S. Dunn

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Blogging Baltimore Interior Design

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Interior design blogger Meg Fielding is not an interior designer, just a creative woman a little obsessed about houses–like a lot of us. Her Pigtown Design blog features musings on local, national and international design trends from antiques and architecture to textiles and entertaining. It’s not her day job (she works full-time as a development director) but it is her passion. 

Whether she’s cruising local second-hand shops for great finds–she has appeared on “The Nate Berkus Show” for her keen eye for finding just-the-right-thing–making a favorite recipe for a dinner party or showing guests Baltimore’s best architectural nooks and crannies, it’s all chronicled on the website. 

In the last month, readers have eagerly followed her move from Pigtown to Hickory Heights, a North Baltimore neighborhood closer to Roland Park, where she grew up. She wittily regales her devoted audience–she draws about 1,000 visits a day–with the thrill (wood floors beneath the carpet!) and agony (boxes!) of home ownership and keeps everyone up to date on how her beloved yellow lab Connor is adjusting to it all.

“It’s like having coffee every day with a good friend,” says one faithful reader, “but you can do it in your pajamas.”

What inspired you to start your blog?

I’d just moved back from the UK and was working in a soul-sucking job! I needed something creative in my life, and wanted to keep my writing and photography skills up to date, and had just discovered blogging. So I started one of my own, with no real concept of where it would lead.

Pigtown Design has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. I’ve met some of the most incredible people, here in Baltimore, and in New York, DC and London. I’ve had opportunities like being a guest on “The Nate Berkus Show” twice. It’s so humbling to know that people like Pigtown Design enough to take time out of their busy lives to read what I have to say.

Tell us about the Pigtown Design name.

I’d rented a little rowhouse in Pigtown (near Ravens Stadium) when I moved back to the states. I thought about a lot of different ideas for names for the blog, but realized that Pigtown Design was an eye-catching name, and for people who are from Baltimore, it was sort of an inside joke.

Where did you pick up your interest in interior design?

Initially I thought I’d like to be an architect, but realized that I didn’t have the chops to do it. I have always loved looking at buildings, and didn’t know about interior design (this was ages ago). My family’s house was classically decorated and very timeless, and my parents taught us about furniture, painting, silver, china and other things. I also visited a lot of historic houses when I was growing up, I guess I picked it up then.

How would you describe your design style?

You’re assuming I have a style!

I think that my style would be “rough luxe.” I have a lot of very nice things, like my Royal Copenhagen china and William Yeoward stemware, but then I have some industrial pieces like a commercial steel kitchen counter which I use as my desk, and two old doctors’ cabinets which are for storage. I have some old Oriental rugs and kilims that are pretty battered by age and incredible eiderdowns, Welsh blankets and French Ivory-handled silverware that I got in England and Wales when I lived there.

I learned to sew during the blizzard two winters ago, so have been making curtains and pillows for my new house and I even made a stuffed pig for my dog.

Where is the best place to get great, cheap finds?

I love to poke around because you never know what you’ll find and where you’ll find it. I’ve picked up gorgeous silver pieces at the Goodwill or Value Village, or at yard sales. But two people could go into the same store at the exact time, and one person would find the treasure and the other would not even see it. It’s more about educating your eye to find great cheap things than going to any specific location.

Also, I love going to yard sales, thrift shops at churches and hospitals and old junk shops. I’ve even been known to stop an old pick-up truck piled with junk to get a piece that I spot! In England, I loved going to “car boot” sales, where people lined up in fields selling junk from the trunk or boot of their cars!

Where to you shop for inexpensive antiques? Expensive antiques?

Local auction houses like Opfer, Coopers or Woodwards are great places to pick up some inexpensive pieces. Brown wood furniture isn’t selling well these days, so you can pick up a nice dresser for about ten dollars. And because it’s so inexpensive, you won’t have any qualms about painting it! At auctions, you can get up close and personal with a piece before you bid on it. You can heft it, examine it, pull open the drawers, turn it upside-down and even sit on it!

I love Gore-Dean for expensive antiques. They have a great selection of stunning pieces, and their new location in Cross Keys is beautiful. Even if you can’t afford expensive antiques, visit places where they’re sold, so you learn what’s good, what’s better and what’s best.

What is your favorite shelter store in Baltimore?

Hands down, it’s Halcyon House in the Greenspring Valley. I could just move right in there. There’s nothing in the shop that I wouldn’t love in my house. The owners, Stiles Colwill and Jonathan Gargiulo, have an unerring vision for what they want in the shop. From John Robshaw prints and pillows to extraordinary Maryland silver, everything’s amazing. I always take out of town design/decorator friends there!

I also adore David Wiesand’s little shop and atelier, McLain-Wiesand, in Mount Vernon. He collects and sells beautiful things, as well as making custom furniture and lighting. He’s such a huge talent.

