Vibrant colors and art enliven a quirky cottage


Palette: A Mount Washington couple weren't afraid to be bold in decorating their chateau-like home.

October 24, 2004|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Marcia Semmes, 49, acknowledges that her little stone cottage in Mount Washington is quirky.

But the house - with no symmetric floor plan - suits her love of color and her extensive collection of textiles and art. Transplanted Washingtonians, she and her husband, Clark Semmes, 46, took jobs in Baltimore four years ago and started house hunting soon after.

"We looked for months," says Clark Semmes, a network administrator. "I thought she was mentally blocked."

His wife notes that it took months to find the right fixer-upper in a city neighborhood of beautiful trees.

In 2001, she snagged the prize, a home constructed in 1930 of Butler stone (the name noting the Maryland place of origin). Chateau-like, with casement windows and a sloping roof, it sat back from the street and on an embankment off South Road, cradled among old oaks and pines. Patience paid off for Semmes, director of development and communications at the American Visionary Art Museum.

The couple paid $297,000 for the 2,200-square-foot cottage, which included a clapboard carriage house. Both sit on a 3/4 -acre plot. During the course of three years, an additional $60,000 was invested in kitchen appliances, central air conditioning, interior paint, several windows and refurbishing of the home's hardwood floors.

The cottage's facade has a southern exposure. Afternoon sun highlights bits of silver and mica in the stone. A wooden, multiplanked red door has a casement window embedded in the upper center. The door opens to a narrow hallway dominated by a staircase. Oak railings, newel posts and steps contrast with white spindles that lead to the second-floor landing.

East of the home's entrance, soft-yellow dining room walls offer abstract, whimsical and folk art treasures. The couple's carved oak refectory table is centered in this room. Above the table, a wooden chandelier from Germany has brightly colored, intricately carved angels and birds.

Marcia Semmes, a prolific collector of unusual pieces, never saw the need to wire the fixture, preferring to light it occasionally and to rely on the room's many electrical wall sconces.

One pair of sconces, on the room's west wall, has been fashioned of painted plates made in Lebanon. The glow from their hurricane bulbs illuminates a hanging collection of cartoonlike characters made with pieces of glass and glitter on scrap-wood panels. The work was done by artist Paul Darmafall, known as the "Baltimore Glass Man."

Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and executive director of the American Visionary Arts Museum, marvels at the way Marcia Semmes has been able to take a "little stone chalet and make it glisten throughout."

The Semmes' living room includes white walls and wood ceiling beams. An overstuffed, camelback sofa and chair have chenille upholstery in a deep shade of burgundy. A coffee table fashioned in Mexico from an old door is painted apple green.

The room's centerpiece is a hand-woven carpet of Eastern European origin dating to the 1930s. Its large floral splashes of chartreuse, burgundy, blue and fuchsia mimic the Technicolor effect of animal folk art paintings that adorn the walls.

East of the living room, an enclosed sun porch has seven paneled windows. The floor's flagstones are mirrored on the outdoor patio. Furnished with bent-twig chairs and carved oak tables, the room also includes gourd sculptures.This area is the couple's favorite spot for morning coffee and newspaper reading.

The kitchen includes colorful circular and rectangular rugs made from woven plastic bags. The couple chose white for the kitchen's cabinetry. A gray-blue laminate floor mimics pine. Stainless-steel appliances offer clean vertical lines against gray Corian countertops.

The home's second level includes the master suite and more highlights of vibrant colors.

Plaster-textured walls are painted orange and embellished with paisley-stencil painting in pink. Sari silk draperies in magenta cover the two floor-length windows.

The king-size bed sits against the east wall, its Indian cotton quilts displaying dominant hues of orange, yellow and red. A carved wood screen from Mexico serves as a headboard. Flower patterns on the screen are dabbed in colors of turquoise, orange, pink and green.

For a family that thrives on color, "this house suits us just perfectly," Marcia Semmes says.

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