It’s clear what the focus is in this Maryland rental home: creativity. Here, two spaces downstairs that might typically be used as a living room and dining room have instead been transformed into two art studios. McKenzie is a painter and wedding photographer, and Matt is a painter and builds his own musical instruments. And as full-time artists, “work tends to sprawl into every room when we’re in the flow.” Though a challenge sometimes, having individual spaces where they can create has been integral in keeping everything organized.
With such a dedication to their craft, it makes sense they would prioritze function in their shared home. But their rental is also lovely to look at, thanks to handy thrifting skills.
“I’ve been a fan of thrifting since I was a little kid,” confesses McKenzie. “My grandma would take us to thrift shops in Delaware and we had nicknames for each of them. I’d collect records, vintage kids’ books, and antique linens with her. When I met Matt, that was one of the things we really bonded over. I’d search for frames for my art and he’d look for vintage reproduction art to paint into.”
Baltimore is a city full of creativity and artists. In Hampden, McKenzie sells her work in a cute little shop called Trohv and Matt sells his out of The Charmery. The Loading Dock is a favorite among the couple for some reclaimed shopping, and they’ve designed the decor for the annual Marquee Ball at The Creative Alliance.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Scandinavian, folksy, colorful, vintage, utilitarian when it comes to studio space.
Inspiration: McKenzie: I pull most of my inspiration from colorful textiles and vintage wallpaper. We have fun working together on house projects and try to build whatever we can from scratch and find furniture at thrift shops. It keeps things fresh because we’re never glued to any one look. That’s important since we work from home.
Favorite Element: It’s hard to pick a favorite room in the house—it’s constantly changing, and I love whichever room just got rearranged. Currently that’s the kitchen.
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge (and greatest strength) of our house is that we live and work here. We’re both full-time artists, and work tends to sprawl into every room when we’re in the flow. The holiday season especially—with art markets and gift commissions—tends to be total chaos! Matt functions among the mess better than I do, so I’m always figuring out better ways to organize our studios.
What Friends Say: Everyone who visits, says we live in a dollhouse. I think it’s the fact that the ceilings are so short, ha! Upstairs, we can’t even outstretch our arms without touching the ceiling.
Biggest Embarrassment: This sounds trivial, but I’d love to replace the counters in the kitchen. I’d also like to install some inexpensive, upcycled hardwood flooring to cover the white linoleum, paint the lower cabinets, and do open shelving on the uppers. But honestly? I’m trying to just embrace what we have. We don’t own this house and it’s all very functional. Wallpaper, house plants, rugs, and quirky art on the walls goes a long way.
Proudest DIY: The work we did in our kitchen has been so rewarding. When we first moved in, the fridge was where the dryer is now, and it blocked so much light. We knocked out the cabinets to the right of the sink, cut out some countertop, and moved the fridge to that corner. It immediately felt more functional!
Matt built an adorable pantry on the opposite wall and we designed a wooden countertop to make the dryer feel like less of a giant appliance. I also removed all the cabinet doors and scrubbed them with heavy duty car tire cleaner and removed years of kitchen grease. (Crazy but it worked!) They didn’t have knobs so I added those too, which made them feel a little more classic. More than anything, the mini renovation gave us space for a kitchen table! We’ve really enjoyed sitting down for meals with friends ever since!
Biggest Indulgence: We found our red velvet sectional at Habitat for Humanity and knew we had to have it. We paid $300 on the spot (kind of pricey for us) and when we got it home, felt absolutely ridiculous since it wouldn’t fit up the stairs or even through the window. There was no going back, so Matt came up with the idea to circular-saw the back in half and fold the sections of couch up the stairs. There were several points during the hours-long process that we seriously regretted buying it, but in the end, it worked! It fits like a glove in our tiny upstairs living room and now we have a hilarious story about how it came to be here.
