At home with Walters Art Museum's director, where meaningful decor fills her Homeland house

Reminders of beloved friends and family surround Julia Marciari-Alexander in her stone-faced house in Homeland. Artworks by friends adorn the walls, her late father’s classical records line living room book shelves and her children’s watercolor paintings hang in the master bedroom.

The Walters Art Museum director takes the same approach to home decor as her Mount Vernon museum does presenting exhibits.

“For me, it’s about the life of the object,” she says. “So it’s not just, you know, when the object was made, who made it. But what is your relationship to it? How does the object live over time? Where has it stopped on its journey?”

From the kitchen tiles to a pair of brass rubbings hanging in the dining room, each object is as meaningful as it is ornamental, and most come with a story.

Her craftsman-style house, built in 1929, is as storied as the family treasures it holds. The four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom home was designed by Baltimore residential architects Palmer & Lamdin, and it sits with five other houses on a quaint cul-de-sac designed as a prototype for Homeland.

As Marciari-Alexander, 51, and her husband John Marciari, 47, prepared to move their family from San Diego to Baltimore in the winter of 2013, they knew they wanted to live within the city limits. Marciari, a curator who heads of the drawings and prints department at New York City’s Morgan Library and Museum, was familiar with the area from a teaching stint at Loyola University Maryland years before, and they focused their search on Homeland and Roland Park.

“We love the lakes and the walkability of the neighborhood and the proximity to Belvedere Square,” Marciari-Alexander says, adding she likes that it’s close to the schools her 14-year-old twins, Jack and Beatrice (“Bede”), attend.

Their house was the first one they saw, and they ultimately bought it after a few days of house-hunting.

It has some quirks: The front door is heavy, and a powder room off the kitchen can only be accessed through the pantry. But it was move-in ready when the family made Baltimore their home five years ago.

It helped that the previous owners had similar tastes to theirs and incorporated touches appropriate to the American craftsman movement of the 1920s. William Morris wallpaper stretches across breakfast nook’s walls, and the kitchen tiling evokes the style of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

It reminded Marciari-Alexander of the house her parents owned in California when she and John met.

“It felt like it was part of our family’s world,” she says.

The home’s stone exterior adds to its coziness. The rooms inside, like the house’s owner, exude warmth and elegance.

Guests step through an oversized front door into an octagonal foyer, where they may be greeted by the family’s three cats: Smitten, Lovey and Dovey. A wide set of stairs facing the doorway heads to a second-floor landing, central to the bedrooms.

On the main floor, the dining room sits to the left of the foyer, with a breakfast nook with built-in booth seating and a kitchen behind it. To the right of the entryway, a living room chock full of books precedes a sun room overlooking a patio and backyard. The living room is also home to a heated terrarium for Pancake, the family’s bearded dragon.

A third floor, the finished attic, serves as office space. Originally, that’s where Marciari-Alexander imagined spending family time, but three stories up it’s missing one thing: “It’s really far from the kitchen.”

When the family is home together, they spend the most time in the sun room, an addition built by previous owners, where exposed stone from the house’s original footprint is still visible.

And an unfinished basement functions as studio space for the kids.

“We liked the cozy but yet aesthetically pleasing rooms. They’re not too sprawling, but they’re also — every room is a livable room,” she says.

But it’s the presence of family and friends through objects that belonged to them that makes the house a home.

Marciari-Alexander points out a few: her late father’s record collection — about 1,500 vinyl albums, primarily classical music and opera; a pair of blue and green paintings by Kirstin “KB” Breiseth, an artist friend from New Haven, Conn.; “The Thing” — a piece of a black veil that shrouded a Virgin Mary statue during a Spanish procession (“our most crazy, wacky work of art,” she says); and a 19th-century print of Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, the subject of Marciari-Alexander’s dissertation.

“One of the things that we have done that I really feel strongly about is to keep some things that belong to family,” Marciari-Alexander says. “It’s not just about decorating. It’s about having your friends and family surround you by the things that were important and beloved to them.”

smeehan@baltsun.com

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