As the owners of Fire & Ice, the Baltimore-based chain of stores that carries jewelry and collector’s items, Robert and Jan Levine have made a career of hand-picking rare and unusual natural objects, from dinosaur eggs to mammoth tusk carvings— even a slice of a Martian meteorite. It comes as no surprise, then, that when renovating their master bathroom into a 685-square-foot spa and sanctuary, they wanted it to be a place where they could embrace and enjoy the gems of nature, past and present.
“We wanted to create a relationship between the indoors and outdoors,” says Robert. Indeed, walking through the stained-glass doors from the bedroom to the bathroom feels like entering a transitional space. Windows span the 17 feet between the slate floor and the soaring cedar-paneled ceiling, offering a flood of natural light and a stunning view of the swimming pool and garden.
Certainly the most unusual feature of the master bath is the climate-controlled lizard habitat soon to be occupied by Robert’s pet Australian bearded dragons. Architect Becky Swanston designed the human-sized terrarium with the help of the Maryland Zoo’s reptile house director, Antony Wisiewski, who advised installing an acrylic-lined skylight to allow UVA and UVB rays to penetrate, as well as special UV light bulbs to further encourage the lizards’ vitamin synthesis. In addition to containing stones and cacti, the terrarium features a mural of a desert sunset painted by local artist Carol Grillo. Robert placed a petrified tree stump inside the habitat, too, where he plans to sit while enjoying a cappuccino and feeding his pets.
Another striking feature of the bath is the glass-walled shower, where water flows from a stone ledge overhead along a stacked rock wall studded with 21 fossils: plants and fish from the Rockies, an ammonite from Russia, shark teeth from South Carolina and Germany and a mollusk shell from Western Maryland, to name a few. Originally inspired by the steam showers of Jordan and a waterfall shower at the Madonna Inn in Southern California, Robert incorporated his lifelong passion for natural objects into the design.
Even the heated slate floor, imported from India, has hidden fossils embedded in the stones, as Robert was surprised and delighted to discover. Those involved in the tile production “obviously had no idea [of the value of] what they had in their possession,” says Robert. “This single fern fossil on one tile is worth more than the entire floor.”
One of the most difficult challenges in the project was figuring out how to highlight the veins in the translucent black Pakistani onyx used in the vanity and create the desired glowing effect in the engraved glass floor panels. Swanston solved part of the problem by lining the backside of the vanity with hundreds of xenon bulbs in strip lights. For the floor panels, Robert contracted the expertise of a theatrical lighting designer, who recommended warm fluorescent lights to showcase the detail of the floor’s engraved boulders and fern design.
Lighting these pieces adds an ethereal air to the spirituality of the room. To complete the temple-like feel, the Levines decorated with a few key pieces of Oriental idolatry dating back as far as the 13th century. The lotus flower pictured in some of the images demonstrates the philosophy that “out of the mud comes great beauty,” a mantra fitting for both the treasures at Fire & Ice and this garden-side master bathroom.
Architect Becky Swanston, Baltimore, 410-732-0600
General contractor Roy Cox, Baltimore, 443-829-2137