Peggy Poisal's friends are less taken aback at the interior of her home than the casual visitor, whose first reaction tends to be a gasp of wonder, followed by an overwhelming desire to take everything in at one fast turn of the head.
A fire roars in a fireplace decorated with garland, fruit and stockings. The mantel is dressed with more flourishes of garland along with two small lighted topiaries at either end. A covered radiator in front of the living room window is a showplace of wooden folk art Santas and angels.
Through a gilt-framed mirror by the front door, soft light reflects from a flickering topiary in the opposite corner. Peggy Poisal excuses herself to take aromatic pumpkin bread out of the oven while chatting with friends. The whole experience is sheer delight for the senses.
It is Christmas, and the effervescent retired art teacher is in her element.
"Peggy is all about the holidays," said her friend Judy Lomp. "There [are] Valentine's Day decorations, shamrocks and Easter bunnies."
Indeed, her storage area in the basement contains boxes of holiday decorations, enough to put Bing Crosby's "Holiday Inn" to shame.
"I have six times more Christmas boxes than regular [boxes of] decorations," she said. "There are 25 Christmas boxes, [and] we are in the triple digits of Santas!"
When it comes to decking the halls, Peggy's philosophy is that more is more. To this day, she will never pass up an interesting ornament or embellishment.
Jerome and Peggy Poisal bought the family home in October 1974 along with many of its furnishings. A carved oak radio belonging to her grandmother has found new life as a corner armoire in the living room. A pedestal, mahogany dining room suite, corner cabinet, buffet and side table were also inherited.
Besides the fact that Peggy Poisal takes comfort in being surrounded by things that belonged to generations past, she also sees these pieces of furniture as providing exhibit space for yet more decoration. The side table, for example, displays a delightful, handmade bamboo Christmas tree on which are hung cross-stitched ornaments.
When the Poisals added a family room to the back of the home, the space became - in addition to a TV room - a gallery for paintings the couple has collected over the years. One local painter, Keith Millison, renders beautiful folk art pieces in acrylic on canvas, all of which feature houses and farms, schools, churches and barns. Peggy Poisal has collected several of his works, each illuminated by track lighting. Another tabletop tree sits in a corner of the room and is whimsically decorated with miniature toys, including a cowboy she had as a little girl and replicas of Fisher-Price toys such as the iconic telephone and barn.
A corner shelf opposite the tree is brimming over with Santas, while a manger scene designed like a stage set is breathtakingly realistic with the holy family huddled in a cavelike space at the foot of a Bethlehem hostel.
About her collections and purchases, Peggy Poisal, with the soul and eye of an artist, speaks honestly:
"If everybody else has 'A,' I want 'B.' I'm always on the lookout for something different."
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Making a dream home Dream element:
The Poisals' two-story bungalow with deeply sloping roof and large center gable was built in 1925 in the Arts and Crafts style. With the birth of Peggy and Jerome Poisal's grandchildren, the family is now in its sixth generation of occupancy since the house originally belonged to Peggy Poisal's great-grandparents. It sits on a wide street in an established neighborhood of old Catonsville.
Design inspiration: Peggy Poisal has blended her love of family possessions with her keen eye for color and decoration into a home whose ambience is not unlike that of a cozy English cottage. Ledges over interior doors and windows contain holiday art, decorations, sculpture and crafts. Many date back several generations. Others were done by Peggy Poisal, a recently retired art teacher.
Personal touch: The home's interior is a celebration of family and faith. Each room contains at least one item from a large collection of heirlooms. The master bedroom, for example, has a display shelf of family portraits, while statues and framed pictures of saints carry poignant family stories.