When it comes to personal services, we all deserve the best.
may be the limousine driver who goes out of his way to make sure you catch the plane. Or the floral designer who creates arrangements for your wedding that reflect not just what you asked for, but also what you only dreamed. It may be the mechanic who swathes your "baby" in custom-made cloths to keep from marring its finish while he works on the engine. Or the hairstylist who truly cares how you feel as well as how you look.
But how to find the folks into whose care we would joyfully place our hair, our pets, our homes, our palates, our cars? Often we associate such luxury service with cities like New York, or Dallas or Los Angeles. But in truth, superior service is best offered by those who enjoy their work. And Baltimore abounds in such folk.
Though their skills are in disparate fields, what they have in common is an abiding love for their work. Over and over they say, "I just love what I'm doing." Their care and concern come through in gracious manners and genuine enthusiasm.
Here is just a tiny sample of people who deliver some of Baltimore's most "distinctive" services.
David E. White
Getting there is half the fun? Well, perhaps, if you have the foresight to summon veteran limousine driver David E. White and his blue Cadillac chariot to whisk you wherever you want to go.
About 10 years ago Mr. White, a former executive, gave up retirement for life on the road, ferrying such notables as George Burns, Dionne Warwick, and members of the Alvin Ailey dance troupe. He's driven ballplayers to the airport and brokerage officials to power lunches -- in Manhattan.
"I love people," Mr. White says. "In these years, the people I've met and rubbed elbows with . . .it's unbelievable."
Natalie Cole sent him a copy of her "Unforgettable" video. Tony Bennett always wants to sit up front. Kelly Ripken never forgets to send regards to his wife.
He wants each person who steps into his car to be comfortable. "It's very important to have a clean car," he says. "I tell them my name, give them a smile, a nice handshake -- put on soft music in the car -- it depends on who they are, of course. Most of the people we carry, they've been in limos before. It's not really new to them. You let them do the talking, of course. You don't talk to them unless they want to talk to you." But many of his regular clients are happy to carry on a conversation: "They just get in the car and start talking."
Mr. White owns his own vehicle, but he books through Carey Limousine. The service costs about $60 an hour, including gratuity.
And there's one more thing you should know about Mr. White's service: He says, "I pride myself on being early."
Carey Limousine of Baltimore, (410) 837-1234.
Ashley's, the Salon
It's not just about getting a good haircut, but about getting a good haircut for that person," says Corbin, who holds some of Baltimore's most stylish heads in his hands at Ashley's, the Salon, at the Inn at the Colonnade in Baltimore.
The stylist, a veteran of 11 years behind the hair dryer, says his customers range from the corporate to the funky, but everyone gets the same "meticulous" attention. "You have to take into account everyone's differences and create an appropriate look."
He tries to provide "something that lasts," for people who don'want to fuss with their hair. "Some of these ladies just don't have that kind of time," he says. "Everyone has very busy lives. Coming here is more fun than going to the dentist -- but, on the other hand, it's one more thing you have to work in."
Adjusting his schedule to his clients can mean long hours, bufor Corbin, that is simply part of the territory. "I respect them and I appreciate their allegiance to me. They believe in me, because they know I'm also looking out for their best interests."
"He's a dedicated stylist and a very kind young man," says saloowner Miriam Murphy. "I'd like to have about six of him."
Ashley's is a full-service salon for men and women; shampoo, haircut and styling by Corbin costs $44.
Ashley's, the Salon, the Inn at the Colonnade, 4 W. University Parkway, (410) 889-2225.
Decorative and Fine Arts
What to do with that empty spot in the foyer? That space under the mirror just cries out for a small chest or console table . . . but what should it be? Sheraton? Hepplewhite? Chippendale? How about an Empire chest of drawers by Baltimore's William Camp? Or a signed piece by Baltimorean John Needles?
Do pieces like that exist for private sale? Stiles Colwill would know.
"Mostly what we do is search for something special," says Mr. Colwill, who spent 16 years at the Maryland Historical Society and is now a partner, with Milly McGehee, in the Colwill-McGehee fine antiques and decorating shop on North Charles Street in Baltimore. "We have one local client who has a 'wish list' with five or six pieces of Baltimore furniture." The most recent find is the second item on the list, a rare Baltimore cellaret, or small chest for wine bottles. After three or four years of searching for the items, Mr. Colwill says, "we've found three so far."
