Artistic display

Reservoir Hill rowhouse showcases couple's global collection

October 16, 2010|By Donna M. Owens, Special to The Baltimore Sun

It's a crisp fall afternoon, and Robbye and Kevin Apperson are savoring a quiet Sunday in the parlor of their Reservoir Hill home.

Dappled sunlight streams through shuttered windows, softly illuminating ocher-colored walls and a white marble fireplace. Gold and crystal chandeliers shimmer from ceilings as high as 14 feet. The original hardwood floors are buffed to a gentle sheen.

"There's something magical about our home," says Robbye Apperson, smiling at her husband of 26 years, who nods in agreement. "Sometimes I pinch myself, that we live here."

The couple and their son, Andrew, a college student, moved into the Victorian-era rowhouse — built circa 1891 — nearly a decade ago.

"My wife drove by the house several times and kept telling me about it," says Kevin Apperson, a Richmond native who is an engineer and IT executive. "The 'For Sale' sign stayed up for a long time."

The place was eventually sold, but not to the Appersons. After a period in which the house was taken by the city for nonpayment of taxes and later purchased for $1 through the popular 1980s housing program and renovated by different owners, it came back on the market again around 2001.

This time, the couple jumped. They paid a little under $190,000 for the three-story, 4,300-square-foot brick house, which has five bedrooms and 41/2 baths.

Since that time, they have built a backyard deck and lovingly transformed the interior into an urbane showcase, brimming with art.

A sign welcoming guests to the "Apperson Home Gallery" offers a hint of the eclectic collection within. The assemblage includes dozens of paintings, sculpture, mixed media and photography.

The works of acclaimed and emerging artists from across the country and world are exhibited here, many with Baltimore ties.

There's a white abstract by Joyce Scott. Dazzling glass mosaics by Loring Cornish, bold installations by Trinidad musician/artist Roy Crosse. The color-rich works of Claes Gabriel of Haiti and Ephrem Kouakou of West Africa compete for attention and draw the eye. Son Andrew's self-portrait is proudly displayed, too.

"With all this wall space, how could we not collect art?," laughs Robbye Apperson, a homemaker, playwright and poet who was raised all over as an Army brat. "The art is part of the decor."

The sprawling house has provided a perfect venue for an ever-expanding collection that begins in the entrance hall, meanders into the great room, rises up to the second floor loft and beyond.

The couple didn't employ an interior decorator — Robbye Apperson relied upon her keen eye and creative intuition.

The result is a design that seamlessly melds global furnishings and art: 19th-century teak benches and tables from Tibet and India, African sculpture, overstuffed soft armchairs and couches, plump batik print pillows stacked on the floor, and a large potted fern.

In the modern kitchen, with its sleek black appliances and mahogany-stained cabinetry, a multi-paneled glass "window wall" and skylight are key features, along with a black spiral staircase.

It's not the only grand stairway in this home: the original intricately carved oak handrail winds its way with 30 or so steps, all the way to the third level.

That area is a sanctuary that the couple generally keeps private: there are master and guest bedrooms, and one spa-style bathroom with double sinks and a deep soaking tub.

"One thing I love about our home is that it feels like an oasis in the city," says Robbye Apperson.

Her husband echoes that sentiment: "The walls are thick, so you can be inside and not hear the street sounds."

That said, the house is often filled with the sounds of laughter, vibrant energy and life.

The Appersons support community groups and arts entities such as the BMA, Baltimore Clayworks — where Kevin Apperson is on the board — and the Creative Alliance.

The couple includes among their circle members of the city's creative class and periodically hosts Harlem Renaissance-inspired 'salons'— lively parties packed with artists sketching, jazz musicians jamming, poets free-styling and singers scatting.

"I've always wanted this house to be a space where the arts and people who love them can be celebrated," says Robbye Apperson. "It's evolving into that, and it's one of the many reasons we feel so at home."

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Making the dream

Dream element The three-story brick house was built circa 1891. It encompasses 4,320 square feet and has five bedrooms and 41/2 baths. The original wrought-iron gate still stands in the tiny front yard; the family's improvements include a backyard deck and stone patio.

Design inspiration Robbye Apperson – whose style is elegantly bohemian - decorated on her own, shopping at stores such as A People United in Mount Vernon. Paintings, sculpture, mixed media and photography by artists near and far are displayed.

House history Land records show the earliest inhabitants of the Apperson home was a prominent family of German descent named Requardt. They counted among their clan attorneys, business owners and a physician educated at Johns Hopkins. One successful relative, who'd reportedly formed a friendship with actor John Wilkes Booth, was briefly jailed after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was released shortly thereafter and never brought to trial.

—Donna Owens

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