Dream Home: A Columbia sunroom with a St. Michaels feel

When Doreen Harwood thought about redoing the combination family room-sunroom that's long been the hub of her Columbia home, she knew she wanted it to exude an atmosphere of relaxation.

That brought recollections of a decade of family vacations in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore.


"I have a hectic job," said Harwood, 58, senior vice president of a business and government contractor. "The idea was to provide the calm and soothing feel of St. Michaels here."

She also wanted to enhance a flexible decor with an updated sound system capable of playing music throughout the four-bedroom house.


"I didn't want to see wires. I like a clean look," she said.

Working with her to make that happen in the rectangular space that's open to the kitchen were interior designer Debbie McHale, owner of Clarksville-based Interior Transformations, and John Zucchet of Gramophone in Columbia.

The area was redone last fall with a palette of watery blues and the soft beiges that recall the Eastern Shore's swaying reeds.

"It's got a lightness and airiness in the colors," Harwood said.

The furnishings and colors, Harwood said, pull together the multi-use space. Blues are largely an accent in the TV area, and more prominent where natural light streams in from skylights, windows and one of two glass sliders to the deck and gazebo.

Adding to the easygoing, outdoorsy look are a subdued teal accent wall around large windows overlooking the backyard and artwork in a leafy blue and green design over a couch in the TV section — the other end of the space. Walls are painted light beige.

The family room was reoriented, with the TV moving to a spot above the gas fireplace on the wall facing the kitchen. "I was cooking and I couldn't see the TV from here before," Harwood said.

But that can be a neck-straining screen height for watching TV while seated in the family room. The solution: The screen is on a remote-controlled arm that lowers and raises it.

Also imperative was space for a turkey-sated crowd to watch TV, talk, play games and do puzzles when not eating at tables stretched from the traditional dining room into a living room that Harwood calls a "memory room" for the old family photos and keepsakes she loves.

"My family comes here every Thanksgiving. That's 16 people," she said.

Two couches, in a mostly beige and gray weave, anchor the TV area, with six pin lights above for ambient lighting.

Nearly invisible are speakers hardwired flush with the ceiling — replacing a hanging set — that provide sound for the TV and music system there. By a couch sits a small freestanding bass unit.


Harwood has found that the new round leather ottoman 44 inches in diameter is "really great" for multiple uses while adding to the decor.

A tray with shells collected on vacations is in the middle, reinforcing the by-the-sea look. "Sometimes I eat lunch here. I read the paper. I read a good book. I put my feet up." As do guests, she said.

In the transitional space tying the TV section to the sunny area are two swivel chairs — "the most comfortable chairs" — whose upholstery in blue and undyed fibers gives a hint of lines.

The sunroom area is illuminated by skylights on a vaulted ceiling, a wall of large windows and one of two sets of sliding glass doors (the other is in the kitchen) that open onto a deck with a small gazebo. Near its center are a sand-toned wood table and four chairs, plus a matching cabinet flanked by bookcases.

The table opens to seat 10 — room for Harwood's investment club meetings and dessert parties. The chairs' upholstery — wavy lines of chenille in blue, green and white — suggests ocean ripples.

A window seat with storage got a facelift with variegated velvet in blue, green and white. The seat is a place to curl up and read or gaze outside and daydream. "My family likes to do puzzles, they're in here," Harwood said. Bamboo-colored drapes with a motif of coral fans or trees complete the setting.

Pillows with a touch of teal tie the dining room's beiges to the redone space.

Hiding in the sunroom's custom cabinetry is the updated sound system that lets Harwood play music wirelessly around her four-bedroom home, whether that's Adele's expressive vocals or Santana's Latin rock.

"I wanted to use my existing system," Harwood said.

She added wireless components, including a feature that boosts the signal and lets her keep the cabinet doors closed.

"The music is all in here," she said, "and you don't see it."

On a tablet, Harwood chooses music, volume and where it will play — including three wireless speakers in the kitchen, her bedroom and living room.

"It's all about the clean look," Harwood said.

That's why there are no switches for lights in the bookcases. Fingertip-sized sensors do the job with a touch.

Harwood also takes comfort in family heirlooms, from a photo in the bookcase of her grandfather's butcher shop in Baltimore showing her father and uncle as children to a framed doily made by her great-grandmother that hangs in the living room. A new laser-cut glass cube with images of Harwood's recently deceased West Highland white terriers — a gift from her son — is on a teak liquor cabinet by the family room. Westies turn up on decorative plates, kitchen canisters and other items around the house.

Upstairs, the master suite is in soothing browns, pale blue and beiges. The most brightly colored room is her son's old bedroom: When he was a teenager, she painted it in Redskins colors and gave it a sports theme that includes a red University of Maryland pillow.

But it's the newly redone space that's captured her sense of her home as an oasis.

"When people come in, they say they feel very calm here," she said.

Making the dream

DREAM REALIZED: "It's the feeling the room provides when I come home from work—before I have a cup of tea, the color, the dimensions, the greenery, it makes me feel good. … It takes me to that same St. Michaels' mode," Harwood said.

DREAM DESIGN: Flexibility for the new decor was essential for entertaining guests. To complement the look, Harwood and McHale are about to plan to update the kitchen and install hardwood floors throughout the main level.

DREAM LOCATION: Harwood's home, in Clemens Crossing West, is near the Hickory Ridge Village Center for shopping; she and her neighbors stroll there on summer evenings to indulge in frozen treats. Schools and a pool are nearby. Harwood has a quick commute to work in Columbia; living minutes from Route 29 allows for easy travel.

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