Who are your favorite national decorators?

Some of the well known ones like Bunny Williams and Alexa Hampton are favorites. Their rooms feel like they’re personal and warm. I like Rita Konig, who is Nina Campbell’s daughter, and who writes for The Wall Street Journal’s “Off Duty” section. She has a fun design sensibility, mixing pieces from her London and New York sources and making it look effortless. Grant Gibson in San Francisco does beautiful work and is getting a lot of national recognition from the shelter magazines.

Who are your favorite local decorators?

That’s a funny question to me… I really am not involved in the local design community. I know some decorators personally, but haven’t seen enough of their work to comment. Of course, Stiles Colwill and Patrick Sutton are two of the very best, and they both do exceptional projects. More along the lines of mere mortals like me are Stephanie who owns The House Downtown in Belvedere Square, and Christopher Howarth who just has private clients.

Which design blogs do you read?

From the very beginning, I’ve read Style Court and the Peak of Chic. They got me started on blogging and were a big inspiration. I love Mrs. Blandings who is an amazing writer. I love Little Green Notebook because she not only decorates, she makes things. There are a few guy blogs that I love to read, like Maxminimus out of Alexandria. He’s hilarious. House of Beauty & Culture out of London has a totally different viewpoint on design and décor and always has something that I’ve never seen.

I love finding new blogs because it makes me realize that there are so many talented people out there.


Mixing Good Genes with Good Jeans

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Mother of four and Gran to 13, Sandra Naylor looked not at all grandmotherly at the Roland Park Fourth of July Parade on Monday. The spry septuagenarian sported patriotic colors cutting an impressive form in her summer-appropriate white jeans. “I didn’t look good in white jeans at age 17,” said one deflated onlooker.  Clearly she’s genetically blessed.

She’s more inspiring than fireworks any day–makes us want to break out and chant: “USA! USA!”

 

 

Your Comments and Recommended Reading

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After reading “Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup” yesterday (which quickly became our most read story ever) by Bohemian Rhapsody columnist Marion Winik, another BFB writer and Hot House columnist Cynthia McIntyre suggested we recommend to you, dear reader, “How To Land Your Kid In Therapy,” from The Atlantic Monthly. “It addresses what lots of us have been thinking as we look around at kids (other people’s, naturally). Best line? ‘Our children are not our masterpieces…'” Cynthia wrote in her email to us.  I proudly reported back to her that associate editor Rachel Monroe already wrote a post on the article last week. 

Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody, the column regularly generates some of our favorite comments from you, like this one from Mary about “Scrabble, and Other Secret Languages.”

“Nobody plays Scrabble or works the NY Times crossword unless they are driven to it.  My sister can’t wait for me to set down my suitcase when I ‘go home’ before she gets out her deluxe board.  After many years of regularly losing to her, I’ve decided there are two kinds of Scrabble players: competitors (my sis and my late husband who I once discovered upstairs in the bedroom reading  a dictionary just before a family match) and nice guys (suckers like myself who plunk down low-count words to keep the board spread out and open in case we get enough letters to make a high-point word).  I’m going to work on those two-letter words before my summer trip home.” 

You are were greatly moved, too, by “Where are the Coffee Shops” by Rachel Monroe.  We especially liked this practical response from Andrew Hazlett:

“In recent years I’ve spent many a day trying to get work done in Hampden while our car gets serviced at Brentwood. It’s a wifi desert! There are plenty of other places in other neighborhoods that fit the bill for coffee-fueled freelance work, but Hampden seems to be missing an opportunity here. Most people who will sit and spend a few hours working understand they have to ‘pay their way’ in purchases, so I don’t understand why Hampden seems reluctant to add this crucial service to good customers.”

Hampden, take note.

And lastly, this insightful comment from chirper47 about “Do Extroverts Really Have More Fun?” by senior editor Betsy Boyd:

“I had a friend with a child at a local girls private school who was told that she should hold back her child a year because the child was shy. Huh? Since when does that warrant an extra year in school? Lately, shyness has been looked upon as a pathology.  Weird. Not everyone can be the life of the party, thank God. Wouldn’t that be an obnoxious world?”

Thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSA Results: Which do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

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The good news: Statewide, more elementary and middle school students performed at levels proficient or better in reading and math on the Maryland School Assessment this year, according to data released by the Maryland State Department of Education. 

Baltimore County did particularly well with over 85 percent of county elementary and middle school students scoring at proficient or above in reading and 80 percent in math. Howard County beat them all, registering the highest percentages of proficiency–nearly 90 percent– in reading and math at almost all grade levels in the state.

The bad news: Baltimore City schools saw declines this year. Scores fell from 72.4 percent proficiency to 69 percent proficiency in reading and from 66.3 percent proficiency to 61.4 percent proficiency in math.  What’s worse, some of the city schools had the worst performances in the state.

