Every profession has its rising stars, but it hasn't always been easy for young interior designers to make a name for themselves in Baltimore. It's a city where referrals are as important as national publicity, and a few designers have dominated the field.
That may be changing with the development downtown. As young professionals move to upscale condos, they often seek out designers their age.
We can't say for sure that these young guns will be the next Rita St. Clair or Alexander Baer, but all three have a good start, making their mark on the design scene.
Annie Zemarel Werden is a designer at Jenkins Baer Associates, one of Baltimore's best-known firms, and at age 30 has worked on her share of big-ticket projects. But she doesn't want people to think that they have to be millionaires to afford her help.
"I love to come pick the paint and rearrange the furniture," she says.
One of her most satisfying clients was a young professional in a Hampden rowhouse on a limited budget. "I used 90 percent of what she had but gave it a more grown-up look," she says. "We bought a few new things, edited what she had, and [ended up] with a new, fresh space."
Of course, it's also fun to be given carte blanche and a budget without restrictions, as she was recently by a developer who told her, "Go for it."
After graduating from University of Maryland as an art history major, Werden went to Italy and studied fashion and landscape design. While she was there, she realized that she wanted a career in which her creativity would be an asset. When she returned to Baltimore, she worked at Gaines McHale Antiques for eight months before starting at Jenkins Baer as an assistant to owner Jay Jenkins.
Werden is married with a 2 1/2 -year-old son, but her family and her job don't stop her from buying fixer-uppers and making them her own in what little spare time she has. The Baltimore native has renovated a house in Hampden, sold it, bought a house in Lake Walker and then upgraded to a home built in the 1920s in Cedarcroft, where she and her family now live.
"I enjoy the process of making a house my own," she says with a laugh. "I prefer to start from scratch."
Werden describes her own style as leaning toward a contemporary, cleaner, edited look, but not too stark. In her decorating, she says she likes to include "things that have a sense of history [like an antique mirror], things you find when traveling or antiquing. I like the charm of an old house."
Fabrizio Fiorini and Kirk Designs are a natural fit. Architecture and interior design go hand in hand in many of the firm's projects, and Fiorini, 37, studied architecture in his native Florence, Italy, before moving here to major in interior design at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Although Italy is steeped in history, Fiorini says he was much more involved with contemporary design until he moved to Baltimore.
"There is a sense of history and an interest in details here," he says.
Baltimore isn't so opposed as it used to be to what's going on in the rest of the country, he says, but his work with clients here - often in Guilford - is usually what he calls "transitional," neither traditional nor contemporary. Often it's a matter of "refreshing, upgrading and renovating."
"I tend to introduce simple elements and bold accents," he says. "I like bold colors and the contrast of cold and warm colors."
Fiorini's clients aren't limited to Baltimore. Kirk designs homes for people up and down the East Coast, and the designer is currently redoing the New York apartment of a young couple. It's small, he says, but they have noteworthy artwork, the apartment sports a beautiful marble bathroom, and they enjoy his love of exciting colors like green and coral.
Fiorini, who lives in Parkville, says he wouldn't mind having an apartment downtown. He laughs when he's asked about the decoration of his home.
"Everybody always thinks that a designer's house is complete," he says. "But you always want to change things. You always want to move the furniture." Charlene Lester
As young as Charlene Lester is, working as a senior designer at Patrick Sutton Associates is her second career.
"I ignored all the signs that this is what I should be doing," says the 32-year-old Pennsylvania native - signs such as her redoing her "10-by-10 dorm room a hundred times."
A history major at the University of Maryland, Lester taught history before she eventually found the work she loved. She started as an assistant to a couple of local decorators, then ended up with Patrick Sutton.
"Of all the designers in this town," she says, "he most reflects my style," which she describes as a combination of modern design with clean, simple lines and the use of antiques, "but not the fussy, frilly ones."
Her clients, Lester says, are changing as the city's skyline changes. She's working more and more with young professionals who have moved into high-end condos in downtown Baltimore rather than Guilford homes. (She owns a rowhouse in Canton.)
With the faltering economy, Lester has also seen a change in the attitudes of her clients. Even if they have the money, they are being more cautious.
"It's not cool right now to be flashy," she says.
But the flip side is that people aren't traveling as much, so they are willing to spend money on good, comfortable design.
"Home is their nest, their sanctuary," she says. "They are going to be there a lot more."
The most important trend in design now, she says, even in Baltimore - not a city that embraces trends - is ecologically correct materials and technologies.
"Given the choice of getting something green that costs a couple of hundred dollars more," she says, "most of our clients go green."
Born: New London, Pa.
Education: University of Maryland
Own favorite furniture: A 150-year-old butcher block bench that "goes well with a chrome lamp"
Greatest design accomplishment: Furnished a 15,000-square-foot house in eight weeks
Education: University of Maryland, continuing-education classes at Maryland Institute College of Art
Own favorite furniture: A Hollywood Regency chest of drawers with "great hardware" that she bought off the back of a truck in Hampden.
Design philosophy: "I want clients to feel comfortable, but I want to push the envelope a little."
Born: Florence, Italy
Education: Maryland Institute College of Art
Own favorite furniture: An ivory-and-ebony console from the '70s with simple lines that he found in Ellicott City
Dream project: "I'd like to experience more commercial work, maybe a restaurant, because you can be more trendy."