A wall of windows on the second floor captures the immediacy of dramatic harbor views.
LED lights concealed on the underside of the stair treads illuminate the four-story staircase.
Pendant fixtures lend a nautical feel to the dining room.
The new kitchen boasts walls clad in Thassos marble tile.
DDK Kitchens helped the owners lay out the kitchen and select cabinetry.
The floating staircase is visible beyond the kitchen.
A double-sided fireplace serves the master bedroom and adjoining sitting room.
A stand-alone tub creates a focal point in the master bath.
St. Laurent marble imparts an opulent feel in the shower.
In the sitting room, a hanging daybed overlooks the views.

Harbor View

Dianne Rohrer transforms a waterfront townhouse with classic furnishings, luxe finishes and a nautical touch

Harbor View Photography by Thomas Arledge 

Peter Bowe cherishes a lifelong affinity for the water. As a child, he competed in Annapolis sailing regattas and as a Yale undergrad, he triumphed with an Intercollegiate National Sailing championship. His penchant for the marine world led to a desire to live as close to the water as possible. But when he and his wife, Barbara Stewart, recently moved to the Pier Homes community near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, even Bowe, the president of Ellicott Dredges, was surprised at the proximity. “Look out the windows,” he says, gesturing to the home’s position at the end of a long pier. “You could fish from just about any room in this house.”

The couple was already living on the harbor when they first spied the townhouse. Although it had languished unfinished since the economic downturn, the end unit’s potential to capture amazing harbor views and the mercurial light off the water was too tantalizing to resist. And at roughly 1,000 square feet per floor, the stacked plan of four floors culminates in a fifth-floor roof terrace that offers front-row seating for the frequent fireworks and parades of international ships on the waterfront.

When they bought the townhouse, it was an unfinished shell with builder-grade interiors that encompassed a first-floor garage, foyer and office; public rooms—including the living room, dining room and kitchen—on the second floor; a third-floor master suite; and on the fourth floor, two guest rooms, a bathroom and library. Both a stairway and an elevator access all four floors.

The couple tapped designer Dianne Rohrer to customize the space as much as the condo’s and the floor plan’s restrictions would allow. Rohrer’s design upgraded most of the home’s original interior elements to create a backdrop suitable for the owners’ collection of traditional furnishings, fabrics, rugs, and antiques, and to take advantage of the views. With help from ILEX Construction, fine millwork and custom trim and detailing were added and a blocky, unattractive staircase was replaced with a sculptural floating version. HVAC supply and return openings were reworked and two double-sided fireplaces—one in the master suite and one separating the living and dining rooms—were redesigned.

“From the beginning, Peter and Barbara clearly expressed their desire for a traditional approach to the interior design,” Rohrer recalls. “Their love of the textures in the traditional design inspired original millwork detailing of varying depths to emphasize room height and bring the eye right to the view.”

When the couple bought the townhouse, the kitchen was a shell. They brought in Illinois-based DDK Kitchens to provide a layout, cabinetry and appliance suggestions and had ILEX do the installation. The bathrooms were overhauled to accommodate custom changes, including the substitution of walk-in showers for bathtubs and stone tile for drab porcelain surfaces. In the master bath, a freestanding, sculptural soaking tub shares a wall with custom built-in shelving.

Rohrer also found just enough extra square footage in the east-facing rooms to introduce a wall opening that allows light to penetrate to the west side of the space. Her design emphasizes the ways in which lights from the harbor play off the interiors. A limited color palette bounces a scrim of watery light off the walls, which contrast with the dark acacia floors for a reflecting-pool effect.

Bowe and Stewart wanted their home to relate to the water aesthetically, so Rohrer added subtle notes to achieve that connection: Peter Bowe’s sailing trophies line the shelves of the den, while the lighting in the dining room suggests ships’ lanterns. In the master suite, a custom daybed by Gutierrez Studios hangs on marine-grade ropes.

“A nautical feel was important for these clients,” says Rohrer, “but in a sensible way that they could enjoy for the rest of their lives.” Full-height custom millwork cleverly takes care of storage needs. In fact, the storage solutions incorporated throughout the house are reminiscent of the compact storage on a yacht—perfectly in keeping with this shipshape house on the harbor.

Writer Susan Stiles Dowell is based in Monkton, Maryland. Thomas Arledge is a photographer in Bethesda, Maryland.

Renovation & Interior Design: Dianne Rohrer, CID, Rohrer Studio, Baltimore, Maryland. Renovation Construction: ILEX Construction, Easton, Maryland.