Baltimore designer Charlene Petersen and her New York City-bred client are young, vibrant—and certain about the trajectory they were on to meet and turn a newly minted condo in The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Inner Harbor, Baltimore into a glamorous pied-à-terre. The double unit—with water views of chic Harbor East and the iconic Domino Sugar plant—was one of two homes the client, a former Glamour photo editor, and her husband, CEO of a local software start-up, purchased when they moved to Baltimore. Serendipitously, Petersen’s name topped separate lists of interior design referrals the couple received for each project; they hired her to decorate the condo as well as their new home in Baltimore County.
During their first discussion about the abode—which they bought for its proximity to the husband’s downtown office—Petersen discovered how much she and the wife had in common. “We shared a passion for these downtown Ritz-Carlton Residences, where I lived for five years,” recalls Petersen, who got her start working for several local designers of national stature and now heads her own firm. “Terrific restaurants and entertainment venues are within walking distance, and there’s a young, friendly vibe here.” The two women shared what Petersen calls “a love of fresh, sophisticated interior design that’s not too formal or traditional, but still timeless.”
They were also of one mind about getting the project done quickly. “We started within a week of meeting in March,” says Petersen. “She was due to have her first child in June and wanted the work to be completely finished by August.”
The designer was unfazed by a schedule that required gutting and transforming two units into one completely furnished, 4,000-square-foot condo in six months. Fortunately, because of her familiarity with the property, Petersen remembers, “I had no learning curve. I had done my own condo here and knew the players in the construction process and the building allowances and limitations for a good design scheme.”
The apartment’s layout developed around its fabulous views. “We looked at the shell of the place after we tore down the dividing wall,” says Petersen. “A kitchen was already plumbed, but between it and the generous windows overlooking the harbor was plenty of living space.” The wife wanted to enjoy the flood of natural light during the day and the twinkling city views from the kitchen at night. So they opted for an open plan of interconnected living, dining, cooking and family areas. From the main entry, a corridor leads to private rooms—including three bedrooms, a study and three bathrooms—in the rear of the condo.
As the project progressed, Petersen’s eye for line and shine and her client’s New York sensibility infused glamour into the couple’s practical needs, with a new baby and future family on the way. “I presented my clients with two or three furnishing options complete with color choices that coordinated the basic requirements for lighting, plumbing and seating,” Petersen says. “Once their choice of plan was in place, I built up the decorative layers one at a time.” Her efficient approach set the stage for the fun to come.
Consistent throughout the condo is a pale color palette that magnifies the light and views. The hues morph to golden white in the family room area beside the kitchen, where traffic is highest and a purer white would suffer over time. In the more private bedrooms, she played with infusions of color on the walls and painted door frames pale gray “to give an entrance to each room.” Most significantly, Petersen set off the pale color scheme with strategically placed pieces of natural or grayed wood furniture. “Wood can anchor a neutral room with its color and texture,” she says.
Patterns superimposed on the condo’s overall medley of whites were the designer’s first layer in the décor. The patterns start small and subtle within the white-on-white upholstery and build to a theme of boldly interrelated geometrics on wall coverings, furniture inlay and accessories. The condo’s glamorous top note comes in a final layer of golden, silvered, metallic and mirrored finishes. The medley is carefully mixed and so integral to the overall effect that it doesn’t look contrived but is balanced and timeless. For the New York City-transplanted resident, the finished condo represents a shared vision and delivers a very special view of her newly adopted city below.
Writer Susan Stiles Dowell is based in Monkton, Maryland. Jamie Sentz is a photographer in Lititz, Pennsylvania.