Sue Hart's Towson neighborhood consists of quaint brick rowhouses circa 1947 that appear from the street more cottagelike than the usual two-story Colonial.
Narrow in width, these homes are lined up side by side, many behind picket or chain-link fences. Front yards, almost as deep as the homes themselves, showcase manicured lawns or are blanketed in controllable ivy. Almost all of the yards are shaded with old trees that were planted as saplings when home construction was completed more than a half-century ago.
The concrete walkway to Hart's home passes ivy and small bushes. Her brightly painted red front door welcomes and stirs curiosity about the peaceful, cozy and ordered life that, like the neighborhood, must exist behind it.
All preconceptions end abruptly beyond that front door. "Welcome to the ultimate kitsch experience," she said.
Before eyes can focus in on any one area of her living room, they process and absorb the entire space in all of its flea-marketlike appearance.
In a 225-square-foot living room, a scaled-down frame sofa, two wicker chairs, a burl wood secretary found in a Canadian train station and a mahogany dresser are all but buried under neatly placed displays of every imaginable collection of small things.
More than 100 framed paint-by-number works cover taupe-painted walls and include landscapes, cityscapes, portraits and still-life.
"This is the Holy Grail of paint-by-numbers," Hart said, pointing to a large ocean-scape titled "Conflict of the Sea." It hangs in an honored position flanked by follow-the-numbers copies of Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy" and Thomas Lawrence's "Pinkie."
Hundreds of religious statues sit on thin-planked oak flooring original to the home. Above the statues and atop the secretary, flamenco dancing dolls of all sizes and costume colors flick their fans with attitude.
Hart, a visual merchandiser for Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, purchased the rowhouse in 1994 for just under $80,000. It was in pristine condition, and her only expense to date has been a complete kitchen renovation, for about $20,000.
Seated in her kitchen, serving iced tea out of her grandmother's English hobnail glasses, she proudly points out her collection of old cookie jars; one is a tugboat that reminds her of her grandfather, who was a tugboat captain.
"I'm comfortable here and I can do whatever I want," she said of an interior decor that is nothing if not quirky. A collector for years, she has purchased most of her treasures from flea markets, yard sales and trendy secondhand shops with names like Fat Elvis and Hampden Junque. Occasionally, she will go online for a hard-to-find item to complete a collection.
Two seriously valuable items, both floral still-life paintings by Grace Turnbull, are hung in her upstairs "Barbie Room," keeping company with hundreds of Barbie dolls - some collector pieces, some a bit down on their luck.
A tapestry of Elvis is hung in the master bedroom (a bit incongruously placed between paintings of geishas) over Hart's mahogany Colonial-style four-poster bed. Faux jewel necklaces and pins stuck into pillows are draped over a bentwood rocker that has been placed against a backdrop of colorful paper stars strung across two windows like a valance.
Hart sums up her interior decor, admittedly not for everyone, in an honest and succinct fashion. "I'm living my childhood every day," she said.
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Making a dream home
Dream element:: Sue Hart's row home is situated on a quiet, tree-lined street just blocks from the heart of Towson and Towson University.
Surprise feature:: Her entire house is filled with amazement at every turn of the head, by way of hung and placed tchotchkes. The real surprise here is a minimally decorated renovated kitchen, sleek and modern with 42-inch-high wood cabinets painted white, a stainless-steel table and chairs, black and white block flooring, black Corian countertops and stainless-steel appliances.
Personal touch:: Hart's personal stamp on her two-bedroom home is her complete disregard for conventional decorating. Copious collections of whimsical toys, religious statues, dolls and artwork surround and comfort her at every turn.