Robert and Miriam Stern's condominium in the Annen Woods community in Pikesville is emblematic of their many years together — interesting, colorful, tastefully artistic and comfortably eclectic in style.
This latest chapter in their story finds the retirees and longtime empty-nesters choosing to downsize and simplify their lives while keeping close the treasures they have collected and the memories attached to them.
"We bought this end unit in the front of the building in June 2012," said Miriam Stern, a 71-year-old former medical secretary. "It was literally stuck in the 1980s design-wise, with pinks and turquoises everywhere. But I liked the bones of it and so we took it apart."
The first order of business was to take the kitchen down to its studs and open up the wall that separated it from the dining room. All new cabinets of cherry with pewter hardware and granite countertops in grays, browns and greens complemented the stainless-steel appliances that were installed. The condo's bathrooms were updated with new sink tops and the rooms were painted a calming shade of light gray.
"My job was to oversee the contractor and write the check," said Robert Stern, who noted the cost of renovation was close to the $135,000 price paid for the two-bedroom unit.
Miriam Stern welcomed the opportunity to decorate their new home in contemporary furnishings accented with several midcentury modern pieces purchased from the former SCAN furniture store.
The couple were no strangers to condominium living, having done so when Robert Stern, now 72, was posted to Seoul, Korea, for two years in his capacity of business manager for the Department of the Army, a position he held for 35 years before retiring.
Miriam Stern was therefore quite familiar with the finer points of downsizing, and very tuned into the impact her pieces of Asian furniture, artwork and objects d'art would have on overall interior design and ambience.
Immediately inside the front door and beyond a small foyer, the main living area unfolds quietly and elegantly with perfectly scaled furniture carefully placed to define space. An entire mirrored wall reveals rooms doubled in size and showcasing a pair of cherry dining tables, two sleek gray microfiber sofas and a two long teak buffet units where delicate Lladro figurines rest under framed Asian pictures stitched on silk with silk threads. A collection of tiny carved ivory and wood Buddhas and dragons are placed in a diagonal line on the buffet next to a porcelain planter filled with bamboo shoots.
"Everything old is new again," said Miriam Stern, explaining her cleverly placed pieces, including a free-standing fish tank made of tall, tubelike glass nestled inside a bamboo cage.
A breakfront purchased at Baltimore's Shofer's furniture store is filled with Waterford crystal stemware, antique heirloom china that includes blue-bordered Homer Laughlin plates and a variety of menorahs, the most interesting fashioned of mah-jongg pieces. The couple also owns a colorful collage painting with Judaic references painted by Owings Mills artist Smadar Livne.
The couple use one bedroom as an office with a trundle bed for overnight guests who include children and grandchildren. The master bedroom's furniture includes a hinged, four-panel wooden screen of a stylized Asian village.
"We call our home very eclectic; not formal, just a casual comfortable home for living," Miriam Stern said, adding, "We walk in and say, 'This is ours. We are truly home!' "
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