The exterior of Lee and Sue Jensen's home in the Catonsville development of Fox Hall Farms is traditional and reserved. Like its connected group of neighbors, the Colonial-style facade features neutral-color siding, a brick chimney, multi-framed windows and a double-car garage. Even the street seems very quiet.
But still waters run deep. A clue to its interior appears quickly, just beyond the front door, when Sue Jensen, by way of a greeting, reveals matter-of-factly, "Our mover said that a normal move is about 250 boxes. Ours was 850, and that was 17 years ago!"
For an instant, there is the distinct feel of landing in the middle of a large antique warehouse brimming with treasures. The only difference is the absence of price tags dangling from lamps or stuck fast to bureau drawers.
"We've been collecting for 45 years," Sue Jensen, 65, explained. "When we got married, we had nothing, so we went wherever we could to find interesting things."
Standing in one corner of the 3,800-square-foot home, a visitor can spy thousands of items in the open kitchen and family room without even moving.
"Many people call it a museum; we call it stuff!" said Lee Jensen, 67, who retired in 2006 as president and CEO of the YMCA of Central Maryland.
Large oak and pine hutches, armoires, end tables and stray coffee tables set down in the middle of the family room are piled high with old books – each one inscribed – and tin cans of every shape and size. Those who grew up in the Baltimore region will remember the Charles Chips logo on yellow cans, as well as the logos from Bachman's Caramelized Cocktail Stix, Baltimore Biscuit Factory and Maryland Biscuit Company.
Flags, tin household items, Fiesta dinnerware, clear and colored bottles, teapots and ceramic kettles crowd the open doors of china closets and hutches. This family room of things upon things is tempered by the presence of a pair of leather upholstered sofas, clear of collectibles, save for bright print tapestry cushions. Soft, mustard-colored walls are peppered with homey items such as a tin washboard, an old clock and a carved wooden piece of cornice.
"We are not researchers or collectors," Lee Jensen said. "We collect eclectically, and we buy what we want."
"We entertain quite a bit," his wife added. "People ask if they can come over and walk around."
The couple, who like to refer to their decor as Primitive American, treasure the things they have inherited from their parents. Both grew up in rural Minnesota, Lee Jensen on a farm outside of Curry, population 250 and just 20 miles from Walnut Grove of "Little House on the Prairie" fame. Sue Jensen came from the nearby booming town of Canby, population 2,500.
It is to those roots that she credits her love of the copious memorabilia and antiques that number into the thousands.
"I was an only child and grew up in a two-bedroom home," she explained. "Every room was tiny and everything we had was [placed] close together. It made me feel safe and cozy – and still does."
The Jensens bought the almost completed cluster home in 1995 for $285,000. They were thrilled with the location, which backed right up to a portion of Patapsco State Park. Likewise, thrilled with the whole idea of a farmhouse feel, the two set about filling the first-level kitchen, family, living and dining rooms, as well as a laundry room, with their vast collection of treasured goods. Even the laundry room has three framed antique samplers hanging on the wall while the tops of kitchen cabinets are lined with antique toasters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The living room and dining rooms are a bit more formal in that both are repositories of fine silver, gleaming oak wood tables and chairs with needlepointed seats, brass fixtures, fine porcelain pieces and silk flowers. Blinds cover the windows throughout the house, but the windows in the living room are formally dressed in floor-to-ceiling lace.
The second floor is accessed by a winding oak staircase. Three bedrooms follow in circular fashion around an open hallway. The rooms are furnished with oak beds and a collection of family heirlooms that include embroidered linens and wall hangings, delicate antique clothing and hats and the oddest, most poignant of items such as confetti collected by Sue Jensen's mother on VE Day.
More collectibles are found in the finished basement, where a full bedroom suite is on display.
"Our plan when we're gone is for our kids to pick what they want and find an antique dealer for the rest of the things," Sue Jensen said, adding pragmatically, "We really can't get any more in here!"
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Making the dream
Dream realized: "We chose our home because it was a quality-of-life decision, with no external responsibilities, like snow removal, lawn care and external painting," Sue Jensen said. "It has given us flexibility that complements our retirement years. Additionally, the flow and openness of the home gives us an opportunity to display the antiques we have collected throughout the years. And having our deck and patio back up to Patapsco State park is an added plus.....very relaxing and so beautiful year round."
Dream touches: "We have many family heirlooms that are very special to us; from World War I correspondence between family members — ironically bearing the YMCA logo — to a fifth-generation hutch that came over with great-great-grandparents that immigrated to America," said Sue Jensen. "We also have many different World War II [pieces of] memorabilia that our parents collected during that era. We also like using the different china, dishes and glassware that our grandparents used during their lifetime."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun