Designing woman

Interior designer's Annapolis home is project in patience

  • Interior designer Gay Henriksen in the home's great room, where a multi-panel Renaissance-style mural from Niermann Weeks inspired the room's style.
Interior designer Gay Henriksen in the home's great room,… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
March 25, 2011|By Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

A waterfront lot is as hard to come by in downtown Annapolis as a parking space during tourist season. But patience can pay off.

Interior designer Gay Henriksen has plenty of patience.

For a decade, she and her husband and two youngest daughters lived in the Murray Hill section of downtown, right behind a decaying house that sat on three lots, cheek by jowl to Spa Creek.

Henriksen, owner of GH Interiors, kept an eye on the property, envisioning the opportunity for a design project of a lifetime.

When its 92-year-old occupant died in 2003, the house continued its decline while estate issues were sorted out. But when Henriksen and her husband, naval architect Lars Henriksen, were finally able to buy the house in February 2008, the waiting began again.

It took nearly three years for the house that had been inside Gay Henriksen's head to take shape on the lot across her backyard.

Inspired by the Old World style of architect Jack Arnold, she has created a stone house in the English Cotswold style, soon to be surrounded by gardens.

"The original house was a half-timber style with multiple roof pitches and a bird cupola at the top," she says. "It had great charm, but rain had come into the whole dwelling, and it was rotting."

Henriksen, a native of Crofton, majored in interior design at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but was greatly influenced by the architects who were her teachers.

"I wanted to create the space and then furnish the space," she says. The Murray Hill property would give her that opportunity.

She salvaged what she could from the old house, mostly railings and ironwork, before it was demolished, and went to work to create "a home made for entertaining" across the three lots.

"We had parties before the roof was even on and four parties before we moved in," she says.

There is a full kitchen for caterers, created by Italian kitchen designer Snaidero, a wine cellar and wine-tasting kitchen and a beer-tasting room. A media room has upholstered walls to dampen the sound. The exterior boasts a pool, a fountain, an outdoor fireplace and kitchen, and a loggia from which her daughters may someday descend as brides.

And there is a pruned and pampered oak tree — hundreds of years old — around which the house was carefully constructed, and from which Henriksen hung a wooden swing as her first act as property owner.

It is a large, some would say enormous, house — she declines to say how many square feet — but she worked hard to keep it in scale with the other very large houses on the same street in Murray Hill.

She used a multipitched roof, dormers and smallish windows, made of mahogany and imported from her husband's Denmark, with an "eyebrow" design. "We tried to make the house look as small as possible."

Henriksen chose to create a circular entry hall instead of a grand staircase in order to preserve the light that pours in through the curved windows in the dining room off the back of the hall. And, in any case, a formal entrance, not twin staircases, fit the old English style she was craving.

The entry is covered in a pale blue Chinoiserie mural created by furniture maker McLain Wiesand of Baltimore. It appears to be worn linen, painted with a bird and botanical motif. "It is very pale and calming," she says. "It is an ideal entry, scaled to fit the house."

The foyer is lit by a grand chandelier created by David Iatesta of Stevensville. "We have remarkable artisans around us," Henriksen says.

The staircases to the second floor and to the subterranean entertainment area lead off the foyer, too, and are made of brick and fitted with the repurposed railings. It recalls a time in Europe when houses, so vulnerable to fire, could be more easily rebuilt around the brick floors and staircases that would survive a blaze.

A sunken great room is to the right of the foyer, and Henriksen likes to imagine that in the England and Italy countryside that inspired her design, barn animals might troop through this room. But the sculptured iron rooster, a gift from Robert Machovec, the Pennsylvania artisan who created her interior ironwork, might be the only creature to ever make it inside this room.

The great room is inspired by the colors in a Danish needlepoint settee from her husband's family, and built to showcase a set of four panels painted by Niermann Weeks. It is also accented by an owl mantel that graced Maryland's governor's mansion until it was removed in 1935 during a renovation.

The room is rich with warm colors and warm light that flows through sheer window coverings that puddle like ball gowns on the wood floor.

To the back of the foyer is the entrance to a circular dining room, with crown molding of antiqued glass, breakfronts custom-built, also by McLain Wiesand of Baltimore, to curve with the room and a custom made round dining table that can seat six or 12.

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