The exterior of the Anne Arundel County home of Mark Rucci and his partner, Randall Franklin, provides few clues to the storybook world visitors will find inside. At street level, a Victorian wrought-iron gate stands between two large urns containing trimmed topiary. While the gate opens to the front walk, its placement and its arched carving are purely an ornamental touch — there is no fencing to keep people from the yard. At the end of the walk, four artificial pink trees sit on pedestals in front of the bi-level home with its light yellow siding and vivid, cadet blue shutters on each window.
Inside the foyer, wrought-iron pieces of various shapes and sizes fill the house, one forming a lace-like divider, with many more hanging like fancy pastry utensils on the light gray walls.
The living room and adjoining dining room are visions of a world where everything embraces the dreamer in cream-colored clouds with silver linings. Vintage furniture is either painted in shabby chic cream and silver or completely bathed in silver plate. An old dental cabinet now serves as a lit display case of glass shelving showcasing Waterford crystal pieces and Lladro figurines.
Marble and bronze statues sit on the white oak floors, many facing smaller marble busts that rest atop glass and chrome tables. A wire Christmas tree embellished with silver garland fights for top-dog status in a living room that also includes the splendor of a cream-lacquered grand piano sitting majestically in a bed of hundreds of live white poinsettias. What little color exists in this living room/dining room area is in dramatic contrast to the soft, ethereal ambience. Flame-red bundles of amaryllis in a crystal vase sit on top of the piano, and a framed, giclee portrait of a stylish woman in deco dress with red flowing scarves hangs above a buffet with lamps of glass bases and soft cream fabric shades.
Friends coming and going throughout the house with trays of food and bottles of wine are busy preparing for a holiday party later in the evening. The flowers are Franklin's contribution. The 50-year old wholesale florist/designer sells to wealthy customers in the Baltimore/D.C. metropolitan area.
As though reading the minds of overwhelmed visitors, Rucci, also 50, explains, "I grew up with Greeks and Italians. There are always those with one or two rooms that are over the top, you know, with lots of gilded pieces, crystal and tchotchkes."
Rucci, a high-end antiques dealer and designer, and Franklin bought and moved into the 1965 home on half an acre in February 2004. They paid $250,000 for the house and property. The main renovation consisted of scrubbing down every wall in the house (the prior owners were heavy smokers) and painting. Rucci enclosed a covered deck off of the dining room with tongue-and-groove boards. The room is decorated in wicker furniture and features a wall of large windows. As a last step, the two hired a contractor to cut out a window in the master bedroom, creating a balcony accessed by double doors and overlooking the backyard.
Rucci filled the entire home with vintage furniture, most of it painted in light, neutral colors. Accents range from whimsical pieces, like a sign in the lower level reading "Martha Stewart doesn't live here!" to a mosaic mirrored antelope head hanging over the master bedroom bureau.
Leading the way down to the lower level that includes the family room, guest bedroom, a second dining room and a second kitchen, Rucci is quick to point out what he calls "The Wizard of Oz" effect. He refers to a heavier look in decor — fabrics rich in jewel tones, complemented by leather, pub-like furniture. The dining room here boasts stained glass, Tiffany lamps and Pre-Raphaelite artwork. The home's second kitchen is decorated in shades of candy apple green and caramel.
Outside, three Jack Russell terriers (Val, Joey and Wiggles) romp in the landscaped gardens surrounding an in-ground pool. All three enjoy the comfort of a heated and air-conditioned dog house.
The piece de resistance of the property is a former garage converted into a private, two-room retreat with television, day bed and two life-size marble sculptures of Zeus and Venus. The little heated and air-conditioned apartment has an almost tropical effect due to the abundance of live plants.
Surrounded by his plants, statues and dogs, Rucci explains, "My home is a place where I can express myself through color, art, sculpture and flowers. Most important, it is a place to share with friends; to watch movies, listen to music and spend time in the garden. When you come in this house, you are family."
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Making the dream
Dream concept: Mark Rucci's overall design plan for his and Randall Franklin's home has been to give each room a personality of its own. A striking example of this is found in the contrast between the upper- and lower-level kitchens.
The former has neutral colors — cream-painted walls and chairs are paired with knotty pine bar seating and shelving. Stone pottery and stone wall hangings present a provincial feel. The lower kitchen, right off of the English pub-style family room, is a nod to South Beach with its vivid colors. Glazed maple cabinets are set against walls of alternating candy apple green and crayon-box yellow. Mirrors in abstract frames painted lime green and aqua hang on a caramel-colored wall, while an island worktable of natural oak sits in the center of the room.
Dream plans: Rucci, like many homeowners with big design dreams, sees his house as one long work in progress. His next project is to work on the main kitchen. "I already have a six-burner, Vulcan stove and a double oven, and [I have] a dishwasher on order," he says.
Dream comments: Cissy Gassaway, part-time vintage goods dealer and friend of Rucci, says, "You walk to the front door in a normal neighborhood, but once you're in the foyer… it's a wonderland. It takes your breath away."