The question had been nagging for almost the entire half-hour spent seated at the kitchen table of Mary Veiga and Jeff Lipkin's home in Baltimore. Just as the urge to know the cost of a thick, pure slab of marble on the kitchen counter is about to trump politeness, the answer is freely given.
"The counter is painted to look like white marble," explained Veiga, 44, a decorative painter and muralist who also dabbles in trompe l'oeil, the painting style designed to trick the eye. "I like to keep with the style of a house; otherwise it doesn't make sense."
When she and Lipkin, her 48-year-old husband and business developer for Performance Food Group, purchased a circa 1928 Dutch Colonial for $220,000 in the Cedarcroft neighborhood, she got the brushes out and her imagination going.
While their two-story investment was in fairly good condition, Veiga saw the home's potential as so much more, simply by emphasizing its interior architectural style. Large rooms with high ceilings are on either side of a central hall clear to the back of the home. Elegant arches open onto each room while double and triple molding trims the walls and ceilings. The rooms called out for traditional decor that would also be comforting and inviting.
To that end, the formal dining room beckons in a vision of a blue-and-white toile reminiscent of Delft porcelain. Veiga has painted bucolic Colonial scenes on the upper half of the walls. Below the chair rail, rich paneling has been painted white to match a built-in corner cabinet with a glass door. Traditional mahogany table and chairs provide contrast, with a crystal chandelier hanging above it. Heavy tone-on-tone draperies in dark blue gently fall to the wood floor. The effect is decidedly one of Southern gentility.
A brass chandelier hangs in the kitchen, where windows are treated to toile draperies in blue. Original to the house, the wall of cabinets are painted white, as is the trim, with matching appliances. The elegance of the white is punctuated by brass knobs on the cupboards and brass sink fixtures. The jewel in the crown are the aforementioned "marble" countertops.
"For me, aesthetics are important," said Veiga, whose work can be found at marymurals.com. "It's such a rare thing these days to find something that hasn't already been done."
The sunroom off the traditional living room is light and airy, with a southeastern exposure. Sunlight streams through multipaned windows treated to formal swags, while the walls are covered with gold, fibrous wallpaper to temper the formality. A little corner of the room has been outfitted for play and artwork created by the couple's 5-year-old son, Callaway.
"When we moved in, this room was dirt-brown," said Veiga, seated in a favorite spot in the sunroom where she can see the arch of her formal living room open to the hallway arch which opens to the dining room arch.
A surprise waits beyond the sunroom in Veiga's studio. Faux and decorative painting have taken second place here for a bevy of individual canvasses of painted landscapes and still-life pieces that are whimsical in nature, such as several pictures of sock monkeys. These are favorite subjects for the muralist, along with vintage folk art.
Since they purchased the home in May 2001, the couple has put an addition onto the back to create a covered porch and new master bedroom, replaced a slate roof and turned a garage into a "golf room."
"My favorite room is the master bedroom. It is relaxing and comfortable to me, both in how it feels and looks," Veiga said. "I truly enjoy waking up to a cup of coffee each day delivered by my husband and sketching in my multiple sketchbooks I keep by my bedside. Callaway and I enjoy cuddling and watching movies here as well."
When the couple moved in a decade ago, one of the first things they did was to paint their now 19-year-old son Noah's room. Here, murals and trompe l'oeil transport the visitor to a tropical beach where a large palm tree looks real enough to shade a hanging hammock. One can almost hear the sounds of the sea as it encroaches onto a sand-colored carpet.
By contrast, Callaway's bedroom is light, inviting and whimsical, with stuffed cartoon and storybook characters inhabiting a lovely meadow. Rope is strung along one wall here to display the young boy's unusual talent for artwork. A colorful paper kimono hangs beside a life-size paper sculpture of himself.
Veiga is pleased with the home she has so lovingly embellished. "I love old houses and antiques because to me they tell a story, just like any great piece of art."
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Making the dream
Dream location: Mary Veiga says of her Cedarcroft home, "This is my dream home first and foremost because of the neighborhood, family-friendly and beautifully designed with old architecture and sycamore- lined streets."
Dream realized: Where the house is concerned, Veiga notes, "I fell in love with the high ceilings, ornate arches, wrinkled glass and lots of light."
Dream rooms: Jeff Lipkin loves what he calls his "ultimate golf man cave" because, he says, "It's relaxing to go out and hit balls into the net or to putt." He and his buddies use his garage-turned-golf course year round. He says that his game has improved thanks to a golf simulator which records and analyzes his swing. A full 18 holes can be played on the simulator screen. His golf buddies join him, along with his sons, Noah and Callaway.