Pared down for a perfect fit


Built-ins make the most of a small space


Amanda Mathis' 12-foot-wide house near Riverside Park in South Baltimore is a study in style, as well as a scaling down of furnishings.

Her clever placement of a few treasured antiques integrates with new pieces, appearing to widen the interior. Meanwhile, the eye wanders from the front door to the rear of the house that measures 65 feet in length.

Reminiscent of a finely decorated railroad car, it is a curiosity from the first step beyond the threshold.

"I'm coming from a 2,800-square-foot townhouse, very upscale," said Mathis. "Moving down here [from Howard County] was one of the best things I have ever done."

Mathis purchased her two-story, red brick row house on Randall Street in January 2001. She had thought for some time about living in the city, and when her son-in-law suggested Federal Hill, she said, "it suddenly clicked" as the place she wanted to be. She paid $147,000 for her circa 1900 house, noting that it was "minimally rehabilitated," "more slapped together" than anything else.

But Mathis, a designer for Classic Interiors, saw the house as a decorating challenge. She spent about $60,000 on upgrades, including a new kitchen, new window casings, a wide arched entrance (the opening was smaller) from dining room to kitchen, and, most important, built-ins.

The dining room is a mere 9 feet wide because of a sally port, or alley between houses halfway into the length and continuing to the rear of the house. While this takes away from interior width, it compensates with side windows, adding warmth and abundant light.

And, it is here in the dining room that a clever use of built-ins and scaled-down pieces pays off in additional space. A custom-built farm table, 6 feet long by 28 inches wide, sits close to the west wall. Fashioned from salvaged pine, it features a breadboard (or slatted) top. An L-shaped banquette against the wall not only consolidates space, but allows for six or seven people to sit comfortably on its plump cushions. The seats of the banquette open to reveal storage space for linens, boxes and other items.

"I'm pretty visual and so is my daughter," noted Mathis. "She suggested the built-in benches and the arch."

The arch was constructed as a sweeping entrance from the dining room to the kitchen, where there are new appliances, a cork floor, and red laminate countertops with a tile backsplash.

The living room's modern upholstered pieces share the same light tone as the walls, the idea being a clean and unified flow to the staircase and second level.

Built-in cupboards grace the west wall of the master bedroom, while the guestroom boasts a captain's bed with a queen-sized mattress built into an arched nook by a rear window. Drawers below the mattress afford additional storage space.

Mathis sold or gave away 80 percent of the pieces she had in her previous house. She points out that her new space has been pared down considerably, except for carefully selected treasures, such as a painted portrait of her mother that hangs on a brick wall in the living room.

"I have the essentials, the things I really love, like [my] books and artwork," she said. "It is what it is, and like anything else, you figure it out."


Amanda Mathis suggests that when you're in a new space:

Get to know the feel of it before decorating, and concentrate on one room at a time.

Personalize your space to reflect your hobbies, interests and personality.

Consider using a professional, whether an architect or designer. It will save time and money.

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