A multicolored grouping of four clapboard rowhouses in Fells Point stands out like Gerbera daisies against the Formstone and brick fronts of its neighbors on either side.
Architect Myrna Poirier calls one of these gems home and will soon invite visitors beyond her threshold as part of the Historic Harbor House Tour of Fells Point on Mother's Day. In keeping with the facade of her home, the interior is a color-infused, uplifting space.
"Color is so important," she said. "A lot of people don't realize what color does for your spirits," pointing to an open interior 50 feet deep, with soft pastel paint on the walls in each room, richly embellished textiles from all over the world hanging on them and the morning sun bursting through ceiling skylights.
The original portion of the house dates to 1800, with a main front room 19 feet wide (unusual for mariners' dwellings of the period, Poirier noted) and one second-story room of the same size, on top of which sits a smaller garret. Such houses are scattered around Baltimore's harbor. One home with a similar architectural style, a few miles west of Fells Point, features the garret where Edgar Allen Poe composed some of his works while living in Baltimore.
Poirier, now a widow, has lived in Fells Point since 1976, but has lived in this house only six years — before that, she lived next door, waiting for the current home to be fully renovated.
As an architect and a resident, she knew how to design for maximum use of space and began extending the depth of the house on both the first and second levels. She created a dining room, open kitchen and sunny family room and added a steel staircase leading to the two bedrooms and bathrooms above. The original narrow winding staircase in the historic part of the home is in a hall off of the living room and is a great place to start the tour.
What first strikes a visitor is the contemporary design of the interior and the modern style of the furnishings, a 200-year leap from the Colonial exterior of the home. The main room is painted a light, bright blue and is saturated with the rich colors of fabric, artwork and myriad memorabilia from Poirier's travels.
A round coffee table, 50 inches in diameter, sits in the center of the room. Fashioned from blue and gold and green tiles found in Portugal and Italy, its center reserve is filled with grapes on the vine. Atop the table is a tile Adam and Eve chess set featuring biblical characters as the main pieces and apples for pawns. Built-in bookcases painted white contrast with the warm, Southern pine flooring. A large woven basket from Indonesia rests on one part of the floor while on another a Syrian baby cradle of bent wood and heavy fabric sits below a floor- to-ceiling framed poster advertising French cabaret "Saison 1898." The poster was purchased from the Craig Flinner Gallery in Baltimore.
Furniture in the room is minimal and in scale with its dimensions. A white microfiber sofa is artfully embellished with colorful fabric throws and pillows, while two fabric reading chairs complete the suite.
Poirier's two dogs, Woody the Westie and Agnes the cocker spaniel, lovingly follow their mistress to the center of the home — and the beginning of the additions that totaled $350,000. The dining room has been narrowed to 14 feet wide, allowing for a sally port beyond its glass doors to run the rest of the length of the house toward the back and out into a delightful urban garden. Sliding barn doors close off either side of the dining room with its circular, marble- topped table and comfortable Kartell armchairs of transparent polycarbonate in the Louis XV style.
"There's not a lot of storage space here," explained Poirier, indicating an entire wall of opaque sliding glass that serves as much-needed closet space. "I'm always getting rid of things."
Beyond the dining room is one very large space that comprises the kitchen, steel stairway and a pleasant, sunny sitting area with access to the back yard. A 10-foot-by-2.5-foot kitchen island is topped with Brazilian granite; countertops are laid in vivid blue Acuba tiles. Cabinets are white gloss paint over wood.
A favorite area of the house for Poirier is her sun room, a bright retreat of lemon-colored walls. Here, large plants with wide leaves provide a rain-forest feel without the humidity. Marble window seats in the room serve as shelves for exotic tribal sculptures from Indonesia, Malaysia and India.
Poirier designed her second level with a bedroom and bath on either side of an open hall. A small balcony off her bedroom looks down on her garden.
Back in the dining room, Poirier picked up a brightly-dressed cloth doll that she has on display. "This doll is me," she said joyfully. "because of all the different patterns of fabric."
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Making the dream
Dream location: Myrna Poirier, who was born in Brooklyn and lived in Paris for a while, is a true urbanite. She loves the Fells Point neighborhood and patronizes the many businesses there. "I am inviting my friends who will be here during the tour to dinner at Ding How, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant," she said of one of her favorite eateries
Dream exterior: Poirier is proud to be a resident in one of the colorful grouping of four houses, among the oldest in Baltimore City. Her backyard garden is secluded from the hustle of life in Fells Point. A large privacy fence is painted orange, while a concrete block siding bears a colorful shade of light pink. Two pergolas painted a darker shade of pink show off their early spring toppings of grape leaves. A small waterfall gurgles in the corner of the backyard, which is shaded by a number of trees and deciduous plants.
Dream decorating: Poirier's treasured artwork is found throughout the house. In museum-like exhibits, the pieces grace the walls of the staircase leading to the bright, loft-like second level. Posters hang next to pastel paintings. A large Matisse-like knockoff appears lit from within, for all of its deep jewel tones. A hefty piece of fabric — a camel bag on closer inspection — is flung over the second-floor railing.
If you go
41st Annual Historic Harbor House Tour of Fells Point
The 41st annual tour is Sunday, May 13, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The self-guided walking tour includes about a dozen houses, including neighborhood landmarks such as the Robert Long House and Colonial Garden and the Thomas Lamdin House. Other homes on the tour are Fells Point residences ranging from historic to urban. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the event and are available at the Fells Point Visitor Center (1724 Thames St.), Baltimore Visitors Center, Long & Foster Realtors (701 South Broadway) and Obsidian Realty (1816 Aliceanna St.). Tour programs may be picked up at the Fells Point Visitor Center or at Long & Foster. Guests may begin the tour at the house of their choice. For more information, call 410-675-6750 (Ext. 16), or go to preservationsociety.com. Proceeds from the tour benefit The Preservation Society's educational programs.