Cross Keys jewel box

The Baltimore Sun

Sonya Taylor lives in what her brother calls a beautiful jewel box. In a space of only 530 square feet, she is blanketed in international furnishings, paintings and decorative art.

The quiet of her tiny domain is periodically punctuated by the coo-coo of a clock in her tiny kitchen.

"I had to get used to city noise," said this 71-year-old retired government worker and volunteer political activist. "Now, I hardly notice it."

Taylor purchased her efficiency condominium 23 years ago, having left a large home in Monkton after a divorce. She recalls her agent mentioning "the perfect place" for her and her lovely treasures.

For $38,500, she took possession of a "box" in the Village of Cross Keys in North Baltimore and immediately proceeded to hire a contractor to turn it into what she referred to as "a small apartment."

For another $20,000, Taylor installed porcelain tiles in the kitchen, pocket doors, molding, a partition, track lighting in the small hall, new bathroom fixtures and plumbing improvements, and - finally - a floor-to-ceiling mirror covering over three-quarters of the efficiency's north wall.

For someone sitting on the beige silk-covered sofa, the overall effect is of a beautiful cocoon. Taylor keeps a medium-sized window covered with silk draperies over tightly shut blinds. Carefully placed lighting, a burning scented candle and taffeta drapes pulled across the front door help to envelop a visitor in luxury.

"People come in and fall asleep," Taylor laughed. "It's dreamy and hypnotic."

On the floor, rugs sit on top of rugs. She picked up several on her travels, including a light silk rug with a gold and red medallion design from Kashmir. A red wool from Fez, Morocco, lies not far from a hallway runner bought in Turkey. A stately lion is king of his domain on an authentic Persian rug.

"I carried [these rugs] home instead of having them shipped," she said. "I was extra cautious."

Other textiles include Taylor's needlepoint creations - a glass-encased chess board, and a pair of large flower pillows. An oblong, French tapestry hangs on the west wall of the living space over a buffet loaded down with crystal decanters.

Taylor's furniture is noteworthy and choice. A china closet fashioned of tiger maple and glass holds Baccarat crystal pieces, along with 19th-century porcelain and cut glass.

In the far corner of the room rests an oak platform rocking chair with a mahogany reproduction library table in front of it. A mahogany drop-leaf table directly behind holds a game board with English bone-china chess pieces.

A plaster cast mask of Taylor made by a Washington artist sits under a lamp on the same table, next to bowls filled with sand from places she has visited, such as the Sahara Desert and Casa de Campo beach resort in the Dominican Republic.

The mirrored wall creates a doubling effect. Three carved angels doing acrobatics sit approximately a foot high on the floor, their hijinks mimicked by three more in the mirror.

In the center of the room is an 1840 oak dining table that Taylor inherited. A violin that had belonged to her father rests atop a gilt-framed mirror in the center of the table.

"Of all the things I own, this is nearest to my heart," Taylor said. "It's the only thing I have of his."

The kitchen is compact but equipped with every necessary appliance. White laminate cabinets contrast nicely with brick-colored porcelain tiles. Track lighting in the narrow front hall illuminates paintings and Italian posters.

"I love the lighting effects," Taylor noted. "That's what makes it so soothing. It changes the whole room."

Behind the large room's partition lie Taylor's cozy bedroom, bath and a washer/dryer.

Although Taylor's daughter, Sheryl, has asked her numerous times to join her in moves all over the world, Taylor stays put. In her hectic world as a Democratic volunteer in what she calls "rough-and-tumble politics," she likes the juxtaposition of returning home to the cozy jewel box.

And the acquisition of beautiful things to place in it.

"My favorite thing is the hunt, which is a metaphor for life," she said.

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