Photographed by Erik Kvalsvik
Bryan Cunningham has lived most of his life in the Baltimore County countryside. So, when he decided to buy a home in Baltimore City, he wanted a place that was spacious and quiet, yet still in the heart of things. After a year of searching, he finally settled on a five-story waterfront townhouse— one of just 10— in the Crescent at Fells Point development.
The home’s open floor plan and soaring ceilings attracted Cunningham initially, but when it came time to furnish the home, the spaciousness presented a real challenge, says Steve Appel, co-owner of Nouveau Contemporary Goods and senior designer for Whitehead+Appel Interior Design, who assisted Cunningham in selecting furnishings and art for the 3,900-square-foot house. “The house was like an accessory vacuum,” says Appel. “Just trying to get it to the point where it looked comfortable and lived in took a lot more pieces than I thought.”
When Cunningham purchased his home in February 2009, it was essentially a blank slate: sturdy and spacious, but lacking character. With the help of his girlfriend, Cunningham painted all the walls in subtle natural tones, changed all the door hinges and installed all new light fixtures. In the living room, he added visual interest by covering several walls with Tennessee Ledgestone. “I wanted to really bring some texture out,” he says. “I like the townhomes in the city that have exposed brick.”
Once he’d set the stage, Cunningham enlisted Appel’s help to find comfortable, clean-lined pieces without, as Cunningham puts it, “a lot of fluff.” During the course of a year, Appel made 10 to 15 trips to the home, bringing furniture and accessories from Nouveau that he thought matched Cunningham’s taste for natural elements and sleek lines. Many pieces were immediately turned away, and others grew on Cunningham only over time. This was the case with “Houston,” a commanding painting that hangs in the staircase. The piece, which shows the curved spine of a woman, is particularly relevant because of Cunningham’s work as director of spinal research at the Orthopaedic Spinal Research Laboratory at St. Joseph Medical Center.
“Steve was really fantastic to work with,” says Cunningham, who says he never felt like his personal tastes were being compromised by the designer’s influence. Personal elements, like souvenirs from Cunningham’s world travels, can be found throughout the home. A handmade aboriginal boomerang, which was presented to Cunningham as a gift from the Spine Society of Australia, is framed and mounted above the living room fireplace. On the mantel is a miniature jade inukshuk brought back after a trip to Vancouver.
“My theme was stone, wood, leather and steel,” says Cunningham, who was inspired by the sturdy wood and steel staircase that is at the heart of the five-story townhome. In the “John Wayne” room— a cozy den on the home’s fourth floor— this theme comes through in custom-made Vanguard leather chairs and a distressed wood and steel table from Johnston Casuals. The table, which weighs several hundred pounds, is reminiscent of a barn door and reinforces the rusticity of the space. A small table from Cunningham’s boyhood days, decorated with fishing and hunting graphics, is an endearing piece that fits the décor surprisingly well. In the corner of the bar is a framed picture of the American icon himself— the Duke— a symbol of rugged masculinity, and the inspiration for the entire room.
In the living room, where Cunningham spends most of his time, the view of the harbor is immediately captivating. “When people come in, they’re so attracted by the view, and I wanted them to be able to look out and not be distracted by a piece of furniture,” he says. A sleek white sofa sits against the wall adjacent to the large window. Above it, a piece by local artist Robert McClintock showing tugboats in Fells Point helps pull the outside in.
“I really wanted to draw in the nautical theme because I love the water,” says Cunningham, whose 44-foot powerboat is docked yards from his front door. Though he’s just a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Thames Street, the townhome feels like a sanctuary that, apart from the rattling of ships’ masts nearby or the occasional buzz from a neighbor’s roof deck party (Olympian Michael Phelps lives two doors away), is entirely peaceful.
From his rooftop deck, Cunningham can see the Patapsco River, and then the Bay, stretching out for miles, and Canton and Butchers Hill and beyond. “The Natty Boh sign winks right at me,” says Cunningham. It’s clear that he’s found the best of both worlds: a quiet, spacious home in the heart of the city.
Furnishings Nouveau Contemporary Goods, 410-962-8248, http://www.nouveaubaltimore.com