Inside chef Cindy Wolf's country retreat

For Baltimore At Home
Cindy Wolf spent 22 years looking for her dream home in Baltimore County’s countryside.

Cindy Wolf spent 22 years looking for her dream home on long Sunday drives down the curvy roads of Baltimore County’s countryside.

After six-day work weeks, the drives were relaxing for the celebrated chef, best known for her flagship restaurant, Charleston.

One spring day in 2015, Wolf wound her way down a quarter-mile drive lined with mature oaks and ash trees. In the 15-acre estate’s open meadows, she saw a chance to fulfill a long-held desire.

“As a chef, that dream is to walk into the garden and pick fresh things for the day and be inspired by that,” says the restaurateur, who co-owns five other Baltimore-area restaurants with ex-husband Tony Foreman.

An L-shaped rancher sat at the end of the drive, its white-and-cream brick facade blending into the landscape. It would need some work — the house, built in 1952, had been empty for a year.

But she couldn’t get the sweeping views of Western Run Valley that reminded her of summer family vacations in Jackson Hole, Wyo. out of her mind.

Last fall, she loaded up a U-Haul at her Roland Park mansion and moved into the farm in Sparks.

For the next four months, she holed up in the master bedroom with Louis, her tabby cat, as renovations touched each room of the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home.

Wallpaper was removed, every wall was painted, crown molding was installed, floors were refinished, and a bookcase and closet in the master bedroom were replaced with a new bookshelf and cabinet.

The home’s four fireplaces were refurbished, including one in her office that Wolf resurfaced with Lancaster County fieldstone up to the room’s vaulted ceiling, adding a slate hearth and mantel.

The surface changes uncovered deeper, needed upgrades.

Portions of roof over the home’s two sunrooms needed to be replaced, along with four skylights. Wolf replaced failed sliding glass doors in the lower sunroom with a bank of windows. The home needed two new heat pumps and larger ductwork throughout. The kitchen, perhaps the most important room in the house for an award-winning chef, came last.

While her long-time contractor did the work, Wolf led each design decision.

“I enjoy the process of renovating a house,” she says. “It’s not the easiest way to live for whatever period of time, but the end result is certainly worth it.”

Every morning, Chef Wolf wakes up and reads the news from her master bedroom, which includes a traditional four-poster king-sized bed with a cream-colored, fabric-covered headboard.

“I am a strong woman, but I also love beautiful, soft feminine things, and I think because so much of my world is masculine, I wanted my room to feel feminine,” Wolf says.

Above the bed hang two French prints of pink peonies in gilded frames, pieces she acquired from Merritt Gallery in the Village of Cross Keys, where she purchased most of her artwork. The bedside lamps are bronze statues of the Greek muses of astronomy and poetry. The dresser has a Louis XVI-style tulipwood and parquetry inlaid marble top from France.

The elaborate crown molding she installed in the bedroom combines two classic European styles: egg-and-dart and dentil. These styles are repeated in the design of the new fireplace mantel, which features egg-and-dart molding and egg-shaped woodwork circles on the surround.

Most mornings, Wolf walks the perimeter of the property, which she named Wildflower Farm, and stops by the four garden beds beside the newly built three-stall stable at the top of the property. There, she checks the progress of fruits and vegetables: zucchini, crookneck squash, red carrots, various lettuces, honeydew melon, artichokes, cowpeas, four types of tomatoes and kitchen herbs.

Back in the house, she drinks coffee at the farmhouse table she bought from Restoration Hardware in the dining room, which is in one of the renovated sunrooms, while she takes in the wide-open view of the valley off the home’s south flank.

An artful grouping of white and blue-gray candles in glass and silver holders runs down the center of the table. She is surrounded by a portion of her extensive cookbook collection, held in two built-in bookcases at the end of the room. A hand-woven traditional tribal rug from Turkmenistan sits underneath the table, covering the refinished wood floors. Behind her hangs an oil painting by Charles Dwyer Jr. It’s a modern impressionist-inspired oil of a young girl, a suggestion of wings sprouting out of her back.

It’s arranged, as is every room, simply and artfully, background to the one thing that drew Wolf to the property.

“I just love mountains, hills, open spaces. I’m a country person at heart, as much as I love the city and all it has to offer,” Wolf says. “My priority in life is peaceful, beautiful, green landscape.”

She painted the home’s interior the faintest of pastel blues so it would blend in with the sky.

Inside, Wolf is surrounded by a comfortable French provincial interior, with furniture pieces, artwork, lighting and decorative items she’s picked out as carefully and thoughtfully as she creates dishes for her restaurants, arranged with the same attention she would give to plating a meal.

“I love workmanship, and it’s because I work with my hands,” she says. “Whether it’s a piece of furniture or a beautiful rug woven by the daughters of a tribal leader. … Every single thing in my house means something to me.”

Wolf searches for quality items, often antiques, designed to last and that appeal to her with their French lines, handcrafted quality or history.

“I love things beautiful. That’s why I try to make my food beautiful without overworking the food,” Wolf says.

In many ways, she has plated her house the same way she would plate one of her southern dishes at Charleston: Not as a piece of art, but as a whole experience.

Decor throughout the home, from a vibrant painting of a well-known Southern mansion to the pineapple lamps that grace the sides of the Turkish leather couch in the sitting room, is influenced by Charleston, S.C., the city where Wolf first apprenticed.

Ties to her childhood run throughout the decor. A deep-brown mahogany secretary bookcase in the living room once belonged to the founder of Conn Instruments in Elkhart, Ind., the small town where she lived from age 9. Hanging beside the secretary is a framed black-and-white photo of her mother standing in the kitchen.

Wolf’s kitchen is just as infused with heirlooms and mementos: her grandfather’s meat cleaver sits on a shelf that holds fine china, and decorating the walls are framed photos from a butchering contest he won. The chef’s jacket Wolf wore when she cooked for President Obama is preserved in a frame. Behind the range sits an antique iron backsplash from the Eastern Shore, a memento her contractor gave her after he removed it during kitchen renovations at her previous home.

 

These provide a backdrop to the state-of-the-art equipment you’d expect to find in an executive chef’s kitchen. The high-performance, five-burner La Cornue range is finished with copper knobs and handles, which blend artfully with the copper pans hanging from a corner ceiling rack. Restaurant-quality stainless steel tables provide prep space. A stainless steel sink and fridge round out the commercial-quality chef’s kitchen.

Appropriately, Wolf turned the fourth bedroom into a wine cellar — Foreman Wolf owns two wine stores in Harbor East and Annapolis — to hold the bottles she might offer while entertaining.

But ultimately, Wildflower Farm is Wolf’s daily retreat from the busy life she’s spent building some of Baltimore’s most-celebrated restaurants.

“You will have to drag me away from this place,” Wolf says. “It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted."

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