Take a space and fill it with your life. Once a void, the space acquires the essence of you.
That's how the favorite rooms in four Baltimore-area homes have evolved.
With color, paintings, textiles and artifacts resonant of other worlds and times, the homeowners have assembled a universe of self-affirmation, celebration and remembrance.
Inspired perhaps by a distinguished designer, family memories, a passion, or simply the clean, expectant walls of an art gallery, these rooms merge wider cultural sensibilities with personal vision and, as a result, are as distinctive as those who inhabit them.
The lofty entrance hall at the center of Betty and Ted Mack's Crownsville home is a room with a view; or, you could say, it is a view with a room.
Open to the rest of the house, the space blurs the distinction between interior and exterior.
When the couple built their brick home more than 21 years ago, "We had a sense that [the entrance hall] would be our 'Wow!' room," Betty Mack says.
Sure enough, "Wow!" springs to mind on the threshold of the Macks' capacious, art-filled residence, which is tucked into a shady suburban neighborhood. A space that often serves as a passageway, the central hall in their home takes center stage.
The space is defined by arched brickwork and appointed with wrought-iron furnishings. At the rear of the room, French doors open to a deck surrounded by woods. "We wanted to feel outside in the trees," says Betty Mack, 70.
With a pitched cedar ceiling slightly taller than 28 feet, the central hallway is as much an atrium as it is an entrance hall. An unruly coconut tree grown from a sprout, a vigorous ficus tree and other tropical plants have mistaken the space for a conservatory.
A sprightly, red twig bulging with ripe cotton bolls also stands in the room, a reminder of the family farms where both Betty and Ted Mack grew up in the South. The couple met at a segregated high school outside of Memphis, Tenn. They call their cotton sprig "Lest We Forget."
The Macks, who have three sons, have played host to frequent celebrations in the open space, including a nephew's wedding reception, a friend's 80th birthday party, Super Bowl fests and Ted Mack's formal retirement gala. The room has also served as a gathering place for Bible study, a church choir performance and meetings of the Northern Arundel Cultural Preservation Society, an organization for which Betty Mack serves as president.
In winter, northern exposure suffuses the room with "beautiful sunlight," Ted Mack says. "We can go until noon before we turn the heat on."
To cool the space in summer, the Macks lower pleated blinds over the French doors, windows and skylights, allowing light to filter through, as well as playful, dappled shadows. It is an effect that Betty Mack, who retired from a job as a civilian personnel officer at Fort Meade, calls "mystical."
Ted Mack, a 73-year-old retired Army intelligence officer, professional photographer and custom framer, installed the ceiling and chandelier while "I prayed," his wife says.
Her husband also laid the pale-rose ceramic tile floor.
In 1994, a chance encounter with an artist named Henry Porter thrust the Macks into the African-American art field. The works of Porter, an astonishingly versatile painter who lives outside of Atlanta, are displayed throughout the Macks' home, most prominently on the walls of their favorite room.
Porter, who is in his 80s, drove from Georgia to personally deliver the piece he custom-made for one of the hall's tall brick walls.
It is a striking, abstract work painted on Plexiglas. Its swoops and swirls of red, orange, green, fuschia and black invite contemplation and celebration. The two impulses suit a room that seamlessly merges the interior and exterior landscapes of the Macks' fruitful life together.
A lofty living room
The soaring, central space that greets visitors to the Pikesville home of Jackie and Rene Copeland is as much a gallery as a living room.
Spanning three levels, the bright room, painted white and furnished with sleek, Moroso furniture in neutral gray, comes alive with the Copelands' collections of African art, as well as fine art and folk art by African-Americans.
Throughout the room where she and her husband, both 60, recently held a wedding reception for their daughter, colorful pieces from disparate traditions create an energetic harmony without precluding surprise, delight or sorrow.
"It's amazing how it can all live so comfortably together," says Jackie Copeland, who came to Maryland seven years ago as director of education and public programming at the Walters Art Museum.
"Everything works so well together from various cultures," says Copeland, also an adjunct faculty member at Towson University.
As the pieces are juxtaposed throughout the room, they make "a statement about the richness and diversity of cultures of the African diaspora," Copeland says, "and how they have influenced to some degree the art and architecture we associate with modernism."
She revels in the way the pieces in their "collection of collections," as Rene Copeland, an executive in the super-computer industry, puts it, inform and enrich one another both visually and culturally.
Three ceremonial African heads from Nigeria, Gabon and the Ivory Coast provoke a conversation with a humorous figure shrouded in bottle caps by an American folk artist known as Mr. Imagination.
Nearby, "Him," a lemon-yellow, hand-blown glass-and-bead sculpture by Joyce Scott, conveys the Baltimore artist's brilliant command of space with unpredictable shapes and media.
Exquisite baskets, crafted from wire, paper and sweet grass rest on the floating platform of a coffee table, along with a classically inspired figurine sculpture of a young black man in a hoodie by Kehinde Wiley, an emerging New York artist.
The artwork of Sam Gilliam and University of Maryland, College Park professor David Driscoll toss vivid colors into the room's savory mix.
One of the Copelands' most prized acquisitions is a series of black-and-white lithographs by Glenn Ligon.
Created in the image of the posters advertising runaway slaves, each print offers a description of Ligon as viewed by his friends.
