The outside of the Ednor Gardens rowhome owned by Ed Istwan and Kim Domanski is as quiet and idyllic as its neighbors, on a narrow street sheltered by mature trees on the cusp of Baltimore City’s urban core. Inside, though, the house is a riot of color and style, an homage to all things artistic, free-spirited and joyful.
“We’re both happy people who love to laugh. I like to smile when I walk through the door,” says Domanski, when asked to describe their design style. “And everything here has a story.”
Istwan, 38, and Domanski, 37, met in 1994 when they were pursuing their master’s degrees at the Maryland Institute College of Art. They’ve been roommates ever since. Istwan is now a visual merchandiser at IKEA’s headquarters in Philadelphia and Domanski works for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Both are deeply entrenched in the local art scene and fill their home with pieces that reflect their creative eye. “If there’s one thing I know, it’s that everything we have in our house we love,” says Istwan.
When the pair purchased the circa-1929 rowhouse in 2000, they restored the home to its original bone structure, replacing windows, for example, and removing a pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room that broke up the small space and detracted from its functionality. When it came time to decorate, it was all about color. The entryway and stairs are a bright yellow-green, the bedrooms are Kelly green and a deep pink-red while the bathroom is turquoise.
“The color scheme is inspired by a TV test pattern,” Istwan explains. “They are bright colors that pop, but aren’t overwhelming or Crayola-esque, like something you’d see in a kid’s room.”
The home’s eclectic furnishings and artwork are the result of years of collecting. Istwan and Domanski haunt thrift shops, consignment stores, estate sales and auctions in search of treasures for their home. Although Istwan says their style is “not modern with a capital M,” the pair do like the clean lines and organic shapes epitomized by mid-century modern design, visible in their choice of a dining room set created by Warren Platner, a Baltimore native who worked for Knoll Products. The set was the pair’s first major furniture investment, bought on eBay.
“We couldn’t find a pendent light to go with the dining room,” says Domanski. “Everything was a stereotype, like flying saucer in shape.” Instead, Istwan made one by weaving together electrical zip ties. Despite this very modern sensibility, there are surprises in this home, too, like a collection of needlepoint pillows and an Americana circus sign.
Istwan confesses to a love of all things modular. The house has a modular sofa. There are modular bookshelves that practically glow when their collection of Swedish glass lamps are switched on. There are even modular candlesticks from the 1960s on the dining room table that are so intricate they resemble a piece of sculpture.
Istwan formerly worked for the American Visionary Art Museum, and both he and Domanski have a passion for “outsider” art. Istwan’s bedroom wall currently exhibits a series by Jenny Holzer (known for her large-scale projections) called “Truisms;” Domanski has a to-scale Christmas tree at the foot of her bed by Gary Kachadourian. And because the pair is always on the hunt for new pieces, the house is constantly changing and evolving. A Robert Longo print a guest recalls from the dining room might be in the bedroom on the next visit, or a chair could be whisked off to the basement and replaced by an 18th-century wardrobe.
“We call the basement ‘the stockroom,’ and we borrow from it heavily,” Istwan quips. For example, for years the pair had a basement full of the 125 black picture frames that Istwan bought at an outlet for a dollar apiece. When they bought a salesman’s display book for Kosta Boda glass from the 1920s at auction, the frames fulfilled their destiny, creating a beautiful black and white series on the home’s stairway.
Not surprisingly, Istwan and Domanski utilize IKEA designs in the décor.
“We love IKEA textiles,” Domanski explains, pointing in particular to the many rugs in the home, the bright, graphic Marimekko fabric window treatments and throw pillows. In the living room they used IKEA fabric laminated onto plastic panels to create an accent wall and matching IKEA ceiling fixtures hang over their beds. “I love the big graphic prints. They just make you smile,” says Istwan.
“I think IKEA is a great resource for functional solutions,” he continues. The home features an IKEA kitchen and Istwan and Domanski share a built-in wardrobe made by the company as well. By sharing the storage space for their clothes and stashing it in Istwan’s office, they free themselves of the need for bureaus in their bedrooms. This, they say, is a key to maintaining order in a small house that could easily be overwhelmed with art and collectibles.
“We rotate our things often to keep clutter and mess down and we have hard-working spaces, like the wall of clothing in the office and having all our books on one wall,” Istwan explains.
If there is one thing in the house that is what Istwan calls “design with a capital D,” it is the deck, created with the help of friend Andrew Yff, a custom welder and artist, and Janet Bardzic, a neighbor. Istwan wanted to channel the Herman Miller-designed Nelson Platform bench (introduced in 1946 and a staple of contemporary design ever since) in deck form. The new deck embraces that same slatted style and multiplies the duo’s living and entertaining space.
Istwan and Domanski find it impossible to think of their home as complete. There’s a dishwasher to install, artwork to shuffle around, and perhaps one day they’ll tear out that old fireplace. And there’s always something new and tempting on eBay. “When you talk about ‘interior design,’ it usually sounds like there should be a period at the end of the sentence and it’s over. For us, design is a rolling thing,” says Istwan. “I love that we’ve made it so personal,” adds Domanski. “You can look at shelter magazines and never see that people live there. I hope people sense that we enjoy living here.”