Both tinkerers and creators, they've also found room for some of their own creations.

Aluminum and brass pieces from a chess set Laura designed rest atop a mantel. George's water fountain styled out of old cymbals keeps the water in their pond moving and sparkling.

"A few things," she says, "that remind us of where you come from and where you're going."

The couple honors the home by filling it mainly with pieces that compliment its heritage.

"You understand the vocabulary of the house," George says. "Everything we have done was building on the concept of what was already here."

A lot of their cherry, Shaker-style furniture was custom made for them by E.A. Clore Sons, a handcrafter in Madison, Va.: the coat closet in the entryway, the dining room table, a clever chest Laura designed with shallow drawers to store her jewelry and deeper ones for her scarf collection.

Solidity is a concept these two value. They'd take it over spaciousness.

"It's part of what makes this real," Laura says. "You can't poke a finger through any of it. There's not a piece of plywood in this house."

Karen Lemmert and David Naill

Manifold Design

Years before she was hunting for a home with her husband, Karen Lemmert would walk along the tall historic homes of Union Square, and one always called to her. Its fading glory appealed to her architecturally; its "For Sale" sign spoke to her romantic side.

"Wow," she'd say to herself. "If I ever owned a house, I'd want it to be just like this."

As coincidence would have it, years later, it's the house she and David Naill call home.

When the couple found it, the grand 1870s-era rowhome had been converted into six apartments, two on each of the three floors. Though a renovation on that scale might have scared off some, this couple found it liberating — the house had just enough historic patina, but not so much that they'd have to treat it with kid gloves.

They could have some fun.

So after plenty of decidedly not fun projects involving pipes, systems and plaster, they moved in and got to work turning the two lower floors into the colorful, whimsical home they now share with their two children. They kept the top floor as a rental.

Karen and David started dating at Virginia Tech, becoming a couple once and for all while traveling together after graduation.

The couple eventually got to Baltimore, where Karen launched Manifold after their first child was born, unwilling to sacrifice family for long agency hours. David eventually joined the firm, and together they've worked on everything from a small business incubator in Fells Point to a reforestation plan for the Naill family farmland in Westminster, mapping out the placement of hazelnut, persimmon and crab apple saplings, taking into account the hues of the leaves and fruit.

Whether designing at work or at home, they say they operate as each other's checks and balances. But with such similar modern sensibilities, any objections are rare.

The two are avid collectors, trolling antique stores and salvage shops, unafraid to grab whatever appeals to them and find a place in their home for it. They've made an art form of the concept of "mix and match," with the result something of a hipster's fantasy pad, where model spaceships, antique pianos and cuckoo clocks co-exist.

"We have a bunch of junk," she laughs.

"It's what we do," he adds.

They found their 1930s Chambers stove on Craigslist. A chalkboard on the wall once hung at Baltimore's School for the Arts.

The bookcases that line the front room — and others in the home — were government surplus they discovered on eBay, then tracked down in Washington.

One day, when the light was shining into the front room just so, casting the shadow of a tree onto one wall, Karen ran and got a pencil, tracing the outline of the leaves. Later she painted in the silhouette and kept it.

If their children have an idea on how to display something, the couple always says, "Why not?"

"I really like natural elements," Karen says, "and things that add a little bit of fantasy and magic to living."

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts