When designer Ed Stough signed on to create the interiors of a country home in Baltimore County, he realized the trick would be to balance the formality and sophistication desired by his clients with the reality of their everyday life. They had two growing sons and two friendly golden retrievers.
Combining the husband's preference for Louis XV furniture, the wife's love of traditional English pieces, and a family's need for comfortable spaces, he carefully crafted rooms with elements to please everyone.
The task was made easier for Stough because his clients, rather than being passive participants in the long design process, jumped right in to help. The project -- begun nearly 10 years ago when the house was newly built -- has been very much a collaborative effort. "Ed did the layout of the various rooms and told us what we needed and then we went out and found the furniture," says the husband, who adds that "nothing is here from our old home but the bed."
So how do you fill up 6,300 square feet of space? "We started with an overall plan for the entire house and then we began filling in," recalls Stough. For the owners, the project became an adventure: They shopped antiques shows, antiques stores and auction houses.
"Happily, we have similar likes and interests [high quality and refined looks]," says the husband, explaining how he and his wife agreed on what to buy.
"Even when we traveled," the wife says, "we would browse through stores looking for things for the house. We still do. We really enjoy it."
On a trip to New Orleans, the couple saw a custom-made, double-pedestal table, one that would easily accommodate their large family gatherings. Mahogany with a delicately carved edge and a burled border, the table reflected the refinement attributed to the grand houses of England. Both husband and wife loved the style.
Back home, they discovered that Gaines McHale Antiques in South Baltimore could have a similar table made for them. Today the table -- which comfortably seats 16 when fully extended -- is the focal point of a dining room that the wife calls her "midnight room" because of the dark blue paint that covers the walls.
"Ed suggested painting stars on the ceiling, but I resisted," says the wife with a laugh.
While the dining room is dark and formal with an English ambience, the foyer is bright, airy and eclectic. Soaring more than 28 feet, the generous space is the center of the house, providing an easy flow from room to room. The dining room, living room, library/study, kitchen and family room, as well as the stairway to the second floor, are all reached by way of the foyer. During parties, guests circulate easily through the downstairs rooms.
With an imported marble floor and glittering Austrian crystal chandelier, the foyer is an elegant space for formal parties, the entertaining mode most enjoyed by the homeowners. When they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, they threw a gala black-tie affair. "It was so much fun standing on the second-floor landing and looking down on all our guests," remembers the wife. "They seemed to love congregating in the foyer."
In the center of the room is a round Victorian pedestal table with a burled walnut top inlaid with a marquetry floral design. "We were on the hunt at an antiques show at the Convention Center when we saw this table, which just seemed to have our name written on it," recalls the husband. Stough enthusiastically approved of their choice.
Not everything in the foyer is as antique as the table. When Stough suggested Oriental chests for two niches constructed on each side of the foyer and one above the front door, the wife put her artistic talent to work. She bought simple cane chests, painted them, added jewelry pieces for buckles, and created her own faux chests. They look like the real thing from any vantage point in the foyer.
The wife also hand-painted flowers on powder room walls and planned the kitchen -- a warm, inviting space with a large center island. An avid cook, she designed the island so that it would give her plenty of work space and serve as well as a spot where she could visit with her family while working.
To keep the counter tops neat, she had a series of "garages" installed under her cabinets. These cubbylike spaces have sliding doors that hide small appliances like mixers and food processors.
The most elegant room in the house, and the one that feels most French, is the living room. The family refers to it as the music room because the focal point is a heirloom baby grand piano that once belonged to the husband's father.
"We knew from the beginning we were going to have a piano in this room so we planned for it from the beginning," says Stough. Also in his room design were traditional architectural elements often featured in fine French homes, such as a coffered ceiling, crown moldings and wall panels.