After 21 years, Tom and Mary Ann Calleri finally have their dream home. The new house, on a wooded hillside in eastern Howard County, is a lot like their old home. In fact, it is their old home, expanded and updated to include the features they've always wanted.
"We talked about a bigger house," says Mr. Calleri, "but Mary Ann didn't want to move. But she wanted a big kitchen. She's big into cooking -- it's her hobby. So we started with the idea of creating a larger kitchen, and it just spilled over into all of this."
His slight hand gesture takes in the kitchen, the new dining room (created in an area that once contained both kitchen and dining area), the new sun room, the new family room with its airy cathedral ceiling, and the new wing, still in the works, that includes a "cabana" room for the future pool, new double garage and new master suite upstairs.
Everyone laughs. "The little kitchen that grew" is now a welcoming, workable and graceful flow of rooms that doubles the size of the house -- and looks as if it developed over a lifetime.
The year-long project was arduous and sometimes inconvenient -- at one point the Calleris had to use a ladder to get into their bedroom -- but they enjoyed every minute of it. Many people who undergo a major renovation loathe the process, the project and even each other -- at least until it's all done. But the Calleris' experience was different for several reasons.
First, they had a very clear idea of what they wanted.
"We knew we wanted it be warm and casual, kind of, and comfortable," Mrs. Calleri says. They were influenced by frequent trips to Nantucket Island, and they were attracted to the French country look, she says.
For help bringing the vision into reality, they turned to designer Carroll Frey, of Carroll Frey Interiors, who had directed decoration of the private parts of the house about 10 years ago.
Massive amounts of pictures
"We just took pictures out of magazines . . . and when we put all our ideas together, this is what we came up with," Mrs. Calleri says.
There were "massive amounts" of pictures, Mr. Frey recalls. "We had stacks of files like this" -- he holds his hand several inches above the honey-colored wood of the kitchen harvest table. "They did their homework. And after a while, with me looking through all that, I got a sense of where they were going."
It's one of the best ways for a designer to learn his clients' taste, Mr. Frey says, though some don't understand that right away. "I tell people to get magazines, and they say, 'I'm paying you to come up with ideas.' And I say 'no, no, no -- there's feelings about rooms' " that clients have and designers can't simply give them.
The kitchen, says Mr. Frey, was the driving force in the Calleris' project.
"Mary Ann loves to cook," he says, "and she's had to cook for her family, but she enjoys it -- she cooks for everybody."
The family encompasses four children, two dogs, two cats, two birds and four horses.
And during the year-long construction process, it was effectively expanded to include whatever members of the various crews could be gathered around the table. "She fed everybody," Mr. Frey recalls. "At one point she fed every craftsman who worked here."
So something "big and workable" was essential, Mrs. Calleri says. "I wanted an island, I wanted a stove that I could do anything I wanted to on. . . . I'm here a lot in this room, and I wanted it to look nice, and to be efficient."
An 18th century focus
When they sat down to go over the Calleris' files, Mr. Frey says, "We had a lot of pictures of actually old kitchens -- they were great kitchens out of big, old mansions, 18th century places."
But using genuine artifacts from such spaces would have been prohibitively expensive, Mr. Frey says, "so we had to go with what was available today. We thought, 'How can we create a country look that is affordable?' "
Their solutions: choosing moderately priced cabinets in a pickled finish with old-fashioned knobs; designing a patterned stone-tile floor -- "not quite a castle floor, but it's an image of an 18th century floor," Mr. Frey says -- installing beams across the ceiling, with rough plaster in between, and making the modern appliances disappear. "We tried to build everything in so you can't see it," Mr. Frey says.
The room is divided in half, longways, by a long island. Cabinets and appliances fill the long wall toward the front of the house; an elaborate antique china cabinet, found in Nantucket and finished to match the cabinets, provides more storage along another wall.
The rectangular lines of the harvest table are softened by French-style chairs covered in a subtle tan and cream plaid. Flanking the harvest table is the huge, double-sided fireplace that divides kitchen and family room. It is made of a Tennessee stone in shades of soft, grayish-yellow cream, and was installed by a mason who limits his trade to working with stone.
Stove as centerpiece