When Carver Green was looking for a house a few years ago, he knew exactly what he wanted: Something good and grand and finished. Then a neighbor lured him to look at an empty, boarded-up, two-apartment dwelling by saying she needed someone to help turn on the lights for a real-estate agent.
"When I walked through that door and I saw that staircase and that hallway medallion, I was speechless," he says. He went straight home and called his own agent.
And now, eight years later, he has his dream house: Good and grand and -- well, very nearly finished.
"We're down to the details," says Burt Ray, who shares the house.
"The fun part," Mr. Green says.
The first thing Mr. Green did, all those years ago, was call in local designer Carroll Frey, of Carroll A. Frey Interiors Inc., who had worked in several houses in the East Baltimore neighborhood. "I loved the house," the designer says. "I saw it had a lot of potential. I knew he had a great collection of furniture, and I knew it was a great house for his furniture."
The three-story house was basically sound, Mr. Frey says. There was no rotted wood, no need for major reconstruction.
"I remember," Mr. Green recounts, "Carroll said, 'Do the public rooms first -- where the people come. You can live in a bedroom that isn't done, but you can have people for dinner, and you can entertain, if you get those public rooms done.' "
The house was still two apartments, so that meant starting with the owner's unit, the second and third floors.
Architectural detail was a priority. Even though the house had high ceilings and grand room proportions, the elements that normally distinguish a rowhouse of the late Victorian era were missing.
While there were some ceiling medallions, for instance, there were no ceiling moldings. "The ceiling moldings in this house were nowhere," Mr. Green says, "Carroll designed them all."
The front room on the second floor was then, and still is, the sitting room. It's a beautiful, exuberant room, done in tones of peach and putty, with moldings of slightly darker peach high on the walls and on the ceiling. The original fireplace overmantel was in typical rowhouse style, with columns and a short mirror. Mr. Frey designed a taller version, which he considers more suitable for the proportions of the room.
Among the treasures in this room are a Potthast commode -- a small, half-circle-shaped chest with an inlaid molding of swags and urns made in Baltimore in 1910 in a Sheraton or Adams style of about 1790 -- and a pair of Irish Chippendale armchairs made in 1880 in the Georgian style of 1760. The chairs are covered in bargello flame-stitch needlepoint designed and executed by Mr. Green.
"It took me eight years to do those chairs," he says. "Four apiece." He created the pattern after a bed hanging he saw in England in the late '70s.
The slightly eccentric, less-than-serious aspect is what makes the room work, Mr. Frey says. "It's not contrived to be perfect. It has that 'collected' look."
In what Mr. Frey describes as "Victorianizing, in a contemporary way," the colors of the front room are carried back through the second floor. The middle room, originally the dining room and now a small study and reception area, is painted in the putty color; and a small guest room at the back picks up the lighter peach. A bathroom in between was treated to the darker peach tone.
The middle room has a round, American Empire center-hall table, with lion's-paw feet that have unusual acanthus-leaf curled tops. The room is also home to a desk made from a clavichord. It was converted sometime in the 1800s, Mr. Ray surmises, "when the works broke and they couldn't fix it."
The putty color also travels up and down the staircase and into another small sitting room on the third floor, a room with many windows that's "a wonderful place to watch the sunsets," Mr. Ray says.
The front of the third floor is the master bedroom, in a soothing green. This room may be the most contemporary in the house, despite the four-poster bed. Against one wall is a 1920s adaptation of a Louis XVI chest -- a style popular in the '20s, Mr. Frey says, because of its light wood. Over the chest is a new mirror designed in the spirit of '20s Moderne, a lozenge shape with a raised center panel.
Closets and master bath were carved out of a space in the middle of this floor, giving the sitting room an unusual, undulating wall. Mr. Green wanted moldings in the small sitting room too, but the curved wall gave the carpenter pause.
"Carroll said, 'Why don't you put up a paper border? And if you don't like it, you can always take it down,' " Mr. Green recalls. He found the perfect border in a magazine, a documentary print from an 18th century New England house, from Brunschwig & fils. "Look." He pulls a scrap out of a drawer. "There's that color." It's the dark peach from the second floor.