
But the price of the fabric was $260 a yard. So she only bought one yard -- a coup, because the company usually only sells two- or three-yard minimums. She pleaded for the small piece and, when they finally agreed, she used it to cover the front side of two accent pillows for the sofa and to upholster her antique American Empire ottoman.
"We really did put a lot of money into fabrics in this house," she says. "But some aren't as expensive as others. If you have one strong fabric, it can hold the rest of the room together."
The four windows in the living room and dining room were a
challenge because they all are different in size and design. The solution is a uniform treatment utilizing valances and tie-back panels that are edged in fringe and "puddle" on the floor.
"I really wanted to use a striped material because stripes were very big during the Empire period," says Mrs. Jarosinski, who chose a black, green, beige and terra cotta abstract stripe on a cotton fabric. Since she decided to forgo privacy shades or sheers, light streams into both the living room and dining room.
The furniture pieces and accessories in both rooms are a combination of items from Mr. Jarosinski's former apartment; "finds" from antiques shops, auctions and estate sales; family treasures; and gifts.