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Annapolis Capital: Design, Form and Function Blend Seamlessly

May 21, 2011

It feels wrong to slouch while walking into the lobby of the Mariner Bay apartment building in Annapolis Towne Centre, operated by Bozzuto Management service. The high-ceilinged lobby is grand in the sleek sophisticated style of posh, early 20th-century apartments on Manhattan's Upper East Side - or how we imagine them to be.

Pushing through a tall double set of doors, one dances around the oversized circular concierge stand. Maybe a package arrived today? The cheerful concierge fishes it out and presents it.

One of the boxcar-sized elevators whooshes silently to the 11th floor. Let's get off and take a quick look, shall we? Everywhere, there are windows with sky-high views of Annapolis spread out in all directions. One hallway leads to the art-filled community club room. With its bar, plasma TV and open space, it's a great place to watch a game with friends, play a game of chess or host a cocktail party. Farther on is the wedge-shaped outdoor pool - perfect for doing laps. The wrap-around landscaped terraces look like fair-weather venues for getting a tan, drinking in the view or entertaining guests. On a clear day, you can see the Bay Bridge and beyond. Another hallway leads past a tranquil yoga room and a fitness center.

Dropping down a few floors, we walk through a hushed, beautifully furnished hallway. Outside each apartment door is a ledge where a resident can park a purse or briefcase while searching for keys. A hook beneath the ledge is a temporary respite for a shopping bag or tote.

We're visiting with Erma Striner today. Though Erma is a retiree with two grown children and beloved grandchildren, she is not about to be typecast as an archetypical granny. A former interior design instructor, she was also employed in D.C. with the federal government for 21 years, then worked in the nonprofit sector handling prospect research. Even now, she says, "I try to help people. I want to share my knowledge."

Erma lived for 16 years in the Market Square neighborhood of D.C., before moving to the Newseum Residences, upscale apartments atop the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown D.C. When she made that transition, "I gave away all my traditional pieces because the Newseum Residences are so contemporary," said Erma.

She was comfortable there. Erma didn't own a car, but all of life's conveniences were nearby. With her son, she visited Annapolis two summers ago and discovered the historic bayside town had its charms, too. "The people are so warm and friendly," she enthused.

Mother and son took a tour of Annapolis Towne Centre and the Mariner Bay Apartment building. When she was ushered into the first available one-bedroom apartment, Erma took one look and exclaimed, "That's it."

"The developers have to provide space for all tastes in this building," she said. "I like the way they designed the space. I love the diagonals."

Erma throws her door open wide. She is wearing a timeless chic black knit sheath with a tabbed hemline. The dress is accented with an abstract white corsage. The only color is her scarlet red lipstick.

Over her shoulder, we can see the sunlight filled apartment features 10-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows.

"I just love living here," said Erma, ushering us in.

Immediately, an umbrella stand created of what looks like stainless steel pick-up sticks captured in mid-air, catches the eye. Is it really an umbrella stand or is it modern art?

Once inside, the kitchen is the first stop. Beyond it is a living room area. The walls throughout the apartment are painted a pale shade of champagne. The carpeting and tile floors are also pale neutrals, acting as foils for Erma's dramatic black and white interior design theme.

The kitchen cabinetry is maple, its warmth offset by stainless steel appliances. The kitchen's rectangular island and countertops are sparkling black granite. Resembling a miniature modern art sculpture, a clear glass tray of black glass stemware perches expectantly on the island. It's ready for the next party. More elegant stemware and martini glasses are set artfully on a rolling wine cart parked alongside the refrigerator. Resting against the wall on the counter is a small piece of angular black and white art by Erma. Drawn by hand, it is a stylized take on the word "Fashion."

"I differentiate between decorating and design. Nothing here is haphazard," Erma stated. "I love the high ceilings and neutral tonal qualities of this place and use it as a canvas."

Erma purchased most of her furniture and accessories at Knoll, Herman Miller, Apartment Zero, Crate and Barrel, and Restoration Hardware. She found some frames at the National Gallery, where she often ate lunch and browsed for books.

The steel wire table topped with a round of glass was designed by the late Warren Platner for Knoll. A half-dozen dark red tulips are carefully arrayed in a sculptural glass vase atop the table.

The edgy-looking black chairs from Apartment Zero turn out to be surprisingly comfortable. The voluptuous, snow white couch was a purchase from a Domain Home Store - 35 years ago. It looks as new as the proverbial daisy. "I like the way it was traditional in some ways, but in other ways, it's very contemporary," noted Erma.

A small side table near the couch was selected because it reminded her of the architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Set atop it is a minimalist Spun table lamp designed by Sebastian Wrong in 2003.

Throughout the apartment there are framed sketches, paintings, lithographs and photos of architectural elements that she admired or that inspire her. One is a stark black-and-white photo of the underside of the Tour Eiffel in Paris, a favorite of hers. On one wall are two framed etchings of Roman columns, given to her by a friend who was traveling in Italy. An abstract stone head, sculpted by artist Marian Kreisman, rests on an antique trunk with brass hardware.

The color scheme continues in the bathroom. Gray and black patterned Marimeko towels are contrasted against black, white and a single red towel.

Next to the bathroom is Erma's closet. Normally, we don't talk about closets - but Erma has arranged hers like a minimalism art exhibit. On one rack, 26 hangers contain her entire wardrobe - mostly interchangeable black and white pieces. Another rack displays her four elegant hats. "When I put on one of my hats, I think of Marlene Dietrich," she said with a smile. She places one hat on her head and pulls the brim down low over one eye. Yes, very Marlene.

On a bookcase beneath the hat rack is a small nude sculpture by Erma. More of her sculptures and artworks are on display in the community clubhouse room. The one spot of color in the closet is in a single red-and-black silkscreened scarf tied to the hat rack.

It takes a moment to realize the next room is the bedroom.

"Everything I do is for a purpose," explains Erma. "I believe in a multi-functional space."

"I sleep here. I relax here. My office is here. I work here," she said. Her black day bed is her night bed, too. She makes it up every night and folds the linens away during the day. Erma also stashes away her computer and office materials when not in use inside a sleek black wooden cabinet.

The round shape of the small glass table in this room is echoed in an artwork on a side wall depicting a woman holding aloft a clear round globe. Below that is a small frame containing a beautiful pencil sketch of a young Greta Garbo created by Erma's son.

Several of her books featuring photography, fashion, art and art history are arrayed in a pair of V-shaped magazine racks, forming a large "W." More appear to be casually propped against a wall. But, there's a purpose. "I use angles a lot - to direct the eye," Erma pointed out.

The room has splashes of red - in a framed poster of a roaring '20s couple on a wall, a small throw rug, a red shawl on the bed, several art book covers, and a ruby glass dish on the table.

Clasping her hands together and gazing out at the vista of Annapolis, Erma exclaimed: "At night, I don't put the lights on. I can see the lights of the city."

"I love this place."