In 1993, when Shahab and Syed Abidi relocated to Baltimore from New Jersey, they had trouble finding an open, modern floor plan amidst the classic architecture that comprises so many of the city’s neighborhoods. Shahab was seven months pregnant at the time and Syed, a doctor, was busy launching his pharmaceutical company, PPI, and traveling the globe for his clients. They settled on a small colonial, vowing to one day locate the house they had envisioned.
Ten years later, the Pakistani natives finally have their dream home. It began – as so many great architectural projects do – with a simple sketch on a cocktail napkin.
When it became apparent that the existing real estate market did not offer the contemporary house they were looking for, the Abidis decided to build it themselves. They purchased a two-acre plot on Old Lyme Road, near Bryn Mawr where Sana, now 10, attends school. Dr. Abidi sketched the general idea of what they wanted on the napkin: a modern, clean-lined home with all the primary living space on one floor, high ceilings and plenty of windows to overlook a landscaped back yard with a pool. He wanted a home that could oblige their frequent entertaining and comfortably accommodate 100 guests, but still feel intimate.
He then handed the sketch to architect Shellie Curry of Fishman, Curry & Associates. Abidi and Curry had worked together on the office space for PPI and Abidi believed the architect could translate his thoughts about a living space into reality. “Architects can have a lot of ego,” Dr. Abidi says. “Shellie does not. He never tries to sell you on things you don’t want.”
Curry returned with a design for a 10,000-square-foot home with eight baths, six bedrooms and a large, vaulted living space with lots of glass. The front of the home was designed with a clean, cresting line, resembling an elongated A-frame. The rear elevation was more complex: shifting planes creating multiple faades to harness the light from the east, the north and the west, with each wall divided by a number of linear glass windows. The Abidis would finally have the light they’d craved.
Putting the master suite on the first floor made for an expansive footprint, leaving a large basement area to fill. Curry occupied it with a large play area for Sana, a series of cedar closets for Shahab, a maid’s quarters and pool access. Upstairs, the tall walls left little structural support for the amplitude of glass, requiring Curry to call on his commercial engineering experience to realize the complex construction.
The Abidis and Curry remained flexible throughout the building process, allowing the home to resolve itself as it went from rendering to reality. Blueprints were altered, walls moved, windows added. A wall in the kitchen was shifted to face east and tall windows were installed to capture the diffused light. The builder, Rick Raphael of Raphael Homes, remained patient with every alteration. And while the Abidis had a clear understanding of what they wanted, they did not hem in the architect with specific design solutions. “Most people come to you with a fixed idea and it can be limiting,” Curry says. “Dr. Abidi kept an open mind and let the house evolve as it went up. This was a dream project.”
Interior designer Roselind Cronin of Sulin Interiors was retained at the beginning to work closely with Curry and Raphael. Cronin was charged with appointing the home with a clean, minimalist look. The dining, living and eating areas occupy one large space, with ample usage of light-colored marble. “The interior is sculptural,” Cronin says. “It has a lot of height, lots of angles and many severely pitched ceilings. The Abidis wanted a sense of interconnected space and we worked hard at making the different parts have both separation and connection.”
Cronin created a lush, modern interior with marble floors, low, sleek furniture and dramatic artwork, much of it from the Gomez Gallery. Curry had designed a spectacular steel-and-glass stairway in the foyer with bleached maplewood steps and banisters of stainless steel and glass. Cronin mirrored those materials in other areas of the house, using bleached maplewood for the many customized built-ins that grace the home. The Asian-inspired modern interior has a classic currency, and Cronin was careful not to date the house with any period embellishments.
The result is a home that somewhat evokes the feeling of a resort – an effect Dr. Abidi had hoped to capture. Abidi travels frequently to Europe for business, and the contemporary hotels there influenced his vision for his home. “Now when we travel and stay in a hotel we think, ‘Our house is better,’” Dr. Abidi says. “We love coming home.”
Architect Shellie Curry, Fishman, Curry & Associates, 410-581-5800
Builder Rick Raphael, Raphael Homes, 410-581-9822
Interior Design Roselind Cronin, Sulin Interiors, 410-418-9660