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Smart Interior Design Transformed This Row House Without Renovation

Baltimore designer Jennifer Walter made strategic decisions to put a fresh spin on her client’s feminine, traditional home — no sledgehammers required.

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Photo: Katie Merkle

Putting a Fresh Face on Heirlooms Is All About Context

Jennifer Walter of Baltimore’s Folding Chair Design Co. is well acquainted with historic row houses in and around the city. As it happens, her own firm was born in one a dozen years ago. Commissioned to reimagine one for her client, she knew just what to do.

“The rowhomes, as we call them here in Baltimore, are small, two- to three-story stone or brick homes built anywhere from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. They are made to last, [their] walls are plaster, and each has its own bit of charm,” Jennifer explains. After 25 years, her client was ready for a full decor update — but she wanted that update to honor her rooms’ existing architecture and integrate additions. “She loves feminine details, loves pink and loves all the heirlooms her parents and family have left her over the years,” Jennifer adds. Her role as designer, then, was to recontextualize those oldies-but-goodies in a way that felt new. So, how does a transformation like that come together?

“With her love of pink and blue, we started the journey there of course. Rather than take on a more traditional palette with navy, we decided to add amber and lighter blues into the mix throughout the spaces,” Jennifer says. “Knowing we were painting her island and new kitchen built-ins blue, we selected the Rowe Furniture sofa in a rich velvet, first to give her a nice jolt of color in her living room — which, in these row homes, is often seen from the exterior and, of course, is entered into upon breaking the threshold from the exterior.”

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Photo: Katie Merkle

Balance Old + New, Bright + Neutral Pieces

Jennifer offset the sofa’s visual weight and her client’s traditional pieces with a neutral, mixed-media addition. “The art piece over the sofa is from Scout Design. We needed a long and strong piece over the sofa but didn’t want to add more color because it felt very saturated over there,” she says. “The books added a neutral yet very textural pop to the room, and every one of us was in love and waiting for this piece to arrive.” As for that spectacular area rug, "Rug selection is like wedding dress shopping," Jennifer notes. "You have to put a few outside your comfort zone in the mix, because you never know what you might love."

The best way to suss out which heirlooms will work in a space is quite simple: Rearrange until it feels right. “Both of the end tables in this room are the client’s own. We had about 20 tables to work with, so we really had our pick of what to use,” Jennifer recalls. “However, not everything fit, so we did play with the scale of the lighting and accessories to make everything play well together. We also used two of the client’s own footstools and had them reupholstered in a Tonic Living fabric.”

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Photo: Katie Merkle

Focus on Decor Updates That Feel Natural, Not Insta-Worthy

Infusing a home with up-to-date accents is a delicate process, and on-trend pieces that don’t feel true to you won’t feel right in your home, either. That was top of mind for Jennifer on this makeover for her client. “We took a nod from her existing aesthetic” — feminine and traditional — "and wanted to stay true to her style. Going too transitional with everything new wouldn’t have felt like her,” she says. “Every project we do looks different from the last, and each one of them is a true reflection of who our clients are, not who we are.”

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Photo: Katie Merkle

Switch Out Countertops and Retile the Backsplash to Refresh Cabinets

The kitchen had been renovated a decade ago and the cabinets’ cherry tone was overwhelming the space. “The goals were to lighten and freshen the overall look,” Jennifer explains. First step of the makeunder: doing away with the dated, dark granite countertops. Then, “we selected subway tile from Annie Selke for the Tile Shop that had a touch of blue dotting in it. You can design the pattern any way you like, which gave us flexibility. The light cream ground of the tile immediately breathed life into the kitchen. The Calacatta gold quartz countertop added warmth without being too starkly white.”

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