Good things do come in small packages - especially when the surprise is a seaside condo in Ocean City.
John Hale's 703-square-foot beach retreat on 143rd Street has been a design project since he purchased it in October. Acknowledging that the unit was "dull and boring," he immediately began working his magic.
Warm-toned walls, almost the color of butternut, are capped with ivory crown molding, his color of choice throughout the one-bedroom, one-bath unit.
"I didn't want [the condo] to scream 'beach,' because I'll be here in the winter," notes Hale, a partner at Baltimore's Hale & Rexroad Interior Design and soon to be Maryland chapter president of the American Society of Interior Designers. "Yet there's enough of a beach theme to feel relaxed."
Brightly colored silk-screened art, in black frames, hangs on the eastern and western walls.
Looking for artwork that represents Maryland, Hale chose pieces by artist Joseph Craig English from Gaithersburg. A downtown Baltimore deli is splashed in colors of hot pink and brick red. A piece depicting a Towson market sports vivid green vegetables. Works on the Annapolis harbor feature the bright blues of sky and water, while beach chairs on the sands of Ocean City are in shades of bright yellow.
In the northeastern corner, placed behind a deep-rose-colored easy chair, hangs a larger-than-life poster of Rudolph Valentino from the movie Son of the Sheik.
Track lighting along the ceiling enhances this contrast in style. Hale's furniture selection also is a study in contrasting texture and color.
"In finishes and furniture, [you] don't want everything to match," he explains. "Like in a forest, all the trees are different, but everything blends."
Hale's sleeper sofa is Scotch plaid in tones of green and rose. Beside it, a granite-topped console is constructed of wicker with hand-painted palm trees on the wide double doors.
Across the room, a glass-topped dining table is accompanied by four bamboo chairs with a soft-blue fabric. A triple-paned, 9-foot slider door to the balcony has been treated with glass tinting that removes ultraviolet light, protecting the artwork, fabric and carpeting from damaging rays.
Hale also has hung chintz draperies with blackout lining at the door. The fabric motif is bright floral against a black background.
He makes clever use of the balcony space by placing a dining table and chairs close to the railing. The oblong, cast-aluminum table is set with bright, flower-painted china. This area has a view of the ocean.
The beach theme is carried into the bedroom and bath. Light wicker furniture offers a pleasant contrast. A bright bedspread with an aquarium motif includes fish of every neon. The shower curtain in the bath boasts more of the underwater creatures.
At the counter of his small kitchen are four bamboo, high-topped stools, which Hale found in a consignment shop. Standing at the refrigerator, Hale speaks of his good fortune in acquiring the condo for $157,900.
Yet, in addition to being "dull and boring," there were necessary repairs and upgrades to tackle.
"I can live with the two-toned laminate [kitchen] cabinets," he concedes. "They were run-of-the-mill for their time, but they work."
What he couldn't live without, however, were certain new items - water heater, garbage disposal, microwave and front sliding window. Repairs, furnishings and fabrics would cost an additional $15,500. It's well worth it for Hale, who plans to retire in five years.
He and his partner will move from Baltimore and enjoy beach living, in Ocean City and at their other condo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In the meantime, since business keeps him in Baltimore most weeks, he plans on renting out the condo to vacationers.
"I think he's crazy for doing that," says Libby Younglove, Hale's sister, who has a condo on Bayshore Drive and 26th Street. "Whatever he does, he always does well. All of the pictures are hung in the right places for a spectacular effect. He's always had the eye, the gift for putting things together. I hope he finds people who will take care of it."