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A Warm Welcome in Oxford

Jan 07, 2014 10:21AM ● By Cate Reynolds

Joan Levy fell in love with Oxford in 1976, and on sleepless nights caused by bouts of insomnia, she would visualize the handkerchief-sized park in the middle of town to relax her. When she and Simon Arnstein began dating, she brought him to Oxford from Baltimore, where they were both living, hoping he would love it as much as she did. Hmmm…not so much.

At the time, Arnstein thought it was “too quiet.” Levy never quite gave up the dream, though, and in 2007 began looking for a rental property she could retreat to from her busy job as director of marketing and communications at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. She found a small waterman’s cottage, complete with a screen door, fi replace, and an all-important “doggie” door for the couple’s beloved Cocker Spaniel rescues, Sophie and Clementine. Fortunately for Levy, it didn’t take long before Arnstein “got” Oxford. They both fell in love with the community and the house, which they purchased “at the top of the market, of course,” they laugh. And they soon began transitioning their lives from full-time condo living in Baltimore to full-time life in a historic home in an even more historic town.

Their good friend, architect Philip Logan—who Levy says is “part architect, part preservationist”—worked with them to create the look and feel of a home that has been part of the community “forever.”

“We started on the back of a napkin one night and worked up to meetings with the historic commission,” Levy says. Still intact is the screened porch; indeed, the front of the house is almost identical to what it was in 1883. Inside, the two original front rooms remain (though now with modern electrical outlets), as well as the two original rooms on the second floor. Further in, however, a large kitchen serves as a gathering place for the frequent entertaining the couple does, and a nearby corridor houses space for a planned-for elevator so the couple can “age in place” down the road.

On the outside, Logan’s wife, landscape architect Barbara Paca, has given Levy and Arnstein the beginning layout of a garden they plan to develop over time, and a small studio serves not only as Arnstein’s office for his work as a voice-over artist (under his stage name, Simon Barritt), but as a small movie theater where he hosts fi lm soirees.

The couple worked with Oxford interior designer Suzanne Hanks to create the interior space they sought: dog-friendly, with lots of red and lots of toile, says Hanks, who met with Levy every Friday for the duration of the project.

“It’s a charming house,” Hanks says, “and we wanted to give it a French country feel.” Hanks accomplished that with traditional French toile fabrics by Brunschwig & Fils in the dining room and kitchen— the dining room a red and white seashell toile used for window treatments with a garnet crystal fringe, and the kitchen a farm scene toile also in red and white.

On the second floor, Hanks used Clarke & Clarke charcoal and white toile fabric for window treatments with a coordinating fabric for trim to match the tile in Levy’s bathroom, while in the master bedroom a sage green and pink fl oral fabric, also by Clarke & Clarke, was used for the chaise, matching shams for the bed, and not to be forgotten, a stool for the dogs. Continuing the French country feel, Hanks used a coverlet and headboard in a sage matelasse by Duralee, with window treatments and a bedskirt in chocolate brown with sage crisscross embroidery.

Hanks also made sure to incorporate Arnstein’s collection of old doors throughout the home. From the pantry to the closets, the doors have been personally collected by Arnstein from old houses. “Nothing matches,” Hanks says, “but that’s the beauty of it.”

The couple has completely embraced—and been embraced by—the community of Oxford, they say. “This is an extraordinary group of people,” says Levy, recalling that when they were first making their renovation plans, they sat down with the neighbors on either side to ask them how they could minimize the disruption for them. “They were so supportive, it almost brought us to tears,” she says.

“I think people move here because they’re desperately looking for connections to others,” Levy adds, “and Oxford gives them the opportunity to get back to that feeling of community, concern, and sharing.”

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