Colwill-McGehee offers full decorating services.
just did a house for a family in Pebble Beach [Calif.], where literally all they had to do was walk in -- the clothes were hanging in the closets, the dishes were selected and acquired and put in cupboards, the family photos were arranged, there were flowers in the flowerpots and plants in the planters. No part of the move did they have to deal with."
A more typical client is someone moving from a house to an apartment. "It's a hand-holding process all the way," Mr. Colwill says. "We're there for them 24 hours a day."
Colwill-McGehee Antique, Decorative and Fine Arts, 1106 N. Charles St., (410) 547-8607.
Schuler School of Fine Art
For nearly 40 years, Ann Schuler has been turning out art and artists at the Schuler School of Fine Art in Baltimore. Trained at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, where she taught for 18 years, Ms. Schuler is a realist painter who worked with French realist Jacques Maroger, learning the techniques and formulas of the old masters.
Students at the Schuler School -- currently there are 22 of them -- learn those basics first. "They learn to cook their oils, prepare their canvases, grind their paints -- it's important for a young student, it helps them know what they're painting on," she says.
Ms. Schuler is well-known for her portrait painting. Her clients have included bankers and Johns Hopkins doctors. Her 6-foot-by-8-foot likeness of legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle hangs in the lobby of the Lyric Opera House. The number of sittings required varies with the complexity of the painting, but six to 10 is about average. She also takes photographs and may do a quick pastel for reference, though she prefers working with the person right before her. "I've met some wonderful people," she says. "It's just been a great life."
She also does portraits for fun -- family dogs have been a favorite subject.
A full-length portrait costs $5,000; a head and shoulders portrait is $2,500.
Ms. Schuler has plans to retire from professional painting, though she doesn't plan to stop painting portraits altogether.
"It's very hard to do portraits. It really does take a lot out of you," she says. In retirement, she adds, "I'm going to please myself."
Schuler School of Fine Art, 5 E. Lafayette St., (410) 685-3568.
Poise & Ivy
"It's the whimsy" that makes her way with flowers different from that of other floral designers, Suzanne Rafferty believes. Poise & Ivy, her tiny shop in the Village of Cross Keys, is filled with primroses in tiny baskets; dried flowers in odd-shaped pots ("I like square topiaries," she says); little boxes covered with a decoupage of petals; wreaths; and fanciful jars, pots and vases.
The shop is only 4 months old; for years Ms. Rafferty worked out of her home, decorating for weddings, parties and special events. For a gala picnic, she did everything in vegetables: vegetable "sculptures" in pots, and asparagus "topiaries." For a September wedding reception, she covered the posts of a pink-and-white striped tent with yards and yards of white tulle topped about 10 feet up with sprays of roses, freesias, rubrum lillies and snapdragons. For a Fourth of July party, she hollowed out watermelons and cantaloupes to use as containers.
She's had at least one client offer an unlimited budget, but a more typical job costs about $200 to $300. For that, she says, "You'd get something really nice."
Ms. Rafferty's background is in art. She trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Tyler School of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and took up flower designing almost by accident. She went to work for a couple of designers "and I just fell in love." She gestures at the bounty around her. "Look at the medium. It looks good, it smells good" -- she picks up a container of brilliantly colored dried petals -- "it even dies beautifully. How can you go wrong?"
Poise & Ivy, 98 Village of Cross Keys, 5100 Falls Road, (410) 532-8385.
Motor Coach Ltd.
What was that sound -- just the tiniest hint of an engine miss?
True, the poor Lamborghini's been cooped up in the garage all winter, no chance to run and play. Of course it wants attention. Time to cruise over to Motor Coach Ltd. of Randallstown for a little spring maintenance.
Says John Owens, vice president, Motor Coach works on all sorts of "exotics": Ferraris, Maseratis, Lotuses, Jaguars, Rolls-Royces, Mercedeses and BMWs, as well as Lamborghinis.
"We're very quality-oriented," Mr. Owens says. That means fixing every problem the first time, and taking special care of the HTC luxurious automobiles that roll into their service bays. Mechanics use custom-designed covers to protect the car's finish while they're working on it. "And we cover the seats so grease doesn't get on them, and every car gets washed when we're through with it." A typical spring checkup for a Lamborghini could run about $2,000, he says.
Cars as well-made as Lamborghinis are "pretty sturdy," Mr. Owens says, so he doesn't see them back very often. But their care pays off in other ways: Exotic-car owners generally have more wheels at home. "We work on all their other cars, too."