“I am enormously dissatisfied with these results. Any time we fall short of our students’ full potential and we take a step back, it is unacceptable,” said Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore city schools. 

Fort Washington Elementary, which was recently cited for altered test scores in 2009 and 2010, saw percentages drop 20 points. Was the drop completely attributable to the cheating?

The big picture: Across the board, it’s not all bad. Scores have risen significantly in every school district since 2003. And across the state more students are performing at advanced levels. But it’s a disappointment to see Baltimore City lag behind. Whether you live in Baltimore City or not, the metropolitan region gets painted with a broad brush and poor test scores define us as a culture. We want to see Baltimore City kids earn higher scores for their own morale and sense of self worth, and because these basic scores indicate how well the system is serving them.

We hate to be that guy in the room fixated on what isn’t rather than what is, but sometimes, we need that kind of energy to turn things around. The improved results for the state only magnify Baltimore City’s disappointing results.

 

Seven Baltimore County Schools Among Best in the Nation Says Newsweek.com

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Newsweek.com named seven Baltimore County public schools among the top 500 public schools in the nation. In order of ranking, the schools were Eastern Technical High School (no. 131), Hereford High School (no. 219 and alma mater of Baltimore Fishbowl intern Marta Randall), the Carver Center (no. 232), Pikesville High (no. 388), Towson High (no. 413) and Dulaney Valley High (no. 446). The schools rankings were based on graduation rate, average SAT score, average AP exam score, and the percentage of students who go on to college, among other statistics. Results reflect data from the 2009-2010 school year. Newsweek.com reached out to over 10,000 schools to compile the final list.

Individual data lines up the schools differently. Take average SAT scores, for example. As reported on newsweek.com, they were Towson, first, with 1742 (out of a perfect 2400); Hereford: 1686; Dulaney: 1672; Carver: 1654; Eastern: 1623; Loch Raven: 1573 and Pikesville: 1539.

In Maryland, the highest ranking school was in Poolesville High School in Montgomery County which ranked 64th in the nation (SAT average: 1828). The next highest was Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, which came in at number 91 (average SAT of 1824). The two Montgomery County high schools were the only two Maryland schools in the top 100 and featured in Newsweek magazine–the others were featured online at newsweek.com only.

Private School Tuition’s Steady Climb

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The Wall Street Journal reported this week that private school tuition at New York City private school will top $40,000 next year, more than many Ivy League universities’ tuitions. Baltimore’s private school tuition, which averages around $23,000 seems like a bargain by comparison.  

Local area private schools typically increase tuition three to five percent annually. In the past decade, tuition has increased about fifty percent as schools have expanded programs, renovated buildings, and took on capital improvements. 

Upper school tuition at Boys Latin is $22,520, at Gilman $24,340, at Bryn Mawr $24,630, at Friends $22,735, at Park $24,470, at Garrison Forest $23,350, at McDonogh $23,370, at St. Paul’s 22,970.  St. Paul’s School for Girls took the unusual step of actually lowering tuition for the 2011-12 year from $23,200 to $22,950.

After the economic collapse in 2008, most local private schools barely raised tuition and there was talk around town of shrinking endowments, drops in enrollment and mass firings of teachers, but those fears were largely unrealized. 

The schools emphasize that it costs much more than the tuition price to educate each child. The difference is made up in parent and alumni donations and endowment earnings.  All local private schools offer financial aid too. At most schools, that benefits about 20 to 25 percent of the students. One admissions officer guesses another 10 percent receive family financial aid, where grandparents or some other relative pay for tuition.

So roughly sixty percent are paying full-freight. Doesn’t that leave the schools a little economically lopsided? 

“All the schools would like to have more economic diversity no question,” said one board member from of a Baltimore private boys school who wished to remain anonymous. “No one likes to see these high costs for tuition.” Although the schools receive few complaints about the price he said.

Is it worth it? If one expects a trophy college admission at the end of the experience, it’s probably not a great investment. Locally, only about 10 percent of private school graduates go on to an Ivy League school. But is that the ultimate measure of an education? 

 

Food Trucks Prevail!

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The city and the food truckers yesterday reached an agreement that includes parking restrictions and clearly displayed permits for the trucks as well as food zones between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. Here are the food zone locations:

• The 500 block of St. Paul Place and St. Paul Street, on the east side of the street — one space at each location, for a total of two trucks.

• The 1900 block of East Monument Street, on the south side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 500 block of Baltimore Street, on the south side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 300 block of South Charles Street, on the west side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 500 block of East Fayette Street, on the north side of the street — three trucks at this location.

Food truck operators will also be allowed to diverge from those five locations as long as they follow all other regulations, including staying away from restaurants and displaying the proper parking permit.