Best Advice: Don’t be afraid to change things around! I’m constantly repainting, hanging “new” thrifted curtains, art, etc. I don’t feel committed to much more than the wallpaper (…and the couch.)
Dream Sources: We both have a thing for pretty rugs, so I’d take a gift certificate to Overstock or RugsUSA any day of the week.
PAINT & COLORS
McKenzie’s studio — Valspar Apricot Ice, stairs are an assortment of Behr greens but I don’t remember their names
Matt’s Art Studio — vintage green wallpaper from a thrift shop
Living Room — walls are Behr Merino Wool, Trim is Behr Thermal, tulip wallpaper is vintage.
Bedroom — accent wall is Behr Secluded Woods
Upstairs Bathroom — Behr Back to School and Valspar Apricot Ice
Downstairs Bathroom —Behr Cracked Pepper
Everything on the porch is thrifted
The dollhouse is full of pieces I painted by hand and/or reupholstered with a hot glue gun. Baltimore hosts a Crankie Festival every year at The Creative Alliance. A few years ago, I made a 17 room dollhouse crankie as part of the show. (I had lots of help from Matt in the building process.) I painted the walls, illustrated tiny paper dolls, and each window had a scroll with a scene on it that rolls by; you can watch a video of it. Our house is way too small to house a 6′ long dollhouse though, so I dismantled it and fit what I could in this thrift store hutch.
The painting of the girl with the fireflies by McKenzie — “Catch and Release“
Owl on wallpaper — Emily Uchytil
Screen print of the deer with antlers — My friend Valeska Populoh (no web presence)
Embroidery of birdhouses — a thrift shop.
I dug up that old brass spoon in our backyard. It’s special to me because our landlords grew up here and this house has been in their family since 1912.
Mushroom purse — Carnelian Seeker
Sibley’s Backyard Birds poster
Couch — Thrifted from Habitat for Humanity, brand is Ethan Allen
Rug — Safavieh
Blue Side Table — Target Windham Cabinet
Coffee Table — handmade by our friend Joshua David Crown
Curtains — thrifted but I dyed them yellow-gold
Black mushroom pillow — I screenprinted that with my own design.
Ikea embroidered pillow — IKEA “Rodarv”
That quilt — Jessica of Sugarhouse Workshop.
Cat on wallpaper painting — Emily Uchytil.
Painting of a rabbit — Monica Amneus
Annie Howe Papercuts
Black and White Photography by Matt
Family portrait of us for our first anniversary — McKenzie Mushroom
Wall hanging by Carnelian Seeker
Framed dog with a fishbowl on his back — Nicole Gustafsson
“Couple in Grass” screen print — Erik Ruin
MATT’S ART STUDIO
He built all the shelving for this room, and all of the art on the white walls is his. The art on the green wallpapered wall is not his.
MATT’S UPSTAIRS MUSIC STUDIO
Everything in here was either painted or made by Matt. He builds handmade kalimbas, I tune them, and we have a project called Canopy where we play them together. He also plays synthesizers with a solo project called Bobolink and a collaborative project called Moss Garden.
Rug — nuLOOM
Table and chairs — thrifted
Red checkered curtains — from my grandma who is a thrift shop queen
Thrifted print on fabric above the stove — artist Grandma Moses
Artwork by fridge — Painting on the top is a thrifted paint by numbers. Painting on the bottom is by my friend Emily Uchytil.
Rug — Royal Kazak Red Wool Rug from Overstock (no longer available)
Bed — built by Matt from reclaimed wood from The Loading Dock
Grey striped sheets — Target
Comforter — thrifted
Quilt — vintage
Side tables and lamps — thrifted
Yellow chair — thrifted
Wood plant hanger — secondhand from The Loading Dock
Cabinets — Matt built
Faucet — Amazon
All of the art in this room is vintage except for the big painting dead center with the cat peeking out of flowery row houses and the skull flowers (those are paintings by Matt).
Thanks, McKenzie and Matt!
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