Motor Coach Ltd., 3636 Brenbrook Drive, (410) 521-4525.
Kennels & Camp
The time-share in St.-Tropez beckons, but every time the suitcases come out, Neferkiti and the Duke of Dane fall into deep depression. How to escape in good conscience? Send the pets to camp.
Country Comfort Kennels & Camp in Jarrettsville has 35 acres of dog-dedicated woods, meadows and lawn. There are indoor-outdoor runs, play pavilions, a 2-acre exercise yard, nature walks and even a pond for water-loving canines to swim in. And there's a special wing for cats. "It has a big window with a bird feeder out front," says manager Lynn Dollery.
The needs of every pet are met: Does the dog like to be hand-fed? Country Comfort will do that. Is the cat on medication? A staff member is assigned to see that pets get their medicine. Does the dog adore long walks? Regular walks are 30 minutes, and extra playtime can be provided. Are the cats inseparable companions? There's a discount for pals sharing a run.
"We provide everything your pet will need -- food, toys, medicine," Ms. Dollery says. Baths are free with stays of four or more days, and fleas are rigorously discouraged. "If your dog ever does leave here with fleas, we will take it back and treat them."
Regular boarding prices range from $7 a day for cats to $9 a day for dogs up to 45 pounds, $10 a day for dogs 46-75 pounds, and $11 a day for canines weighing 76 pounds or more. Camp activities are an extra $6 a day regardless of size of pet. Pickup and delivery can be arranged; the cost varies, depending on distance and number of animals, from $10 to $45. Other services include grooming and training. A veterinarian is on call 24 hours a day.
"We don't just board the dogs," says owner Pat Weiskopf, "everybody here loves dogs. It really takes the guilt out of boarding a pet."
Country Comfort Kennels & Camp for Pets, 2102 Mount Horeb Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 692-5055 or (800) 666-4-PET(S).
Alexander Baer Associates
"We really gear our jobs to the client," says Alexander Baer of Alexander Baer Associates of Baltimore. "A lot of designers have a particular 'look' that they do, but we are very flexible, and the things we do are very different" from each other.
Whether the job involves a whole house or only one space -- Mr. Baer once advised a client that the only change they needed in a room was to reupholster the sofa -- the goal is "to make it easy, to make them comfortable" with the process, Mr. Baer says. "If they don't like something, they can say so.
"Some people think hiring a designer will be prohibitively expensive," Mr. Baer said, "but really, people will find they spend about the same amount of money [doing it themselves]."
Mr. Baer's firm has worked on jobs with a budget as low as $1,000 and as high as "well in excess of half a million dollars."
The most difficult job he encountered was one where the client had no furniture and an unlimited budget, and simply entrusted him with the entire task of decorating. "It was too abstract," he says. He made the clients get involved. "I said, this is not a model house, you're a family -- I need to know if you like green."
It's important to make a room a place that people will enjoy using, Mr. Baer says. "I try not to create showplaces, but comfortable spaces."
Alexander Baer Associates, 24 W. Chase St., (410) 727-4100.
T. Nelson Carey
Fine Wine & Spirits
The menu is potato and leek soup with sorrel, medallion of lamb with garlic cream sauce, zucchini gratin and Alsatian pear tart -- for two. It's a very special occasion.
BThe recipes and instructions are right there in "Le Cordon Bleu at Home." But there's not a clue about the wine. What on earth to serve?
T. Nelson Carey knows.
"For the first course, Silverado Chardonnay Reserve 1990, Napa Valley; for the entree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Pegau, 1985; and for dessert, Tokay Pinot Gris, Selection de Grains Nobles, 1989, Leon Beyer," he says. (Prices are $32, $25 and $80, respectively.)
Mr. Carey is the wine manager of the new North Charles Fine Wine & Spirits in Towson. The store is a companion to the new Eddie's supermarket that opened last September. "Most of our customers buy dinner next door and they come in here looking for a wine that goes with the meal," Mr. Carey says. With about 800 wines to choose from, there should be a match for every meal. And with Mr. Carey and store manager Craig Hutt to help, no one should have trouble finding it.
Too busy to shop? That's OK. Just give them a call. Like Eddie's, North Charles Fine Wine & Spirits delivers.
The store also carries about 160 kinds of beer and "every spirit available in the state of Maryland."
North Charles Fine Wine & Spirits, 6213A N. Charles St., (410) 377-4655.