Architects Karen Lemmart and David Naill are avid collectors,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
Architects live and breathe design, blissfully losing themselves in details most people would never notice — the bevel of a trim, the way light falls across a room, squared legs or curved.
So what happens, we wondered, when two such aesthetes come together under one roof?
Do they lie awake at night, pondering three-inch moldings or four? Is there a prenup for the Eames chairs? Do they fight tooth and nailhead?
Judging from the example set by these married Baltimore architects who live and work together, it all comes together much more smoothly than any of that.
These couples each share a style philosophy. Considering how essential such matters are to architects, one can imagine them writing it right into their vows … for richer, for poorer, for mid-century modern …
Their homes are not just harmonious; they speak to the principles their inhabitants live by.
One of the couples, Laura and Jeffrey Penza, have a piece hanging in their entryway, a poem written in calligraphy and framed, that gets to that very point.
"If two should architect one house, what would happen when the two should join? And one imagines wires and mortar and pipes that never somehow quite do meet. But when it comes to building a dream and a life of two in one, ah, then indeed the two must architect together and build their home of love."
Laura Thul Penza and Jeffrey Penza
Penza Bailey Architects
They met, as so many architects seem to, studying their field. Laura Penza can pinpoint her first brush with Jeffrey nearly down to the minute. It happened during their fourth year at the University of Cincinnati, the first day of spring quarter, to be precise.
"The eyes locked," she says, as he nods in agreement. "It was one of those."
They married in 1983, not long after graduation, and migrated to Baltimore. They weren't working together right away, but when Jeffrey began took charge of a firm, it wasn't too long before Laura was at his side.
In the office, they complement one another but have their own roles. But at home, it seems to be a tandem project.
The couple looked at nearly 200 houses before deciding on a 1930s deceptively large stone cottage on a corner lot in Homeland. They had wanted a fixer-upper, something they could gut and revive, where they could put into practice everything they had learned in school. They got a near-faultless house but spent years making it their own anyway.
They like to say they touched every side of it, adding a bay window to the front, a breakfast nook on one side, a family room for the back.
But it's in other, smaller, touches that one really gets a feel for the Penzas — in the vibrant, creative accessories.
"It's a very traditional house in a very traditional neighborhood," Jeffrey says. "It stayed traditional, but it has a contemporary flair."
The living room started with an Azeri rug from Turkey that they found at Alex Cooper. Big and bold, with reds, pinks, and blues, they balance it by keeping the rest of the room neutral.
This is not a couple that blinks over color. The hallway is deep red, the dining room teal. The family room is purple — fitting for a family that flies a Ravens flag outside.
They kept the kitchen conventional, resale options in mind, but what makes it Penzian is the contemporary light fixture from Jones Lighting Specialists, with its green glass and exuberant squiggle shape. Coordinating pendant lights hang over the restaurant-style booth they built for casual family meals.
They also built in shelves over the sink to display Laura's colorful collection of a few dozen pottery mugs. Every morning Jeffrey picks one and brings her coffee in bed.
The couple regularly hit local and regional craft fairs, like the annual American Craft Council show and the Sugarloaf Craft Festival. Pieces they've fallen in love they have found a place for.
Laura's mission at these craft shows: "Find something wonderful."
The hallway upstairs is a gallery of sorts filled with their children's art works. The paintings are framed, the clay work arranged on shelves. Altogether like that, it's a space filled with impact and personal significance.
"It feels like our collection of fun things that we love to surround ourselves with," Laura says of her style. "That's what makes a house a home."
Laura Melville Thomas and George Thomas
Melville Thomas Architects
They'd barely stepped over the threshold, but Laura and George Thomas knew, 18 years ago, they'd found their house.
Standing in the doorway, they could see straight through to the lush backyard. They saw sun spilling in through the French doors in the next room and, beyond that, an all-glass sun porch.
They just about wrote a check on the spot.
"It was all about the light," George says. "Everywhere you look in this house, your eye is pulled through by the light."