Photographed by Erik Kvalsvik
Stacey and Harry Halpert always have one eye looking to the future, which is why they bought their circa-1800s home in Ruxton even though it needed a little TLC.
“When we were looking [for a house] we didn’t have kids, but we wanted something we could be in forever,” says Stacey. “A fixer-upper was what we could afford at the time and we loved the neighborhood and the charm and feel of the house.”
Since the Halperts bought the home in 1994 they’ve added three sons to their household. And through a combination of interior design, demolition and construction, they’ve shaped the house one room at a time to meet their needs— for now and forever.
The first design issues the family tackled were spatial. “We like big open spaces,” says Stacey. Yet the foyer was cut up by an awkward entry vestibule and the glass transoms surrounding the door were boarded over. The Halperts removed all these trappings and enlarged the doorway leading from the foyer into the formal living room to create a flowing space. The couple also demolished a 1970s solarium tacked onto the home’s exterior and replaced it with a wraparound porch that is in keeping with the home’s farmhouse feel. Although the couple always knew they wanted to remove the small kitchen at the back of the house to create a large kitchen, family room and master suite, that project was years down the road. Instead, they began the process of interior design.
“They contacted me when they first bought the house and they were trying to do things so that they could move in,” says Catherine Bitter of Catherine Bitter Interiors in Oxford, Md. “But they wanted to come up with a plan that would let them tackle parts of the house one at a time and not have to go back and redo things.”
Bitter and Stacey headed to the Design Center where the two women looked at fabrics and colors to establish the look and feel for the home. “Both Harry and Stacey were young and while they bought an old house and had some traditional pieces, I wanted it to feel fresh and updated, for the house to evolve gracefully with them over a period of time,” says Bitter. Ironically, the fabric that set the tone for the formal living room spaces — the Brunschwig & Fils floral currently on the Chippendale love seat— was the dark horse that won. “It’s open and airy, still traditional, but not as predictable as, say, a floral chintz,” says Bitter. That fabric set the color scheme of soft yellows and reds that is carried throughout the downstairs.
The dining room, which only has one window, is what Stacey describes as a “warm, wintery room.” “Sometimes it’s really hard to do light colors in an interior room that doesn’t have a lot of light— it’s better if you go darker,” says Bitter. “Because it was a room that was going to be used primarily at nighttime, deeper colors, particularly in the red family, are very flattering at night.”
Like many old houses, this one had seen its share of damage. The downstairs wood floors had to be completely replaced— parquet tiles laid on top of the original wood had ruined them beyond repair. Upstairs, the floors were also in bad shape, as were the plaster walls, but Bitter came up with a creative solution— paint the floors white and cover the walls in bead board. The result evokes the clean elegance of Swedish design.
As the design process rolled forward and the years passed, the time finally came to create the combination kitchen and family room of the Halperts’ dreams. “My husband loves to watch sports and we wanted a place for a big family to sit and eat and watch TV,” says Halpert. “Here, I can be in the kitchen preparing dinner and still be part of everything.”
Working with architect Sarah Schweizer (who also created the porch), the Halperts exchanged a tiny kitchen for a large live-in and eat-in space capped by a new master suite. The addition is seamless, utilizing architectural elements consistent with the original structure, such as the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“I think Sarah did a great job making sure the scale was in keeping with the rest of the house,” says Bitter. “They also replicated the mouldings, which helps tremendously. A lot of times people forget that when you have these large rooms and you put standard mouldings and window and door casings in it, they don’t have enough weight to stand up to the overall room.”
Scale was important in the interior design of the new addition, as well. The walls received a thick striped decorative paint treatment and the furniture is large, cozy and durable enough to tolerate the beating it gets from the Halperts’ three sons. Rather than acres of built-ins, Bitter recommended a mix of free-standing pieces (like the Ralph Lauren bookcase that holds the television), and cabinets built to look like free-standing furniture. In the kitchen, what could have been an endless sea of white cabinetry and granite is made cozier by a mix of glass-fronted cabinets and touches of butcher-block countertop. A large island blends into the family spaces through the addition of farm table turned legs.
Designer Missy Connelly of Fern Hill Design created the interior of the new master suite. “It was a room that the client let me put together from soup-to-nuts, down to the artwork,” she recalls. “[Stacey] has a good eye and we worked together as a team, but she never stifled me.”
With carte blanche, Connelly selected French fabrics by Etamine that brought a new palette of colors to the house— greens, blues and purples. A small seating area allows the Halperts’ sons to be in the room but not on the bed. The Niermann Weeks iron bed got a romantic touch via the addition of soft yellow curtains. “They have three young boys so it’s nice for them to have a getaway,” says Connelly.
Some might view the fact that the Halperts’ house took 10 years to complete as a downside. But Bitter says she actually prefers to work with one client over time. “People get a new house and they’re so excited they want to do everything at once,” she says. “I think if you live in a house and really experience what it’s like to be there— what it’s like at different times of day, what the seasonal changes are— it really allows you to wind up with something that feels more natural in the end.”
Decorative painting The Valley Craftsmen,
Lighting The Kellogg Collection, 410-296-4378;
Jones Lighting Specialists, 410-828-1010
Window treatments Meadow Mill Draperies,
Artwork Renaissance Fine Arts, 410-484-8900
Rugs Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc., 410-828-4838
Architecture Sarah Schweizer, 410-329-3765
Interior design Catherine Bitter Interiors,
410-226-0541; Fern Hill Design, 410-472-0300