Going With The Flow

A Federal Hill couple renovated their home with this guiding principle: Don't fight what you can't change -- enhance it instead.

July 03, 2005|By Elizabeth Large | By Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Once their four children left home, Chip and Barbara Bohl could have created their ideal living space almost anywhere. He's an Annapolis architect and she's an interior designer; their work takes them as far away as Los Angeles and as near as the Chesapeake Bay. Five years ago, the couple was working together on a renovation in Baltimore. Their clients took them for a walk through Federal Hill, and the Bohls knew they had found their neighborhood. At the time, they were living on an isolated farm on the Eastern Shore; and as Chip puts it, they were "city-deprived."

"Baltimore is a real city," he says, "but it's unpretentious and arty."

Finding the right space wasn't as easy as finding the right neighborhood in the right city. Barbara describes the penthouse apartment they eventually bought as "a wreck." It had been built in the 1980s on the roof of a warehouse, and featured tiny rooms, ceilings that weren't as high as the Bohls would have liked, and small windows that didn't take advantage of the spectacular view. On the plus side, there were two working fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the master bedroom.

Any renovation would have to work with permanent architectural features, like the awkward column in front of the main entrance.

"The task is to create a composition in which the flaw becomes a desirable feature," says Chip. "Rather than fight with it, accentuate it." He built, for instance, a clever little table and storage space off the column near the front door. The L-shape theme used through the whole apartment (like the asymmetrical L's of the mantels and the L-shaped cutout between kitchen and master bedroom) was suggested by permanent beams and columns in the living room.

The renovation took almost a year, as Chip tore out walls, completely redid the kitchen and two-and-a-half baths, built in storage spaces, and created large windows to open up the apartment and let in more light. The result was so successful it became the cover story for the March issue of Metropolitan Home. (Barbara is a city editor for the magazine, a job she got after Met Home featured their farmhouse in 1996.)

The main floor of their Federal Hill home now has an open plan with a living room, dining room and kitchen that flow into each other. At the end of the long hall lies the master bedroom. Framed by its open door, like a carefully composed work of art, sits an early 19th-century Baltimore painted chair with a painting of a woman above it.

"It's almost impossible for us not to collect chairs," says Chip with a laugh. The apartment is filled with the couple's finds, ranging from antiques to the Italian bent-plywood dining-room chairs. Walls and shelves showcase other collections dear to their hearts, like the drawings and paintings of nudes throughout their home.

From the narrow weathered-wood terrace that runs the length of the apartment's two sides, the Bohls have a magnificent view of Federal Hill Park, the harbor, and much of the city. Barbara is the gardener, and her inspiration, she says, was Parisian rooftop gardens (although there's a decided Asian feel to the garden's arrangement). The terrace has different levels where the Bohls can entertain, grill and eat al fresco; the only downside is that their deck is a favored haunt of pigeons. It overlooks a series of neighbors' decks and rooftop gardens; but none in sight rivals theirs, with its grasses and square terra-cotta flower pots.

The 2,400-square-foot apartment is larger than it seems at first, taking up three floors. Downstairs is the mezzanine, with a laundry and a family / play room for when the Bohls' two grandchildren visit. The bottom floor has two guest bedrooms and its own entrance off a third-floor corridor.

Chip opened the kitchen with a large bow window, which creates a wavelike effect and balances the angularity of the ultramodern appliances and cabinetry and the rectangular kitchen table he made from a slab of yellow Siena marble bought in Tuscany, where Chip was studying stone carving. Most of the furniture in the main living areas is a mix of retro modern and contemporary; but in the bedroom are beloved antiques, like the painted chair and a 125-year-old bird's-eye maple bed from the Bohls' farmhouse.

A subtle watery theme runs through the interior design. While much of the apartment is painted white, a pale sea foam and serene aqua have been used here and there for walls, the mid-century modern furniture and the contemporary accessories.

The polished floor, epoxy paint over concrete, looks like a deep blue lake. Area rugs float and furnishings are reflected in its shiny surface. Only one work of art in the dining room features fish, but ruffled round accent pillows suggest spiny sea urchins. It all seems entirely appropriate for an apartment so near the Inner Harbor.

What Chip Bohl says of the homes he builds or renovates for clients can be said of his own home.

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