Photographer Mary Gardella and interior designer April Force Pardoe teamed up to help Tamara and Mike Jensen create this sophisticated living room in their Ellicott City home.
Photographer Mary Gardella and interior designer April Force Pardoe teamed up to help Tamara and Mike Jensen create this sophisticated living room in their Ellicott City home. (photo by Nate Pesce)

Tamara Jensen had a dilemma.

When she and her husband, Mike, and two daughters, Kate and Veronica, moved to Ellicott City three years ago, they slowly began to make over their 24-year-old home in Valley Mede. But when it came to the formal living room, Jensen got stuck.


She had a big green wall and nothing to put on it. In fact the whole space intimidated her. She procrastinated so much that her husband went to a local big-box store and hung two "ugly" pictures on the wall as motivation. It worked.

Jensen called in April Force Pardoe, an interior designer who had previously helped her with the family room, and the two went to work defining the room's purpose.

"I didn't know what to do. I just knew to work with April to make it sophisticated," says Jensen.

"They had just deposited furniture in there," says Pardoe. "My mandate was to create an adult-friendly retreat."

Pardoe had recently completed a project with photographer Mary Gardella of Love Life Images, using Gardella's photos of a family to create a decorative wall that told a story in pictures. The pair made the project fun, posting their progress on their individual blogs and asking readers to give input on selecting the final design. A reader who selected the same design as the homeowner would receive a small gift from Pardoe and Gardella.

Would the Jensens like to be the duo's next wall design challenge? Yes. In fact, the Jensens had also commissioned Gardella before (a surprise to Pardoe) and were confident about working together again.

Howard Magazine tagged along over the past several months to see how the design challenge unfolded.


New furniture begins to arrive, including a bar cabinet from Pottery Barn placed near the corner of the challenge wall. A console table from Room & Board anchors the opposite wall.

May 27

Gardella, Pardoe and Tamara Jensen meet together for the first time. Gardella brings photos of the Jensens that she and another photographer had previously shot. They decide that black and white photos will give the room the modern feel that Jensen wants.

It's tough for Jensen to choose photos; Gardella circles her favorites on the contact sheet, and there is discussion between her and Pardoe on the right design to match the feeling Jensen wants to create in the room. Pardoe shows magazine photos of different layout options. Right away Jensen is able to distinguish what she likes. She prefers symmetry.

Gardella suggests using box frames layered over each other creating a three-dimensional look. An added bonus: Box frames can be cleaned with glass cleaner.

The wall is measured: 160 inches wide by 56 inches high from the bar cabinet. Gardella will input the measurements into computer software, a program called Ikovia, which will lay out the photos to scale before they are laminated onto custom-made box frames.

June 21


Gardella holds a new photo shoot with the Jensens at the Streetcar Museum in Baltimore, after the Jensens decided that the original photos weren't cohesive.

June 28

Gardella creates three designs for the Jensens, and she and Pardoe post the options on their blogs for readers to respond.


New end tables and a coffee table arrive. The chaise is delayed. The Jensens choose the photo layout over the Fourth of July weekend, and a winner is chosen from the blog responses. While the photos are prepared, Pardoe is shopping for accessories at Home Goods, Target and Crate & Barrel, and decorates the room while the Jensens are on vacation.

August 9

The final reveal! While Tamara Jensen is out of the house for the morning, Pardoe and Gardella hang the photos. Both feel the nervous energy and excitement of revealing the wall to Jensen. They know it's beautiful, but how will their client react?

At 1:30 p.m., Jensen and her youngest daughter, Veronica, return home to see the results. Jensen is speechless. Her once drab wall is now filled with large black and white photos of her beautiful daughters.

"I wasn't sure what to expect, but now that I see the whole thing I love it, I love it," she says.

"I like that it's unique and no one else can have it," she adds.