One December day in 1990, Patricia Field and a friend drove up from Washington to visit a mutual friend in downtown Baltimore. While there, Field discovered an apartment for sale in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.
She asked to see the apartment — and in 10 minutes, she bought it, along with an adjoining smaller unit. She paid $165,000 for both.
"It was an impulse buy," she said, stating the obvious.
But the retired case worker for the CIA, who at the time lived in Falls Church, Va., missed the excitement of city living. In her 29-year career, she lived in several of the most glamorous cities in the world — London, Paris, Munich, Singapore, Tokyo and, one of her favorites, Milan.
"This [neighborhood] is the nearest thing to living in downtown Paris and London," Field said.
The area around Baltimore's Washington Monument features residences, shops, professional buildings, museums, private clubs, cafes and churches in a variety of architectural styles, including Beaux-Arts, Federal, Italianate, Romanesque and Gothic. All are within in a short walk from the monument, which was completed in 1829.
Field's building is across the street from the west side of Mount Vernon Square. Italianate in design and built in 1854, the stone structure has ornate carvings, wrought-iron balconies, wide ledges, arched windows, and a double arched, cathedral-like entrance. Inside the four-story building, which has two units on each floor, a grand winding staircase spirals to the top, where a stained-glass skylight glows in the daylight.
Field lives on the first-floor corner unit facing the monument, an enviable spot in any season. Inside the 1,114-square-foot apartment, there is an eyeful of color, collections, paintings, objets d'art and all the furniture one could possibly amass under 10-foot ceilings. The look is reminiscent of an estate sale where an entire houseful of furnishings was placed in one room.
"Jimmy Judd [a late Baltimore antiques dealer] said this apartment looks like a rich old woman's place," Field said with a laugh.
But Field simply loves beautiful things — lots of things. Along with quantity, quality defines her space, which consists of a very large living room, a dining room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
"I'm a picker; I collect stuff, and I've inherited stuff," she said. "I don't throw anything out."
Early on, Field painted the walls of every room to suit her love of jewel tones. The living room is like a color wheel. A muralist friend, John Kearns, created a still life on the inside of her front door in yellow and orange. Field painted the plaster on the door frame coral, a bold contrast to her purple walls. A coffered ceiling is painted in an array of bold colors — such as light blue, green, coral, purple and lavender — within various geometric plaster shapes separated by gilt molding. A crystal chandelier with shades hangs from a purple-painted star in the center.
"We were going for [the look of] an Italian palazzo," Field said.
Most of the wall space throughout the apartment, however, is covered with artwork. There are paintings in gilt frames, Japanese prints in black frames, pastel works and watercolors. Three enormous gilt-framed mirrors make the the living room appear even larger. Here, suede furniture, a cherry desk, two sofas (one of which is a Duncan Phyfe reproduction) and several occasional chairs with antique needlepoint pillows all sit on Oriental rugs in a variety of designs. Built-in bookcases and a marble fireplace are additional touches.
The dining room is painted navy blue, which forms a dramatic backdrop for still more hung artwork. A long, narrow crystal chandelier hangs over a round table, Regency-style chairs and a camelback settee. Built-in shelves provide display space for a large collection of Asian platters and dinnerware. Instead of the china closet's typical doors, Field has fitted a wrought-iron gate into the space for a unique, classical design. On the same wall is a large, built-in door-within-a-door safe on which the words "Herring's Patent" have been painted in bold colors. (Field's apartment was once reportedly an orthodontist's office, with the living room serving as the waiting room and the dining room housing the safe for cash and valuables.)
A set of fluted wood columns are at both the entrance to the dining room and to Field's bedroom, which is found at the end of a long hallway. More a boudoir-study-sitting room, the room includes an entire wall of bookshelves. One panel opens to a hidden closet. Framed paintings and prints line the walls, including a framed photograph of Field's deceased poodle wearing a beret and Hermes scarf.
The decor matches Field's personality, which she concedes is a bit eccentric.
"But it takes the edge off the craziness," she said.
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