Dream home

Fells Point home shows off its true colors

For The Baltimore Sun
This couple swapped suburbia for a vibrant city life, and decorated their dream home to match

Ever marvel at the breakneck speed of new construction in downtown Baltimore, or the increasing migration of former suburbanites to the city?

For Sanja Vujaskovic, it's not that surprising — not since she and her husband recently became part of the pattern by moving to the city.

"The location is fantastic; my husband walks to work; we are a block from the 'social scene' [and] I walk to the market," said the 50-year-old former interior designer.

While that description fits a number of revitalized city neighborhoods, Vujaskovic is speaking of their first choice — Fells Point.

Of the many architectural details found in the area, none exhibits such a blend of today with yesterday as the newly built three- and four-story brick homes wedged between those dating to the early 19th century.

Sanja and Zeljko Vujaskovic, both natives of Croatia, purchased their four-story brick townhouse in December 2013. It was only 12 years old and designed with a nod to Baltimore's industrial past, as found in details like an exterior warehouse-like garage and an iron gate opening onto a sally port to the backyard.

A distinct feature of the home's interior is a switchback central staircase made of wooden treads, with steel rails and meshing. It rises from a ground-floor entrance hall up three additional stories, ending at a family room with a balcony overlooking Thames Street and the harbor.

Each of the four levels has rear-facing outdoor space, from the garden off a den/bedroom in the back of the first level, to balconies off the living room, master suite and family room.

The most noticeable feature of the second level, which includes the living room, dining room and kitchen, is its open layout. The next is the proliferation of vibrant primary colors, part of a design style that Sanja describes as "contemporary with traditional elements."

The bright colors are not arbitrarily placed. Gray and taupe walls allow her to accent with colors found in the artwork that Sanja and her husband, a 54-year-old radiation oncologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, gathered in their travels over the years.

She notes that in the living room, for example, "bright orange silk curtains not only frame the big French doors but are the biggest statement in the room, even bigger than the black marble fireplace." Wooden shelves painted white flank the fireplace and coordinate with the white leather chairs and sofa, all sitting on a jute and wool carpet.

Then color takes over, garnered mainly from a very large aboriginal painting the couple brought back from Sydney. Swirls and coils of shades and hues keep the onlooker mesmerized.

"I repeated strong colors in the room so your eye always moves around," Sanja said, referring to furnishings such as vases, pillows, picture frames and dishes in bright orange, blue, yellow, aqua and hot pink. "Strong colors … are tricky, but good placement makes the room interesting and gives it great flow. I like the living room because it feels grand and comfortably playful at the same time."

Her philosophy "that a house or a room should never feel like it was decorated in a day" is illustrated in every area of the home.

The dining room is the first area located at the top of the stairs, between the living room and the kitchen. What Sanja calls her "blocks of color" are repeated via orange upholstered chairs gathered around a 4-by-7-foot Parsons table with an espresso finish. The table contributes to the room's geometric feel, as does a strip of crystals and candle-shaped light bulbs hanging over it.

An old-fashioned ladder-back chair painted bright yellow sits in a corner of the room near a metal cabinet with 16 panes of glass — a replica of old metal storage cabinets used by Slavic immigrants. This, Sanja said, "adds a touch of whimsy."

Color and whimsy are the hallmarks of her kitchen, where olive-painted cabinetry meets ceramic subway tile backsplashes in vibrant orange. Stainless-steel appliances, hanging metal ceiling fixtures and chrome bar stools surrounding a granite island evoke a mechanized feel. But that vibe is tempered by colorful, homey teapots displayed in two softly lit glass-front, built-in cabinets.

A master bedroom suite and a dressing room are on the Vujaskovics' third level. The salmon-colored dressing room — "Every big girl's dream room," as Sanja calls it — contains a Murphy bed for an overnight guest, who would wake up amid shelves of designer bags, shoes and belts, along with racks of high-end clothing.

A master retreat is at the rear of the house. The cozy room is a favorite of both Sanja's and Zeljko's.

"The dark wallpaper, the rich mahogany headboard wall, the heavy velvet curtains were all in the room when we moved in," Sanja said. "I took those beautiful components and added more softer and cozy touches. I chose a round table as my nightstand and added a super-soft sheepskin rug and a matching decorative pillow."

The fourth level of the home features a guest bedroom, sometimes occupied by the Vujaskovics' daughter, Petra, 24. (Their 19-year-old son, Luka, stays in the first-floor den/office when he is in town.) The room has a maritime theme, with touches that include deep blue walls, slatted doors with nautical cleats and windows that mimic shutters on a boat.

The family room at the opposite end of the hall is, like the rooms on the second level, bathed in purposefully placed color, dominated by a lime green sofa placed perpendicular to gold-and-white-striped draperies. These shades have been taken from a painting of a pastoral landscape.

Of her colorful house, which mirrors the colorful city lifestyle she and her husband now enjoy, (Sanja said, "My taste has become more eclectic over the years. I have things from our modest first house mixed with newer furnishings from our travels."

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