A Feeling of Wonder and Appreciation in Baltimore

by Annie Werbler

Two years ago after finding herself while traveling the world, Susanna-Cole King decided to revisit her roots in Baltimore, MD. When she moved into her flat in an 1870s Greek Revival row house — “a mansion sliced into apartments” — after extensive traveling, she started out living with her pared-down belongings and new additions from friends and family members. In order to make it feel like home (read more about what that means in her essay contest entry), Susanna began collecting historical objects, learning their stories, and preserving them. In the present day, “There’s immense suffering in this city,” she reflects. “I look at it and see it as a lot of people hurting, and the potential to grow better together. I believe in being present in a community, being a neighbor to the people you want to care for.”

Susanna wanted her home, a veritable cabinet of curiosities, to give guests the feeling of “embracing you in its warmth.” In her space, Susanna prefers for people “to feel uninhibited to probe about all the memories and history and stories woven throughout.” Though her place is unlike any other, Susanna still feels a twinge of envy every time she stumbles upon another home with desirable features. “Then I get in my car,” she says, “And drive around Baltimore, through gritty makeshift encampments under concrete, moldy couches on curbs, men with sunken cheeks, and blistered palms held heavenward, ghosting down the crooked rows of rush hour, with their cloaks of damp bedspreads, and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with gratefulness that I even have a home.” Susanna recognizes that many people in the city have lost their homes, and this coming-to recalibrates her appreciation for having a permanent roof over her head, especially one that offers itself as a canvas for creativity.

You can read more beautiful, original words on Susanna-Cole’s Keepsake Home over at Apartment Therapy. —Annie

Photography by Lindsay Anne Belliveau

A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
The salon-style wall in Susanna-Cole King's Baltimore, MD living room is composed of art she collected in a desk drawer for its eventual creation, years before she had the wall on which to hang it. "The Easter poster is from the 1920s, salvaged from a church in east Baltimore," she says. "I happen to believe in both salvation and salvaging."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Susanna loves having plants around, but without a green thumb, “the graveyard of almost-dead plants” has unfortunately grown on the fire escape. "The snake plant on the left is one of the scarce few that has thrived despite my terribly unstable watering schedule," she shares. "It's planted in a 1920s biscuit tin that was missing the lid."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Prints by female artists and photos of Susanna's grandparents are woven into the arrangement.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Pillows and floor cushions from travels in India.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
A framed print by A. Aubrey Bodine, local photographer for the Baltimore Sun newspaper from the 1920s to 1970s, and the side table is an IKEA reproduction of a 1950s design. "Leave it to me, to find the one 'vintage' thing in all of IKEA," Susanna says, "Like a bloodhound on the scent of mid-century."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Susanna collects 1930s-40s linen postcards, and ponders the lives they describe. "Were they lost, or did their relatives let them go? Throw them away? Abandon them in a web of dust?" she wonders. "Maybe some of them were too painful to keep. But I read their dated slang like a soothing balm, keep these pieces of other folks’ lives in a 1920s suitcase."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Vintage typewriter ribbon tins hang on the wall.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
An embroidered tapestry above a multipurpose bookcase was purchased at Susanna's favorite night market in Luang Prabang, Laos.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Vintage games in the bookshelf, including an auto-bridge game from the 1950s that Susanna is using to learn from. "I’m intrigued by the legacy of the game, of being a game so many of our grandparents played and swore was the greatest card game," she adds. "I like that it’s more strategic than luck."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Most of Susanna's favorite literature and poetry from the 1930s to the 60s was banged out on a typewriter. It makes her feel closer to those writers to keep that tradition alive.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
In the dining room, a 1930s fan was challenging to rewire, but blows air colder than air conditioning. Susanna sent a photo to the original owner of her 1960s cabinet once it was lovingly filled with all her treasures.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
A 1920s Coronada console radio displays a collection of antique industrial bobbins.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Cotton branches stuffed in a 1930s Art Deco coffee pot, "because I strangely do not own a single vase," Susanna admits.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
A 1940s movie theater placard and a 1920s receipt holder, used in general stores.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Susanna covered the seat of her grandfather’s chair in an 89-cent dishtowel from IKEA. "Sometimes you just make do with what you have," she explains. The 1950s Victrola, for now, is non-functioning, but Susanna is trying to repair it with identical parts.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
A 1920s tennis racket, her grandmother’s photos, and postcards beside a tin lightswitch plate from Mexico.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Susanna stained the kitchen island top to tie into the warmer tones of vintage canning labels and other kitchen decor.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
The lack of counter space in the kitchen, called out by the hanging 1940s “standing room only" movie theater placard.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Growing up in a home where the refrigerator was also an art gallery, Susanna covered hers in a roll of floral wrapping paper and magnets.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
On the bedroom wall hangs one of Susanna's grandmother’s hats, alongside her grandparents' pictures in front of their 1949 DeSoto.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
The serving dish on the bedroom dresser was a housewarming gift, used as a catch-all for earrings, bobby pins, and other small items.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
A working Rolleiflex and a mix of vintage and souvenir boxes, tins, and bottles.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
"This is how my sister and I kept our dressers as kids, just an absolute array of knick-knacks."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
Garments from travels hang on the bedroom closet doors. The lehenga and choli were purchased in Rajasthan, India, and Susanna appreciates their beauty by displaying them here.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
"I collect vintage roller skate cases, but only ones with stickers. This one has identical paper lining to the 1920s suitcase that holds postcards in my living room."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
The cedar bookcases were custom built by Rusty Serigne. "I’d always dreamed of just putting up a cot in a bookstore and a library and sleeping amongst the stacks, and now I feel like I do," Susanna says.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
This old rotary phone still works, on a stool beside the bed. The small space between bed and wall make finding a table for the spot difficult.
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
"The 1940s roller skate case is one of my favorite finds - there are old college stickers on absolutely every side, including the back and inside."
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
An enlarged print of a 1950s flash card tells students, “The funds will be used to buy books. The money will be used to buy books.”
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
"What I love most about my home is the light, the history, and dreaming amongst the books." - Susanna-Cole King
A Feeling of Wonder in Baltimore, on Design*Sponge
The layout of the 700-square-foot Baltimore rowhouse apartment.

