Carol Vargo of Gray Antiques and Interiors
Gray Antiques and Interiors is a Baltimore based antiques and interiors firm founded by Carol Vargo in 2015. The former DC health care lobbyist has generated a strong following for her unique eye for those one of a kind antique and vintage pieces that create personal and layered interiors. With clients ranging from Boston, New York and DC to Charlotte, San Diego and in between, including the Dallas and DC shops of style mavens Sid and Ann Mashburn, her home base in Baltimore has influenced her unique style. Here she shares her favorite places in Charm City.
What I Love About Baltimore: Baltimore is the perfect blend of old school and new. There are gorgeous historic neighborhoods and museums designed by the most noted historic figures (Olmstead, Pope) along with a vibrant new scene of commerce (UnderArmour), a creative class that rivals New York, and is home to the academic and health care powerhouse Johns Hopkins. Perfectly situated on the water, it is a true sailing mecca, but also boasts beautiful countryside. Given the size of our city, everything is accessible and affordable. And if you do crave a bit more excitement, we are just an Amtrak ride to DC to the South and Philadelphia, New York and New England to the North. For getaways, Maryland’s Eastern Shore beckons. In short, we are the perfect city to enjoy the finer things in life at a relaxed pace.
Favorite Neighborhoods: My favorite neighborhood in the heart of the city is Mount Vernon- Home to the Washington Monument, the Walters Art Gallery, and gorgeous beaux art mansions that rival the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Mt Vernon Square boasts beautiful beaux art mansions. Many now are apartments or co-ops.
The heart of Mt. Vernon, with our own Washington Monument. At Christmas there is a monument lighting festival not to be missed.
To the North are the leafy city suburbs of Roland Park (my neighborhood), Homeland and Guilford. Roland Park is one of the nation’s oldest planned “garden suburbs” and is gem of a neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. in 1897. Wide tree-lined lanes, beautiful green spaces, and gorgeous architecture ranging from classic shingle style to stone and stucco manses. True old school, where kids still walk to school, bike to the community pool, and shop on account at Eddie’s, our local family owned market.
Quintessential Roland Park architecture
This Tudor structure in Roland Park was built in the early 1900s and was the nation’s first “shopping center.” In the 1950s and 1960s it housed Morgan’s Drug Store with an old fashioned soda fountain. My mother-in law hung out at the “The Morgue,” as it was known, as a teenager after school. Today it houses Petit Louis Bistro, a favorite haunt for glass of rose and steak frites.
Design, Architecture and Antiques: Baltimore is a great place for antiques and design. MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, in the Bolton Hill neighborhood has an excellent design program and is a draw for many creative artists to Baltimore.
MICA Main Building
MICA Entry Hall
The great decorator Billy Baldwin was born in Roland Park and spent many hours at our museums as a child before heading to Princeton and then onto New York. He went on to decorate for legends including Cole Porter, Bunny Mellon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Diana Vreeland. His sophisticated and elegant style looms large in Baltimore.
Billy Baldwin chic in the 1960s
Despite being old school, we also embrace the new. The architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen created modern housing in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood in 1968. Mies Van der Rohe designed a condominium building near the JHU campus. Fans of House of Cards (shot entirely in Baltimore by the way) will recognize its lobby filling in for Washington swank. But guess what, it is in Baltimore!)
Given the history of Baltimore and its wealthy, well-traveled residents, there are gorgeous antiques and vintage midcentury pieces at auctions and estate sales. I am always finding great treasures for clients or myself that are overlooked by friends to the North and South of us.
Auction Love- This lovely gilt French chandelier came home with me and now graces the breakfast room at my home on Somerset Road
Another auction acquisition is this vintage burlwood campaign style credenza by furniture manufacturer John Widdicomb, which became known for its midcentury design under the direction of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings and George Nakashima in the 40s and 50s. It now resides in the living room at Somerset Road.
Favorite Haunts: I adore spending time in museums and gardens and Baltimore has wonderful and world class options that one frequently has all to themselves when they visit.
Ladew Gardens: Established in the Baltimore Countryside in 1929 by wealthy Manhattanite Harvey Ladew, the grounds and the 22 distinct gardens of Ladew are a true treasure. The topiaries are not to be missed. Each spring there is a garden show with antiques, garden objects, and rare plant vendors from all over the Northeast. I hope to show there next spring.
Iconic Ladew Garden Topiaries. Photo from Ladew Gardens
Topiaries from the fabulous Atlock Farms at the Ladew Garden Festival held each spring.
