Eight years ago this March, Karen and Edward Connelly moved into a brand new, two-story Colonial.
The home, a modular design, was built in an established Catonsville neighborhood.
Old and established is what they wanted. And a tiny Colonial is what they got.
"If you have a small home, you need to be organized," says Karen Connelly. "There needs to be a space for everything."
In this 27-foot-wide, 22-foot-deep home, all of her resources as a decorator and painter of murals are put to the test.
A nurse turned banker, Karen Connelly, 40, never took her artistic talents seriously until five years ago, when she got a diagnosis of breast cancer.
During her long chemotherapy and recovery, she focused on her family (the Connellys have two daughters, Sarah and Emma Kate), her home and her art. She has recovered but continues working at those priorities.
The Connellys paid $139,000 for their three-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath, white-vinyl-sided home atop a sloping lawn.
As many owners of prefabricated homes do, the Connellys undertook multiple upgrades. She points out the hardwood floors in two ground-floor rooms. Made of solid red oak with random-width planks, the floors cost $5,000.
A 16-by-18-foot screened porch with a cathedral ceiling cost $8,000. The rear porch is accessible through double French doors off the country kitchen.
"I can't think of a better summer to have this porch, with the cicadas coming," Karen Connelly says, laughing.
She had always wanted a Williamsburg-style country kitchen, so she painted a kitchen wall to give the illusion of a Colonial estate. Working in acrylic paint (which is all she uses in her home and for her consignment projects), she "built" a floor-to-ceiling mural of a fireplace. Her deft attention to detail has produced the appearance of white flagstone over a wide-open hearth that seems to glow with dying embers.
An oak mantel displays china with a painted flower design. Wicker baskets and dried herbs hang from the mantel's many pegs.
Karen Connelly refers to a large corner cabinet in this room as her home office. She distressed the wood of the pine cabinet and decorated it with hand-painted flowers. Both cabinet doors open to reveal a computer and shelving.
French country theme
The downstairs powder room, off the kitchen, has a French country theme. Karen Connelly procured a 3-by-2-foot heavy wood window frame from a Victorian home. She replaced the six panes with mirrors and hung the piece over the sink for an open effect.
"Mirror placement is important," Karen Connelly says. "A mirror should never reflect dead space."
From the large mirror in her living room, hung on the staircase wall, every corner of the family gathering space can be seen.
Karen Connelly's paintings, such as one of the Ocracoke Lighthouse that hangs over the room's working fireplace, can be seen from several vantage points. She has chosen a warm sand color for the living room walls that serves as a neutral backdrop for the rich, floral tones in a tapestry covered recliner and the overstuffed celery-colored sofa.
Perhaps nowhere in this home is Karen Connelly's artistic prowess more visible than in the bedrooms of her two daughters.
Emma Kate, 5, has the smallest room in the house. Over a twin bed, Karen Connelly has painted a mural of the Ocracoke Lighthouse as seen from the water. Seagulls fly, and a pelican is perched on a wharf piling. It's like waking up on a houseboat each morning.
From her bed, the Connellys' other daughter, Sarah, 9, sees a country scene with a green meadow, a picket fence and wildflowers.
Karen Connelly says little about her artistic talent and the popularity of her murals at Hillcrest Elementary School and Dimitri's Restaurant in Ellicott City.
But friend and neighbor Diane Six can't say enough about the home.
"It is a constantly changing palette," she says. "I'll visit one day and she will have painted an entire wall since my last visit."
Karen Connelly says her home fills her with a sense of peace, a feeling she has had from the day she moved in. And the decorating is a tangible reminder of her winning the battle with breast cancer.
A banner she painted above her French doors bears the phrase: "Where even the teakettle sings from happiness. That is home."