If there's a moral here to the story of Paddy Dugan's house, it's this: It never hurts to ask for what you want.
After several years of living in a cramped apartment in Roland Park, she was literally ready to get out of town. But instead of just dreaming of a country cottage, she decided to go after one.
She put up a notice on the bulletin board of a popular antiques and gift shop in northern Baltimore county: Wanted House to Rent. And then she waited. And waited.
But finally, after about five months, the telephone rang. The man on the line said he had an old two-bedroom stone cottage to rent.
"I asked did it have a fireplace?" she recalls. "He said it did. 'But,' I said, 'Is it a nice fireplace?' He said it was pretty nice."
So she went out to see the place and nearly fell over at what she found, a 200-year-old, stone-and-clapboard cottage with a beautiful stone fireplace so old that it still had an iron crane in it from the days when pots of stew hung there simmering over an open fire.
There was just one drawback -- actually two. The place was a wreck, with cobwebs everywhere, peeling wallpaper and dirty, flaking paint. And what's worse, she couldn't afford the rent he was asking. "I had just turned to walk away when he said, 'Wait a minute,' " she says. He said he would reduce the rent for a year if she would fix the place up.
As an interior decorator, she didn't need any more encouragement. "I knew the house had potential when I saw it," she says. "It has a lot of character, I think, and that is one of my favorite things to do, to jump into a project like that because you see such great results, especially with paint. It's relatively quick and it makes a tremendous change.
"This is called the Davisville stone cottage," she says, standing in the kitchen of what now, five months later, looks like something out of House Beautiful. "It apparently was built in the late 1700s as a tenant house to the main house."
The house is in two parts, she explains. A later addition was added to the stone half of the cottage.
The kitchen was one of her biggest challenges. "The wallpaper looked like it was put up when the house was first built. It was white with little, teeny, yellow dots and it was peeling and it was dirty and everything. Plus you had these screaming yellow counter tops and the floor -- this tile doesn't even go with the counters. It's sort of off."
She did what few of us would have had the courage to do. She decided to paint the walls a dark teal green.
"I told my landlord I wanted to paint it dark green and he was like, 'I don't think so.' I said, 'Trust me.'
"Sometimes you need to do something strong to make it work," she continues. "Dark green is a strong color but it worked, it covered everything up."
The kitchen had one asset, natural wood cabinets, not too old and in pretty good shape. Instead of painting them, she decided to leave them as they were. But now she had brilliant teal walls, vivid yellow counter tops and the natural wood. The final touch was what brought it all together -- a wide floral wallpaper border that she ran around the top of the walls and just underneath the cabinets, above the counter tops.
"The colors in the background of the border are the same tones as the wood cabinets. And the accents in the border are the same as the dark green wall," she says. "So it sort of ties it all together. And your eyes go there instead of to these screaming yellow counters. That toned it down a little bit."
The effect is almost magical, with the kind of interplay of tensions and resolutions that another interior decorator might create on purpose.
"It's not a big kitchen but I don't think the dark colors make it too small. I think it makes it more cozy. I was real pleased with it."
Dark green with white trim gives a very clean, crisp look, she continues, something you need in an older house.
There are echoes of the dark green color in other rooms throughout the house -- whose primary color scheme is dusty rose, dark green and cream or white.
The next room as you walk through the house is the dining room, painted a pale dusty rose and filled with a mix of antiques, folk art and contemporary furniture.
"I usually tell my clients that the way I do it is I go out and buy things that I just like. And I don't really think about what they're going to work with or where I'm going to put them but I always find a spot for everything. If you like everything that you have, it's all going to somehow work together."
Her old wooden dining table and chairs used to be in her family's kitchen. "There are crayon drawings from when I was a little kid underneath," she says.