Baltimore Museum of Art: Designed by venerable architect John Russell Pope in the 1920s on land donated by Johns Hopkins University, the BMA has a vast collection of art and antiquities. A new Contemporary Wing was unveiled in 2012. The sculpture garden is a must visit, with works by Rodin, Moore, and Calder. I often just pop in for a mind refresh. Not to be missed is the Matisse Diebenkorn Exhibit which runs from October 23rd to January 29th. The Museum is free to all which cannot be said of many of its well-known peers.
Classic John Russell Pope
My favorite: Henry Moore in the Sculpture Garden
Sailing: Sailing is a bit of a must here. My father-in- law attended the Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis and my husband grew up sailing. Alas, we do not have a boat (besides, friends with boats are better effort wise!) I live vicariously through Adam Podbielski, a local architect and Baltimore native with a passion for sailing out of the Baltimore Downtown Sailing Club, where my boys spent many summer camps. His IG account @adam.c.p is one of my local favorites. As Adam notes, although Annapolis ardently defends its title as America's sailing capital, Baltimore has something that many Chesapeake Bay towns lack - deep water, and lots of it. Not having to worry about grounding your keel throughout most of our scenic harbor is a huge plus. Add to that a great group of friendly and enthusiastic sailors, and Baltimore easily earns its title as one of the sailing world's best kept secrets. Besides, where else can you sail past a flag-painted buoy marking the spot that Francis Scott Key penned his little diddy?
“Races in Baltimore’s Harbor” Photo by Adam Podbielski
Equestrian Life: The countryside of Baltimore has a long history of a center for equestrian life. The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown event, was first run in 1873. There are also numerous Steeplechases each spring and fall out in the countryside, which are a much more civilized way to enjoy the best of the horse racing scene, preferably while tailgating out of your vintage Woodie with a Southside.
Tailgate style at the My Lady’s Manor Steeplechase
Where to Stay: Since we moved here fourteen years ago the hotel options for visitors has grown tremendously. If you want to be in the heart of the Inner Harbor scene stay at the Four Seasons in the Harbor East neighborhood. With a rooftop pool, it is a great weekend luxury weekend getaway option. If you prefer a boutique hotel, The Ivy, a new Relais & Chateaux property, in a 19th century mansion in Mount Vernon is a must. Gorgeous interiors and excellent restaurant, Magdalena. Dogs welcome!! I predict Heidi and Jason will feel perfectly at home here when they visit!
The Conservatory at the Ivy Hotel. The private suites are just as gorgeous. Photo by the Ivy Hotel.
Restaurants: The Baltimore restaurant scene is also growing with so many new offerings these days we can’t keep up. We tend to rely on Old School favorites with a mix of new thrown in -- oysters on the water in Fells Point at Thames Street Oyster House, wood fire pizza at Birroteca in the Hampden neighborhood (think Brooklyn in Baltimore), Woodberry Kitchen, one of our best farm to table spots, and La Cuchara, a newly opened Basque restaurant, both in the Woodberry neighborhood. We also love the restaurants from Baltimore native Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf. Charleston in Harbor East, a James Beard award winning restaurant and by far Baltimore’s finest dining, is where Rob and I enjoy our regular date nights with a movie and then a cocktail (or two) at the elegant bar. They also own favorite local haunts Petit Louis French Bistro and Johnny’s in Roland Park.
Date Night at the elegant bar at Charleston in Harbor East. Always Perfect.
Shop Local: Baltimore has a thriving local shopping scene throughout the city. We are definitely not a mall culture. My favorite shops include our independent book shop The Ivy for the latest release and beautiful coffee table books for hostess gifts. Local florist and gift shops Crimson and Clover and the Dutch Floral Garden are musts. For antique and vintage treasure hunting, The Turnover Shop consignment shop in Hampden is a must. With a constantly changing inventory of furniture, rugs, silver, paintings, china and other decorative pieces, I never leave empty handed! Its sister shop a few blocks away, The Antique Exchange, has a mix of antiques as well as new pieces from the likes of Jonathon Adler and John Robshaw and Halycon House in Lutherville is a must visit for both home and garden. And of course, Gray Antiques has a wonderful selection online…. with hopes for a charming little shop one day!
"Town and Country chic at Halcyon House" photo by Halcyon House
I hope you enjoyed my view of Baltimore…we are an incredibly diverse city and this is definitely just one slice. So please come visit us and find out for yourself. Cheers from Charm City!