Nora Boettinger is at a loss when friends claim they don't know what to give her for a gift.
"Just look," she says, gesturing around the Arbutus rowhouse she shares with her husband, Tom. "I'm a collector. Give me a basket, a tea pot, a plant. I'm the easiest person in the world to buy for!"
Arranged on the walls, in cupboards or growing in a garden, collections are what set this home apart from row after row of neighboring brick houses.
Mrs. Boettinger purchased the house in 1987 for $74,600, before her marriage. She saw promise where others saw blue and brown -- lots of brown.
"It was ugly," admits Mrs. Boettinger, office manager for an Ellicott City real estate firm. "Tom's sister had actually looked at the house to buy before I bought it. When she came to visit, she couldn't believe it was the same place."
Since their marriage in 1989, the couple have developed into a home improvement team. An auto mechanic, he handles the mechanical end, while she takes care of the painting, staining and arranging. Renovations were not expensive -- wallpaper, paper and plenty of imagination. Although the rooms are small, the couple manages to create the illusion of more space.
Green-and-white striped wallpaper in the open foyer visually extends the living room. An oversize white sofa, rattan chairs and bright floor pillows add an airy tropical feel to the room.
Glass cabinet doors in the kitchen veil the size of the room while displaying antique crockery. Dried herbs from the garden, gathered with a ribbon, hang from the wall.
Need a basket? Almost 200 are arranged throughout the house, adding texture to each room.
("I've always said I married a basket case," Mr. Boettinger says.)
In the dining room, baskets hang from a wood rack in front of the window. Many of the pitchers and tea pots on display are family collectibles.
Upstairs, each bedroom sports a theme.
The master bedroom is the "Gar den Room." Flowered linens, a vividly painted sun mold and a bird house accent walls the color of crape myrtle in full bloom.
A "Red, White and Blue" guest room has a country look with a sleigh bed and antique chair. Baskets worked their way upstairs, filling every cranny.
Quilts and miniature chairs share space with several rabbits in what is fondly referred to as the "Bunny Room." Painted a rich terra cotta, the room contradicts the notion that small rooms need light color walls.
Outside, the house is equally unique. Only a small patch of grass remains of the front lawn. An avid gardener, Mrs. Boettinger, 39, has replaced the grass in both yards. In it's place she has designed an English garden with perennials, herbs and a small fish pond.
"I know that if I come home tomorrow and find her with a shovel, there goes the last bit of grass," concedes Mr. Boettinger, 31.
A multitier deck, complete with hot tub, replaced the original metal porch on the back of of the house.
"Tom sits out here in the middle of winter with a frozen mustache," laughs Mrs. Boettinger.
What other projects lay ahead for the couple? New windows perhaps. But who knows.
"I don't know," muses Mrs. Boettinger. "We've done just about everything that can be done."