In the heart of Otterbein, just a few blocks west of Baltimore's busy Inner Harbor, sits a three-story brick home on a quiet street of similar structures where tranquillity rules.

Susan and Bill Thomas would have it no other way.


"Having a great, huge home was never a priority," said Susan Thomas, a 67-year old retired psychotherapist and clinical social worker. "I think we prefer more intimate, small spaces, and our Otterbein home really has that feeling — even our sweet backyard patio with its fish pond is intimate and private."

In 2002, the couple purchased their home for $404,000. It had been gutted and rebuilt from the foundation up in 1982. The only updating done by the Thomases was adding a first-floor powder room, renovating the kitchen and treating every room to fresh paint.

From the first step inside the home's traditional layout, which totals 2,312 square feet, there is an overwhelming feeling of calm. The living room walls are the color of warm sand — a pervasive wall treatment throughout the first level and in several rooms on the top two levels. White custom Bermuda shutters throughout the home reflect a soft light in the rooms. The reasoning for the neutral decor with transitional furnishings is clear: It allows the spotlight to focus on the couple's passion — artwork.

"Bill and I have taken a long time to acquire our art, always preferring a blank wall to a piece we did not really love," Susan said. "We are also careful to allow each piece to have its own space and not to crowd our art."

For example, an expressionist painting of two women is hung above the living room's gas fireplace. The painter, Goli Mahallati, is "a Persian woman whose art exemplifies rejoicing and honoring freedom," Susan said. The dominant colors in the work are yellow, tan, orange and brown, further exuding the warmth created by an antique mantel originally from a Pennsylvania farmhouse.

Built-in bookshelves extend from floor to ceiling on either side of the fireplace, where books, photographs and objets d'art collected from the couple's travels are displayed. A large seascape in soft peach tones hangs over the sofa, and an abstract painting of a marshland rests over a refectory table. The sofa, chairs and a Shaker side table are arranged on a neutral Kilim rug from Turkey.

Beyond the living room, past the center oak staircase leading to the upper levels, the home's dining room evokes serenity and reflection. The cast concrete table (with grain markings deliberately matching the upholstery of the chairs around it) is ideal for lively conversation, while the low light and artwork in the room give pause. A pair of lamps sit on a cherry wood Shaker buffet, casting a warm glow onto a large painting hanging above it. The stylized and colorful work by Santa Fe, N.M., artist Victor Arnold depicts a woman with a martini glass, oblivious to onlookers with her eyes half-closed.

An interesting sculpture sits on a pedestal in the back corner of the dining room. Disc-like in shape, it is fashioned of wood and metal.

"The sculpture is by Pascal," Susan said. "We found it in Seattle. although he works from Santa Fe. Carved into the sculpture he put a tagua, which is the nut of a South American palm."

The Thomases' custom kitchen features floor-to-ceiling cherry cabinets, black granite countertops and paneled appliances that include a pair of Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers. Susan, who loves to cook, finds the most pleasure in her GE Profile stove. It is simple to operate and does the job, said Bill Thomas, 66, a retired executive vice president and chief medical officer for MedStar Health.

"Never buy an appliance with more than 30 pages of instructions," he said.

Office space is found at the end of the first floor, and beyond it is a private and landscaped yard with an in-ground pond and a gate leading to one of Otterbein's many green areas.

The couple's favorite room is the den on the second level. "That is where we spend the most time together," Bill said. He also "loves the way the light comes into the room from the south." Two large leather chairs to relax in, a rhubarb-colored walls, bookcases and a wool leopard-print rug on the floor add to the cozy ambience.

"My favorite antique piece in the house" is in the den, Susan said. "It is a very large mahogany linen press from England. It is just gorgeous and also hides the big-screen TV that we don't always care to look at."


Another favorite piece is the wood antique mantel surrounding the den's fireplace that she says "is faux-finished to look like mahogany and tiger maple."

The couple's master suite on the third level provides another haven. Decorated in neutral colors and Shaker furniture, the room expands to a sitting area with the home's third working fireplace. On a wall near the bed is a watercolor picture of their second home: a lovely white Victorian on a side street in St. Michaels.

They love the Eastern Shore, but in town, the Thomases consider their Otterbein home to be in one of the city's most lovely neighborhoods. A bonus for them is the interesting people on the block with whom they socialize.

"I guess anyone's dream home is one they feel really, really good in and one that allows friends and family to feel good in, as well," Susan said. "[People] always seem to have such a nice response to the calm, quiet color scheme. [They] say it's welcoming and peaceful, which was our hope."

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