The observations, such as "He looks at you from the corner of his eyes. His voice is very calm," emphasize Ligon's humanity, and by extension that of untold American slaves, described as nothing more than chattel by their masters in those original posters.
Also under the room's cathedral ceiling is a lovingly restored baby grand piano made by the Knabe company in Baltimore and once owned by Jackie Copeland's uncle, Maurice Tibbs, a concert pianist.
Romare Bearden's "Cattle of the Sun God" commands one wall, and "Sistas" by Anita Philyaw commands another.
A long, rippled swath of fabric, tie-dyed in Mauritania and purchased at Zawadi, a Washington gallery, falls from the peak of the cathedral ceiling to just above the fireplace.
There is also a carved totem of indigenous symbols by South African artist Lucky Sibiya. And from the next level, a cluster of African masks peers down, like dignified and enthralled elders, upon Jackie Copeland's favorite room.
A 'dream' room
Betty Glascoe's got the whole world in her Howard County living room: Ebony African sculptures, an Israeli wall hanging, a Mexican love goddess, an ornamental plate from Egypt and an Arc de Triomphe side table are among many mementos that grace her favorite room.
"When I see things I love, I have to find a place for them in my home," Glascoe says. "They're already in my heart."
As she redecorated her living room last summer, Glascoe, a part-time interior designer, relied on her intuitive response to colors, patterns and tableaus to show her keepsakes to their best advantage.
The result is a joyful space unified by a color scheme of red, gold, cream and shimmery hints of green.
Glascoe's personal style matches her sense of design. With a regal bearing and a snazzy fashion sense, she's a perfect fit for her living room. "I love glamour," says Glascoe, who owns BJG Enterprises LLC, a consulting, coaching and training firm for government and private enterprises.
The living room's new look came to Glascoe in a dream, as do the numerous spiritual plays she has written and produced at church and elsewhere.
She had been trying to decide what to do in the living room when, "All of a sudden, everything came to me."
Glascoe's most important touchstone for her design decisions: "What will make you feel like you're alive," she says.
Glascoe's work is inspired by the theatrical interior decorator Alberto Pinto, a master of fusing multiple European traditions and design periods into a harmonious whole.
Taking a page from Pinto, she has blended the traditional and the contemporary into a seamless living space. Opposing love seats are upholstered with an old-fashioned diamond pattern of raised velvet vines against a cream-colored fabric.
The resulting formality is offset by a number of sleekly modern objects: An abstract, geometric painting here; a pewter sculpture of galloping horses there.
In her choice of upholstery, draperies and pillows, Glascoe plays with patterns as well, allowing stripes to pick up where a print or solid left off. The grass-cloth wallpaper on one end of the living room contributes to the warm and welcoming aura she has created.
And yet, Glascoe doesn't go overboard.
Pinto's work "helped me shape my own decorating skills and to recognize that less is more," she says.
As one of five women across the United States selected to blog on the decorating Web site Homegoods.com, Glascoe has chronicled her own design breakthroughs while dispensing advice to others.
Her readers have seen "before and after" images of Glascoe's living room, and know how pleased she is with the design dream she brought to fruition.
But they also know that her living room is likely to be replaced soon in her affections by another space that she is redesigning.
"This is my favorite room right now," Glascoe says. Eventually, "My kitchen will be."
Medieval 'man cave'
As the lights dim and you sink into the plush leather seating in Bart Scott's home theater, you could easily feel transported to some sci-fi extravaganza that marries medieval gallantry with high-tech wizardry.
There are the half-timbered walls, the glinting swords (real, but not sharpened), the shield and the battle-ax. And there is the giant screen, where the Ravens starting linebacker can conjure the NFL Network or NBA 2K7 -- or fire up his Wii for a virtual sword fight.
"It's a guy's paradise down here," says Scott, 27. The fleet Pro Bowler controls his entire Randallstown house by way of the remote, which connects to three game systems, satellite radio, cable television, DVD player, his iPod and the lights.
Not one to rest on past conquests, Scott can also analyze the play of rival teams on the big screen while jotting notes.
And because the theater has seating for nine (and commercial-grade carpeting), he may hibernate in good company with his fellow Ravens. So what if they track in a little turf?
The brand-new theater is part of Scott's basement playground, which includes a billiard table from Cagle's in Owings Mills, two flat-screen televisions, a Diamond Plate arcade machine loaded with 5,800 vintage video games, a bar and popcorn machine.
If it all sounds straight out of MTV Cribs, it's no coincidence. As Jeffrey Morton, Scott's friend and former college teammate says: "When we're kids, dreaming of playing pro ball, the first thing we think about when we get the mansion is the theater."
Holding Bart Jr., his 2-year-old son, Scott gives a tour of the entire basement, where the medieval theme continues with crown molding, notched cabinetry, brass finishings and thronelike chairs fit for any lineman (or king) waiting his turn at pool.
Turn to Scott's Web site, Madbacker.net, and you'll find the same affinity for Middle Ages styling in the graphics. "I love that era," Scott says.
But the basement's "soft" color scheme of tan, cream and black takes its cue from the pastels found upstairs, he says.
Scott's wife, who goes by the name Star, allowed him full reign in the basement. "He didn't have a say-so in the rest of the house," she says. "I felt kind of bad. He was busy when I was decorating. Bart has pretty good taste -- most of the time."
The couple purchased their house last year after Scott signed a three-year-contract with the Ravens. Until he had that security, "I was nervous to even buy a place," he says.