Victorian lets designer show off


Erik Rink uses Bolton Hill townhouse to display his large cabinets and furniture


Erik Rink and his wife, Halima Aquino, had no doubt that someday they would purchase a home in Bolton Hill. Both transplants to the city, they fell in love with the historical detail of this uptown Baltimore neighborhood's architecture, with its grand townhouses along wide, tree-lined streets.

Size was an additional criterion for them - as important as location - and for a good reason: "We had to be in a house that could support large-scale pieces," Aquino said. "We needed the theatrical setting for [his] furniture."

Erik Rink, 40, is a furniture designer. His company, Artisan Interiors, specializes in the design and building of custom furniture and cabinetry. Procuring a Victorian-era home with high ceilings and dimensions suitable for oversized built-ins would allow the couple to live in an environment that shows off his talents.

But homes for sale were scarce in Bolton Hill and the competition was stiff. The couple spent two years looking before the perfect three-story brick townhouse came along. According to Aquino, they "had to fight for the house." Initially outbid, their offer of $400,000 was eventually accepted when a prior contract fell through. They settled in September 2003.

Their imposing Victorian on Bolton Street dates to 1845. The previous owners did a great deal of updating to the property, which sold as a multifamily unit. The couple rents out the second and third levels, each floor having 1,600 square feet.

Rink and Aquino, for the time being, are living on the first floor and in the lower level, which opens to a full terrace in the rear of the home. And it is this combined area of 3,200 square feet that Rink uses as the canvas for his creations. "He's the craftsman, and I do the flourishes," Aquino said.

The combination of both has cost the couple about $50,000 over the past three years, including materials for the built-ins, hand finishing the original pine and walnut flooring, and painting. A wrought-iron fence encases a postage stamp-size garden at the front of the house. Marble steps lead to a double-door entrance.

Ceilings that are 12 1/2 feet high lend a cathedral-like air to a hallway whose one side contains three large walnut pocket doors.

A carved open staircase at the end of the hall leads to the apartments on the second and third floors.

Midway down the hall of the 80-foot deep home, the center pocket door opens onto the couple's foyer. Here, a chandelier of milk glass throws soft, subtle light onto a recessed paneled wall constructed by him of mahogany-stained birch.

A railing, of the same material, serves as a pedestal for a large flower arrangement in warm shades of orange and yellow. Steps behind the rail lead to the lower level.

Off the foyer, a baronial-size dining room offers contrast in warm wood tones set against a background of butter-colored walls. A large marble fireplace graces the center of one wall, its grandeur heightened by two flanking built-ins.

Each an impressive 7 feet wide, these birch built-ins rise to the ceiling, where they are topped with deep crown moldings. Rink designed the units so that the shelves rise only part way, leaving a framed section open to the walls. Halogen lights illuminate this space as well as the top shelf of each unit. A framed pastel of a horse, executed in shades of yellow and orange, occupies the alcove of one unit while vases are displayed in the other.

In the center is an 8-foot-long dining table designed and constructed by Rink. Of mahogany-stained birch, the table has two Duncan Phyfe-style pedestal bases taken from a smaller table. Eight Chippendale chairs hug the table, their seats covered in a Florentine pattern of cream silk. A wrought-iron chandelier hangs over the table from a plaster medallion. Bay windows comprise the room's rear wall, and from ceiling to floor, brown dupioni silk is draped over cream-colored sheers.

A particular treasure of Aquino's is an antique, Chippendale partner's desk, which rests in front of the windows. Of carved mahogany, its 5-foot-long surface displays, among other curios, an old Underwood typewriter and tall Asian warrior figurines made of terra cotta. An Oriental carpet with floral designs of brown, tan and mauve has been placed in the room's center, with wide areas of gleaming hardwood flooring framing it.

"We found that we can't buy small," noted Aquino, "because smaller pieces would appear dwarfed in these rooms."

That's certainly true in the home's 20-by-40-foot front parlor. There another marble fireplace is flanked by 10-foot-wide floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Using the basic design of his dining room cabinets, Rink again allowed for open centers to display artwork. A Kawai baby grand piano sits in front of shuttered windows.

Situated around a brown leather sofa and two tan microfiber occasional chairs are additional creations of Rink's: a large mahogany case built around an antique phonograph and a unique glass-topped coffee table that consists of two stacks of wooden drawers at right angles.

The couple refers to the lower level as their "work in progress." Aquino, a 39-year-old state employee, looks beyond an unfinished front room, a bedroom without walls and a kitchen about to be remodeled. (Many Bolton Hill homes had their kitchens on the lower level. Two staircases - one on either side of the house - ascended to the upper levels and were used by the servants.)

She and her husband have created a peaceful terrace containing rose bushes and high climbing coleus plants. Ornate, wrought-iron garden furniture suggests pleasant moments of conversation and early morning coffee.

While the couple are unsure when they will take over the rest of the house, they proudly hail the Victorian makeover of their first level.

Meanwhile, the house's "palette" rises to the grand scale of Rink's art and designs.

"We can't believe we pulled it off," he said. "It took literally everything we had to get it."

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