Jay Dackman sits in the living room of his dream home with his basset hound, Buddy.
Jay Dackman sits in the living room of his dream home with his basset hound, Buddy. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Jay Dackman's Canton home is bright, open, contemporary and directly on the waterfront at the Anchorage Marina. The three-story, six-level brick townhouse is filled with framed puzzles of Impressionist masterpieces, hung as they are completed by the 54-year-old attorney and real estate investor.

In addition to the puzzles, a hobby which Dackman says relaxes him after a busy day, he revels in the whimsical collectibles placed on every wall and in most corners of his 2,000-square-foot interior.

But most important to Dackman are the home's tangible tributes to his hometown of Baltimore. The first of many is found in his front vestibule — murals painted by local artist Michael Owen depicting the Domino Sugars building in gray silhouette topped by its iconic neon sign, the smokestacks of Baltimore's old Power Plant and Fort McHenry with the harbor in the foreground and the rockets' red glare overhead.

Dackman's 8-year-old basset hound, Buddy, his toenails clicking on ceramic flooring, leads the way down the hall, past the den and through the sliding glass doors that open onto a fenced yard, beyond which is a promenade along the water and down to the piers, where boats of all sizes are moored.

"You can make believe you are wherever you want to be," Dackman said, staring in the direction of Harbor East. "It's a different world down here; half the people [in this marina] live on their boats."

Dackman, an attorney who worked many tax-sale and ground-rent cases before becoming an advocate for reform, bought the townhouse at auction for $250,000 in 1997. Almost immediately, he made plans for its renovation, working with a designer and contractor to open up the space, bringing the harbor and the light indoors as much as possible. (The home's six levels have been staggered front to back.) Coffered ceilings give the illusion of height to some levels, meanwhile cathedral ceilings were used on others. Glass blocks are used in bathrooms and transoms have been added to every door, many with Baltimore landmarks etched into their glass. Walls were knocked out to open up the living room and dining room and, where a shadowbox-like opening was made over a kitchen counter into the living room, a muralist created an illusionary "tunnel" to the kitchen from the living room.

Light floods through rooms, highlighting a neutral decor. Walls and ceilings painted in shades of gray, furniture upholstered in tan leather and microfiber, glass-topped tables and shelves and pleated white silk blinds all serve as a casually elegant backdrop for the framed puzzles, French posters and treasured books.

With so much to catch the eye, nothing does so with more whimsy than a vast collection of two things near and dear to Dackman. First, there are the bassett hound figures in all shapes and sizes, captured in portraits, ceramics, photos and plush toys. Next are the resin figurines displayed throughout the home in a distinctive gallery of movie stars, comedians, singers, TV stars and sports figures.

In his den alone, Dackman displays "statues" that include Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Charlie Chaplin and the characters of Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners" sitcom of the 1950s. He is thrilled when guests recognize them all. Few do.

On the second floor is the kitchen at the front of the house overlooking the American Can Co., with the living room a few steps up on the third level. Both rooms here are treated to a neutral decor. Stainless-steel kitchen appliances are complemented by high-gloss maple cabinets and black granite countertops. The living room floor, like the den below it, is made of Brazilian cherry wood. A wall of windows features sliders that open onto a balcony looking down on the marina and out to the port of Baltimore.

On the third floor, in a game room under a cathedral ceiling, are more of the resin figures, including Abbott and Costello and Babe Ruth. Finished puzzles wait for frames and puzzle boxes are piled in the closet. Also on the walls are photo mosaics of Marilyn Monroe, Disney cartoon posters and James Dean. On the table sits a work in progress — a 3-D puzzle of historic London.

The master bedroom is on the fifth level with a staircase, looking like a set from a Busby Berkeley musical, leading to the sixth-level attic-turned-spa-like master bathroom complete with a prism chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a multicolored, lighted waterfall in the glass shower.

"People say, 'This house looks like you; it's so you it isn't even funny,'" said Dackman with a laugh. "Everything was thought out."

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