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  • There are a lot of thoughtful little touches in this place, but the thing that charmed me most is the cotton on the table! It’s so gentle and subtle as a centerpiece — definitely something I’m going to try in my own home!

    • I can’t take credit for that one! I saw it online or in an interior design book a while ago, and was obsessed with having an arrangement of just cotton branches ever since then. Of course, living in Baltimore city, buying cotton in that raw of a form isn’t a walk in the park, but I was lucky that one day when I was walking along and coincidentally thinking of it again, I popped in a local shop and there, right in the center: cotton!

      • I have some cotton that a guest who visited our farm brought back to the house. I placed it into an old stainless steel measuring vessel that came from my husband’s family winery. The arrangement is not as elegant as yours but it is rustic and authentic and a talking piece. I’m so impressed how one so young has such an appreciation of history and humanity and is so gifted at arranging their space in such a beautiful and personal way.

        • What a lovely way to remember a guest and a memory of a visit. Rustic and authentic is good! I will often take that, over something traditionally beautiful and without blemish.

          Thank you so much for your warm words, that is very generous of you to say! I’m really touched to have people react so positively to my home.

  • Love! And I so much relate to being drawn to older objects after traveling… then “settling down stateside” and not exactly being drawn to brand new things without history. Although- sometimes those things are fun as well :) Wonderfully curated! Thanks so much for sharing Susana and DS!

  • This is one of my favorite interiors I’ve seen on this site. It’s not just beautiful, but completely authentic and everything seems so thoughtfully placed– even if it does look scattered in some places.

      • Oh, you guys! You’re making me blush over here. Thank you so much!

        Mert, one of the things I love about reading comments on Design*Sponge, is that for almost every sneak peak or house feature, there’s someone who says “this is one of my favorites I’ve ever seen!” and it makes me happy that there’s something for everybody, and even though home can feel so intimate, there’s others who can appreciate what you’ve done with it too. ^_^

  • I love the amount of thought that was put into objects brought into the home, truly a collection of curiosities, and a really interesting way to approach building a home. I especially adore the refrigerator and the collection of typewriter ribbon tins!

  • I always LOVE the beautiful interior shots on DS; especially when these more intimate detailed shots are scattered in. But I am desperately curious to what the exterior of all these homes look like. It would be awesome to see more of those included!


    • I understand your curiosity, as I’ve often wondered this with other people’s homes! However, I can at least attest for myself, that living in a city, in a rowhouse in which no other rowhouse is exactly alike, publicly posting an exterior, potentially isn’t much different than handing out my home address for all the web. Or maybe it’s just that I know this city so well, that despite it being home to hundreds of thousands of rowhouses (more than any other American city), I can basically pinpoint the neighborhood just from seeing an exterior shot. Some people may be comfortable with it, but previously when I had blogs with large-ish (well, that’s relative, not Design*Sponge large, but with 75,000 or so subscribed readers across them), I definitely dealt with some very creepy, unwanted attention, on occasions. It’s unlikely that anyone reading Design*Sponge would want to figure out my actual home address, but I think it’s best to veer on the cautious side, and maybe some of the other renters/homeowners that have been featured here feel the same. :)

      • Susanna

        You’re definitely not alone in terms of the exterior shots- I feel the same way about my own home and would never push anyone to share an exterior unless they felt 100% comfortable with it. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts- and your home- with us here today.


        • Very true! I never thought of it like that and can completely understand your desire for privacy in this digital, viral and voyeuristic age. (What a combo!)

          I have to echo Grace’s comment- Thank you for sharing. It’s the different homes, stories and perspectives that make me come back to Design*Sponge!


  • A true lover of vintage for sure! Every cranny, nook, and spot has something with a history in it. How rich. This is definitely one of those “if I were single and on my own” type of places that exist in my head. I’m not sure I could keep my marbles in the kitchen, though, but I always look at the pictures before the story, so when I went on to read how you remind yourself that you still have so much, I felt some shame in my thinking.

    • Oh, I’ve literally set things on fire as a direct result of how cramped the counter space (or lack of counter space) is in my kitchen is (e.g. having nowhere else to put a dishtowel for a moment but between two eyes of the stove in use, and then accidentally bumping the towel into one of the flames, while turning to stir something on the other eye). I’ll confess, it can drive me a bit bananas, I do after all cook all my food from scratch, but I’m fortunate that the kitchen opens to the dining room and the table definitely doubles as my food prep space. That table bears the scars of some seriously messy cooking, projects, etc (I’m about the 4th or 5th owner of it), but I make do. :)

      Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your thoughts and for taking a look around my home.

  • So nice to see the home attached to the essay ( I chose it as my favorite). A beautiful and warm home! I love old things too and think about the object’s history & previous owners. My favorite is an old lamp shade w/a sticker of a slug on it, every time I turn it on I think about kid (I’m guessing) who put it on there.
    I also love seeing where things once made esp. the USA stuff and think about the people who worked in the factories. Thanks for sharing Susanna!

    • A very belated thanks for choosing my essay as your favorite in the contest, I’m touched and so thankful to have it resonate with people.

      Picturing your lamp shade with a slug sticker really made me smile! Thanks for sharing that, I love hearing little bits from other’s lives and what things are special to them in their home. :)