Food Truck Fever

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Miss Shirley’s, the popular lunch and breakfast spot in Roland Park, the Inner Harbor and Annapolis, is jumping on the food truck bandwagon June 1. This comes as surprising news, given the latest dust-ups between local food trucks and city officials. But the foodies at Miss Shirley’s remain undaunted. “We decided to venture into having a food truck because we believe we have a unique concept and there is a strong following now in Baltimore of food trucks,” says Jen McIllwain, marketing manager for Miss Shirley’s. More power to ‘em. Bring those sweet potato fries to the masses! (BTW, become a fan of Miss Shirley’s on Facebook and get a coupon for free sweet potato fries!)

The food truck craze started in Los Angeles right after the recession hit when two enterprising, young, experienced chefs, newly unemployed, put their heads together to whip up their gourmet treats, pack them on trucks and serve to office workers during the day and club kids and bar patrons late at night, all at budget prices. Truck location was revealed each day on Twitter and Facebook.

The fad was a hit and soon took hold in New York, Portland, Washington, D.C. and others. Baltimore’s Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon is in its second year. Gypsy Queens started late last year and Souper Freak in March, to name a few. 

It would be great if this national trend took hold in Baltimore, but we are entering into the fray in the aftermath of other cities and the progression goes something like this: Act I – Great chefs with little money take their show on the road and gain a following. Act II – Restaurants call foul with the lack of regulation and oversight of these upstarts and urge to have them stopped. Act III – Local legislators get involved and push-back on the truck scene, making it tough for the little guy to hang in there.  

We are already seeing the beginning of Act II with city officials barring trucks from parking within 300 feet of restaurants and more regulation. For its part, Miss Shirley’s is playing it smart by using private lots when traveling with goodies in the city and will also park its truck in the food truck-friendly county.

The city’s Street Vendors Board will try to resolve these issues when it meets on June 1. That’s the day Miss Shirley’s starts its truck engine. Maybe it should try to win the board over with some of those sweet potato fries.

 

Co-Ed Sleepovers for Teens: Yea or Nay?

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Last night I asked a friend with a daughter who is a junior in high school if she would talk to me about the co-ed sleepover phenomenon for the fishbowl. Here’s what I got in response:

So, prom is Saturday and my daughter has tried on her dress about 45 times–not sure the zipper is going to last!  “Plans” (we should really sit down and talk about what this word means) are still evolving for the post-post-prom, although we have said “no way in hell” to the co-ed sleepover.  I mean, really?  So, maybe “Zoe” is going to have a sleepover, but just girls.  (Again, really?  How dumb do I look?)  So hard to know the right thing to do here!  Many of those on the brave frontier who have gone before us have allowed their kids to attend/crash/hang at the post-post-prom co-ed sleepover.  Are we shriveled up dinosaurs who have forgotten how to have fun?  Or are we a few of the handful left who are willing to be unpopular with our kids??  We have actually sent an email, tonight, to the Maryland Department of Transportation to find out if a provisional license holder (such as most high school juniors and many seniors) can use the exception of “official school event” to get out of the driving curfew to come home after the post-post-prom party by him or herself at 4 in the morning… 

“Don’t you trust me?”  These words sting coming from my daughter’s sincere face.  “Of course we trust you.”  What else can we say?  We do.  And yet, there is something about the co-ed sleepover that just does not sit right.  When she pushes for an explanation, the best I can answer, in all sincerity, is that I think it is “inappropriate.”  Do I know that teenagers can have sex whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I know that teenagers can drink and get drunk whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I think these are the choices she is making?  No, I do not.  So what is different about the hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. this Saturday night?  I don’t know.  But my instinct is that, at least for us, the answer is still no.  The best I can tell her is that parenting is just a chain of thousands of tiny decisions, all made with her best interest at heart, and this one is no exception. 

My husband says the co-ed sleepover is a playground for the devil, and that teenage boys and girls having a sleepover is an abdication of a basic parenting responsibility–to keep them safe, and protected.  If you are not going to say no to that what are you going to say no to?  Ignoring the obvious hyperbole, these comments and questions all resonate until I hear that my dear friend, so and so, whom I really like and respect, is HOSTING the co-ed sleepover!!  What??  Who is right and who is wrong?  Or like so many other things on this wild, fantastical journey, is there room for both of us to do it our own way, and be right?  That’s the space that feels comfortable for us, so that is where we land.  I don’t know what works for other families, but this year, this prom, my daughter will be coming home.

Radcliffe Jewelers is Our Launch Sponsor

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Thanks to Radcliffe Jewelers for being the launch sponsor of Baltimore Fishbowl.  We couldn’t make the site work without advertisers. (I can practically hear all the old media types groaning.) We are grateful to Radcliffe for being willing to be part of the adventure. We’ll be trying out some new ideas with Radcliffe, like videos and sponsored posts, so stay tuned.  

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