Eclectic mix of styles, periods and colors fills couple's home with an air of whimsy


It's the pig that makes you suspicious. None of the othe houses has a pig. You can go for blocks around in any direction in this staid enclave of tidy brick Georgian Colonials and no pig.

But here on the porch of the home of Denise Tomlinson and her husband Paul Gorman stands a 250-pound cement hog, surveying the garden and smiling a Mona Lisa-type smile.

"I thought it would be fun to have outside as a garden sculpture," says Ms. Tomlinson, "but it's so heavy it would probably sink into the yard. It took three men just to get it out of the back of the car."

Still, the pig is a perfect introduction to what's inside: Through the doors of this otherwise traditional Baltimore home is a place where the furniture makes you smile.

In rooms where other people would have slapped down Oriental carpets and then covered them wall-to-wall with reproductions of Chippendales and Sheratons, Ms. Tomlinson and Mr. Gorman have instead brought in folk art, primitive pine antiques and painted furniture, then added a few pieces of clean-lined contemporary furniture.

It's a style that's hard to define -- an eclectic mix of old and new and whimsical. But it's the colors, a counterpoint of bright colors against black and white, that seem to make everything work together.

"I like to live like a fantasy," Ms. Tom-

linson says with a laugh. "The one thing we hear a lot when people come to visit is 'Oh, we never expected it to look like this.' You know, young people you'd think would be more attracted to this, but when we have older people in particular over, they're just amazed by it."

The now-pristine white walls and wood floors belie their statwhen the couple bought the house three years ago from a woman who had lived there since the house was built in 1940. Although the house itself was basically in good shape, it needed a great deal of cosmetic work and some renovation.

"It was a real challenge for us," Ms. Tomlinson says. "There was so much nicotine on the walls it took five coats of paint to finally stop it from bleeding through."

They had to have new pipes put in throughout the house and to rebuild the porch roof, but their most ambitious project was a new kitchen.

"We lived without a kitchen for two months while we waited for the cabinets to come," Ms. Tomlinson says. "We had a cooler on the porch. Thank goodness it was winter."

They completely gutted the old kitchen down to the wall studs, then built the new one with white walls and cabinets ("It's tiny but it feels more spacious that way," she says), pale blue counters, a pale blue-and-white-checked tile floor and black appliances.

Cabinet doors have porcelain knobs made in the shape of fish and painted with vibrant pastel designs by McKenzie/Childs, a husband and wife design team from New York.

Ms. Tomlinson, who is a manufacturers' representative for companies that manufacture fine home and garden accessories, did all of the decorating in the house. Although she has no formal training in this, she seems to have a knack for color and design -- something that comes in handy in her business, which involves working with not only store owners but interior designers.

"I've always liked it," she says. "I used to redecorate my parents' house. They'd go away or something -- you know, when we were kids -- and come home and I'd have the furniture rearranged for them. They'd have a fit."

She has also enjoyed collecting antiques for a long time, she adds. "Especially primitives. I just think Shaker style is so nice -- the simplicity of it. And then when you can add color to it, it makes it even better for me."

She has used bright colors in almost every room, often as a counterpoint to solid black or white or to black and white checks.

"I don't know why but it just appeals to me that way. Black and white you can carry throughout the house and then just accent it with the bright or intense colors. I think it's a fun house to live in."

In the dining room, the chairs are Shaker reproductions painted black with black and white woven seats. The dining table and a console table (which also unfolds to become a second dining table) are also black.

The color in the room comes from the hand-thrown and hand-painted china by McKenzie/Childs which is displayed in an antique English pine hutch in the dining room. A carved pig by folk artist Nancy Thomas and brightly painted wooden watermelon slices by Howard Kohn also add color.

Ms. Tomlinson has been collecting folk art for about 15 years. "I appreciate a lot of other types of art but I still am drawn mostly by color to folk art," she says.

In other parts of the house are other sculptures by various artists -- a wooden swan and a wooden zebra by Howard Kohn; an acrobat sculpture, a giraffe and a carousel by Nancy Thomas; a sunburst and a small bust of a man with a long pointed head by Daniel Hale. There are also wall sculptures, painted cabinets and side tables by Ivan Barnett.

Other things become sculpture: a blue French antique bird cage, a primitive wheelbarrow with original faded green paint, old shutters with a star pattern painted dark blue and hung flanking an inside window.

In the living room, Ms. Tomlinson chose a pale blue-and-white-striped upholstery for two love seats. A blue-painted coffee table and a stunning antique hutch with original bright blue milk paint add more touches of blue. On the floor is a wool felt rag rug from Portugal in multicolored pastels. "It gives a lot of texture to the room", Ms. Tomlinson says.

It is the second rag rug in the room, she continues. The first was destroyed during the puppy phase of their West Highland terrier, Murphy.

Off the living room is a small den that the couple created from part of an attached garage. "We decided we didn't use it as garage space so we cut windows and doors and finished it off," Ms. Tomlinson says. "We were able to get a new room plus still have 6 feet of storage space in the garage out back."

French doors were added at the doorway leading to the porch. The floor was covered with a pale aquamarine Italian ceramic tile. Then a friend from England who is a carpenter built in two large closets, a cupboard and shelves along one wall. Ms. Tomlinson picked out a black and white check for the sofa and a vibrant print to cover a chair.

They used the brick left from cutting the windows and doors to make walkways and a patio in the garden. Then another friend, Scott Rykiel, a landscape architect, helped them with the overall design of the garden while Ms. Tomlinson did most of the planting.

"We have an all-perennial garden so it really is pretty nice for us," she says. "It's low-maintenance and we do get color most of the year. It's very quiet. You don't feel like you're in the city sometimes when you're sitting out here."

Mr. Gorman, who is an architect and vice-president with Cearfoss Construction Corp. -- a general contracting firm that designs and builds commercial buildings -- and who also does some free-lance designing, did the overall designs for both the den and the kitchen.

Upstairs is the master bedroom, a guest room and a home office In the guest room, an English pine antique twin bed is arranged as a day bed with crisp white embroidered pillows and small needlepoint pillows. A floral hooked rug on the floor is a focal point for the room, which also contains a wicker chair and table plus a pine chest and a cupboard which Ms. Tomlinson painted with a sponged finish.

In the office an antique pine table called a Dutch sewing table is used as a desk. "I'm pretty sure it's an American piece," Ms. Tomlinson says. "It has divided drawers and pewter pulls."

Ms. Tomlinson wanted to put up a yellow-and-white-striped wallpaper, but two of the walls in the room curved up into the ceiling. To give the wallpaper a boundary, she put a strip of white-painted molding around the room about 12 inches from the top and wallpapered below that.

In the master bedroom are an antique iron bed from Belgium covered with bright red plaid sheets and a pale denim-blue duvet, a primitive Swedish hand-carved chair with a woven seat and pine chests of drawers. Large baskets hold books and magazines by the bed.

A light Berber-style carpet runs throughout the three rooms and the hallway, where a needlepoint runner of bright flowers on a black background covers the carpet.

Ms. Tomlinson likes to have fresh flowers in the house. During the summer she often gets them from her own garden or from a nursery, Betty's Gardens on Providence Road, that grows its own flowers and cuts them to order. In winter she buys them from florists.

A favorite way to display fresh flowers is in rows of little black vases called pin cups, which each hold a single stem. She lines them up on windowsills and along the mantel in the living room -- another touch of whimsy.

"A house should be a source of amusement to you," Ms. Tomlinson says. "I hope ours is unique. You want to keep it your own style even when you're blending a lot of other things."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad