Artistic `comfort zone'

Dream Home

Ted Frankel `un-converts' 9 apartments to house artwork, crafts from around the world

Real Estate

December 15, 2006|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

Two years ago, Ted Frankel came from Chicago for a visit to Baltimore. Within two days, he leased the gift shop in the American Visionary Art Museum and bought a home on North Calvert Street. He calls his gift shop Sideshow; he calls his home "a work in progress."

"When I walked in the house, I had a good feeling," he said of the 1888 rowhouse in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. "I wanted a house with good underwear."

Frankel paid $240,000 for the 4,500-square-foot property, which has a ground-level basement and four floors above, knowing he faced a big job to "un-convert" the home's nine apartments. It cost another $200,000 to take out nine kitchens and nine bathrooms and start from scratch, building a new kitchen, 3 1/2 baths and painting the house. He chose one color scheme throughout -- a light purple-gray with soft cream trim.

The walls are a backdrop for myriad paintings, sculptures, tapestries and memorabilia. Novelties from the circus and carnivals are on shelf units and the mantels of the home's seven fireplaces.

"I collect visually exciting things," said 55-year-old Frankel, who also owns a home and three novelty and stationery stores in downtown Chicago. His art contacts around the world, coupled with his penchant for visiting thrift shops, keep him surrounded with objects that please and comfort him.

In the new kitchen, a wood bust of Abraham Lincoln sits on a fireplace mantel along with small folk art paintings and the stuffed canvas doll-like objects used in carnival games -- the kind at which balls are thrown.

The room features light oak cabinets, stainless appliances and black laminate countertops. An island of the same materials contains the kitchen sink, with enough room to comfortably seat two for casual dining. A modern mahogany table and chairs nestle in a nook lighted by two large mullioned windows.

The home's center reception hall is filled with antique office chairs of oak.

"This I call my Haitian voodoo bathroom," Frankel announces with a flourish as he opens the door under the staircase.

The small area, with sink and toilet, is decorated with five large, ceremonial banners of colorful beads and shiny sequins. Images on the banners include those of skulls and witch doctors' faces.

Frankel's love of banners carries over to his living room, where bright quilts from Guatemala depict colorful scenes of village life. A modern living room suite in red leather coordinates warmly with thin-planked oak flooring, original to the house.

Upstairs is Frankel's master bedroom with bath. A high, carved mahogany bed with a billowing mattress and flowing bed linens is reminiscent of the one in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.

A den down the hall features floor-to-ceiling canvas banners made in India. Hung in front of the room's double windows, the canvas subjects, which include a portrait of Robert Redford, appear to be illuminated from behind. Shelves in the room are crammed with old dolls, including ones of Shirley Temple, a nun and religious statues.

The fourth floor has two guest rooms, each with tall mahogany headboards and canvases in front of the windows. The home's garret-like top floor is half the length of the others, with windowed eaves looking out on the city's rooftops. Planned as a studio, its few furnishings include folding chairs and a latch-hook canvas of The Last Supper.

"I see my house as a safe space on the Monopoly board of life," Frankel said. "People can behave as they like while here. It's a comfort zone, an artist's house."

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