Anne West does not like heights. Until five months ago, she never lived in a city and to this day has no desire to drive in one. Furthermore, she cannot - and will not- tolerate the heat of a Baltimore summer. Anne is like many folks in all of these respects, except for one overwhelming contradiction: She and her husband, Jack, reside in a penthouse on the 24th floor of HarborView Condominiums located on the southeast bank of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
They refer to their 3,400-square-foot condo as "the house." It is their only residence and in its purchase there was, indeed, a method to their madness. Empty-nesters who most recently occupied a sprawling home in the suburbs of San Diego, Anne and Jack West moved to Baltimore to be near their children and grandchildren.
"We have a son living 45 minutes north [of us] and a daughter 45 minutes south," Anne explains. "Our third daughter is a nine-hour drive away. We don't have to fly anymore to be with them."
Born and raised north of Ontario, Canada, the Wests are no strangers to beautiful scenery. Both appreciate a good view.
"The city lights and the activity of the harbor fascinate me," Anne West said. "I love to look out ... as long as I don't get too close to the windows ... or look down."
Indeed, the primary selling point of their $960,000 purchase is a panoramic view of the city, harbor and beyond. Yet, in order to turn what Anne called a "big white box" into a home, an additional $450,000 in furniture and renovations was required along with five months of hard work.
To achieve the desired environment, the Wests hired Baltimore decorators Rita St. Clair and Peter Bartels, who spent three days selecting color schemes, fabric and furniture. (The Wests brought only their dining room set and a few pieces of bedroom furniture across the country with them: They would start anew in Baltimore.)
For inside renovation work, they turned to their son, David West, a carpenter and owner of Maple Leaf Builders.
Upon entering the unit through double doors, a visitor is treated to a cleverly constructed foyer fashioned from a partition placed front and center. On the wall hangs a signed, silk-screened work of art over a marble-topped entrance table.
There are two bedrooms on the north side of the penthouse (right of the foyer), along with a guest bath. The master suite, decorated in subtle shades of seafoam blue, with warm, peach accents, boasts a northern exposure as far as the eye can see. A clever use of mirrors in the marbled master bath, together with a 6-foot-high window over a sunken tub, allows Jack West a view as far away as Towson while he brushes his teeth at his corner sink.
The home features two terraces and four balconies.
Most to the Wests' liking is the view from the bay windows of the living room, situated directly behind the entrance partition. It is there that the Wests spend most of their time. The windows' western exposures to Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium in the foreground form the backdrop for a room filled with artifacts from the couple's world travels.
Jack West points to his ginger jars from China, sharing bookshelf space with jade Buddhas and terra cotta soldiers picked up during a visit to Greece. A floor-to-ceiling cherry-wood entertainment center houses a 54-inch TV screen and stereo.
"On a dirty day, we pull the blinds down, light the [faux] fireplace, and turn on the TV," Anne remarks.
The fireplace is on the reverse side of the entrance partition. Here, son David created an electric wonder, complete with a hologram of a roaring blaze.
If the living room constitutes the heart of the couple's life at HarborView, Anne West's kitchen is the soul of her existence.
An avid cook, she prepares meals in her made-to-order kitchen. Maple cabinetry with a toffee-colored glaze houses a side-by-side refrigerator and freezer. The view from three windows over her kitchen sink is of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and points beyond. Anne West takes it in stride, preferring to walk her visitors down her "Hall of Infamy." Behind the kitchen, and leading to the eastern wing of the penthouse, extends an open book of family and memories, a biography in photographs. Her children, grandchildren, her homes in California and youthful portraits of herself and husband form the basis of a gallery that no decorator could fashion.
The east wing houses a study, a fourth bath, and Jack's office, complete with terraced and windowed views of Fells Point and beyond.
Jack West, who is semiretired and managing his time in investment banking as a board member for Genstar Capital, views the move to Baltimore as a good one.
He and Anne agree that life at HarborView is safe as well as enjoyable.
"We have vacationed on all seven continents," he said.
"We don't want the fuss of a house and the work it entails anymore. We will travel this summer to a cooler climate and ... things could always change. We may move again."
"I'll leave here feet first," his wife says.