Donna Hamilton's home offers comfort on cue

When Baltimoreans turn on the TV and see Donna Hamilton, they see a comfortable, familiar face — someone they probably think they know, someone they might want to sit down with for a cup of tea.

Her home, it turns out, has the same feel.

The longtime anchor for WBAL-TV has spent years working to create a home that feels effortless. Lived in for 30 years now, the Baltimore house, a cottage really, is the sort of place with a cozy, lived-in aesthetic. Altogether underdesigned — by design.

"I like to come in at night and feel that I'm happy to be home," she says. "It's important to me."

Hamilton, who's married to David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, gravitates toward easy, inviting colors, soft furniture and quirky details.

She's built each room over time, browsing furnishings stores, websites, antiques markets and discount shops for pieces that speak to her.

"I like mixing antiques and contemporary things," she says.

Apple-green paint brings together her eclectic living room that holds a floral sofa from Gaines McHale, old wingback chairs she re-covered in bold, modern fabric and an aged coffee table she found in New Market. It was a tall table in a former life, but Hamilton cut its legs down — one of her favorite design tricks.

Accessories infuse the space with character. An old mortar and pestle hold a candle. On the wall hangs a framed rolling pin that belonged to her grandmother. Antique print block patterns fill a bowl.

In the family room is a painting of tulips and daisies given to her by Edith Haussner while her Highlandtown restaurant was still in full swing.

There are jars of seashells collected at the shore. Trays of pine cones. And books everywhere — neatly on shelves, stacked in piles, in a tray underneath the coffee table.

Hamilton likes mirrors in every room because, as the owner of a home with intimate rooms, she thinks they open and brighten a space. She found the massive one in her living room on sale at Restoration Hardware.

The anomaly in all of this is Hamilton's kitchen.

Aside from the cabinet knobs, it's all brand new, and all came together over four weeks late last year.

The footprint of the new kitchen is identical to the old one, but it's considerably airier.

The critical change was removing a wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, darkening and limiting both rooms.

The new sense of spaciousness and light has renewed Hamilton's interest in cooking. A longtime cook, and author of "Donna Hamilton's Gracious Country Inns and Favorite Recipes," she says, "I do love to cook. This has been so great for that."

She especially likes the new breakfast bar where the wall once stood. It not only gives her a place to fiddle with her new iPad over morning coffee, but provides her guests a natural place to gravitate while she's busy at the stove. "Now they can stay over there. I love it."

Hamilton chose simple, Mission-style maple cabinets, a light, heavily marbled granite for the counters and a white tile backsplash. She chose to-the-ceiling cabinets to maximize her storage space but wanted to save one wall for open shelves to display her dishes.

The result is just what she'd imagined during all those decades in a kitchen that wasn't quite what she wanted.

"I've had a lot of time to think about what I would do," she says, laughing. "Clean and calm. Neutral and contemporary."


How to make a small kitchen feel spacious

Donna Hamilton's renovated kitchen is the same size as her old one. Yet she feels that it offers much more space. And she didn't spend a lot of money. Here are some tips on how to make a tiny kitchen feel more spacious on a budget from Dashielle Caruthers of Chesapeake Kitchen Wholesalers.

Raise the height of the cabinets If there's a bulkhead above the cabinets, try to get it out of there. "Donna took everything to the ceiling. Now she's got a whole extra shelf up there," Caruthers says.

Maximize space inside the cabinet If you have a corner that's dead, put a cabinet with a Lazy Susan.

Go for contrast If you really love a dark cabinet, try a lighter, contrasting counter to balance it.

Use a white backsplash "This is where your eyes will go immediately," she says.

Try an 18-inch dishwasher It gives you another 8 inches of space to use for cabinets. Even 6 inches makes a big difference.

Little changes count If you can't do much, change out the hardware and the countertops. "That will give it a fresh look," Caruthers says.