The living room of the apartment Robert and Gloria Larkin share at Oak Crest.
The living room of the apartment Robert and Gloria Larkin share at Oak Crest. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Robert Larkin's association with Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville began long before he and his wife purchased a condo there in 2001. The 86-year-old retired Baltimore City police major had contacts with Oak Crest before it even opened its doors.

"I used to walk over here from Perry Hall during construction," Larkin said. "I'd wear my hard hat, [and] I got to know all the workers. That was in 1994."

There was never any doubt that the he and his wife, Gloria, would move into Oak Crest when they felt the time was right. And since they moved from a three-bedroom home in Perry Hall, they knew they would choose the Harrison model unit with its two bedrooms and large open layout of living and dining rooms.

With a space of just under 1,000 square feet to work with, the couple knew they would need to make decisions about decor.

"The trick is, you've got to know how to downsize, and then do it" said Robert.

"I miss a fireplace and a formal dining room, but other than that, you can do anything you want [to the residence] as long as you put it all back when you leave," said Gloria, a former clinical coordinator at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As is the case at most retirement communities, the money the Larkins paid for their condo reverts back to them when they leave. So the couple proceeded to personalize their home by adding walls and window molding, paneling, wallpaper, hardwood flooring and Berber carpeting.

Staying true to the traditional decor they enjoyed in their previous home, they brought choice pieces into the home as well as furnishings that include several treasured collections, such as a dining room hutch filled with Waterford crystal and Lismore china purchased over the span of 14 visits to Ireland.

"A lot of people tell us we have too much clutter, but we like it," said Gloria, sitting at her cherry dining table and pointing to a marble-topped side table with a Singer sewing machine base, a treasure she would never part with, and on a nearby occasional table, a Waterford crystal lamp.

The couple chose a medium shade of Williamsburg blue for the walls in the main portion of the apartment. To add interest, Robert placed large pieces of molding over two of the walls in picture frame fashion, while his wife hung traditional striped wallpaper within the frames, along with gilt mirrors and brass sconces over the wallpaper. The effect is stunning, especially as the living room molding is hung over a Queen Anne-style camelback sofa upholstered in Jacobean crewel fabric.

"I love for people to see this wall when they come in," Gloria said.

Colorful designer wallpaper has also been hung in the condo's galley kitchen, its green-and-white checkered pattern coordinating with oak cabinets, the tops of which sport ship's galley molding. A collection of framed and porcelain roosters add a homey country look to the room.

A delightful use of wallpaper is found in the bathroom where, in addition to ceiling trim depicting lighthouses, a faux window has been hung on a wall in trompe l'oeil fashion, giving the whimsical appearance of a scenic beach and ocean view beyond windblown cottage curtains.

The master bedroom features a Colonial four-poster bed covered with a white chenille spread. A Pennsylvania Dutch-style trunk sits at the foot of the bed.

A second bedroom on the opposite side of the unit, featuring twin beds with colorful country-style quilts and family photographs sitting in the deep window sills, is used during visits from members of their large family, including 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The couple's daughter, Colleen LoPresto, executive director of Oak Crest since 2008, will on occasion find herself spending the night there.

The outdoor patio and terrace garden is Robert's favorite place, where he designed and built his own bucolic retreat. Here, a fountain and a pond filled with large koi sit in a corner of a garden that features statues of a boyish St. Francis and children holding a birdbath. A cast-iron furniture suite sits on the carpeted patio under a striped awning, and a series of circular cement blocks lead to a gate opening to the parking lot.

"A patio was a must for me," said Robert, checking some plants outside his bedroom window. "It's a very good life. We're blessed."

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Making the dream

Dream realized: The Larkins enjoy a carefree lifestyle as residents of Oak Crest, managed by Baltimore-based Erickson Living . The couple enjoy the indoor pool and fitness center, the on-site restaurants and the clubs and activities available to them. They chose a ground-level unit that affords them a covered patio and their own garden.

And while he thoroughly enjoys gardening, especially around the koi pond he built, Robert Larkin also appreciates the freedom from the stresses of wintertime.

"I sit here in my chair with my paper and morning coffee and watch [the staff] shoveling snow," he said.

Dream choice: "We came in here dancing," Robert said of their choice for retirement living nearly 11 years ago. Both have had serious illnesses, but Oak Crest has treatment centers allowing all of their rehabilitation to be done on site after their return from the hospital. "We were able to stay here and we feel we've added 10 years to our lives," he said.