Design Distillery Sells Decor Ideal for the Baltimore Rowhome

The new Federal Hill space is larger, but its modern furniture isn’t.

Martha Thomas - October 2018

Design Distillery Sells Decor Ideal for the Baltimore Rowhome

The new Federal Hill space is larger, but its modern furniture isn’t.

Martha Thomas - October 2018

Karen Graveline of Design Distillery. -Marlayna Demond

When it comes to interior design and home furnishings, Charm City was, for a long time, a pretty conservative town, its aesthetic rooted in 300 years of European tradition. But you won’t find much of what the antique dealers call “brown furniture” at Design Distillery’s newish Federal Hill space.

Instead, there’s a live-edge dining table shorn from the trunk of an acacia tree, and owner Karen Graveline’s current favorite, a black homage to the Windsor chair with a curved spindle back, molded from plastic. Then there are bar stools, bedside tables, and tufted sofas with clean lines and slender legs, all in an array of colors from turquoise and cocoa to beige.

What you won’t find here is the stuff your parents are pushing on you: the carved mahogany sideboards, bedroom sets in turned walnut, or the dining-room table with extra leaves—which speaks to the current dictum, “Your kids don’t want your brown furniture.”

With designs inspired by 20th-century icons Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, and Florence Knoll, the showroom houses staged vignettes showing clean, airy living spaces with soft shag rugs and arched matte-black floor lamps.

“Our roots are in modernism,” says Graveline, who recently rebranded the business she started as Home on the Harbor in 2002. “It’s really about design that is functional, simple, and sustainable.”

Graveline, who grew up in a modern house in Montgomery County, learned to love design from her architect father. The family attended Orioles games in the city, and, as they made their way through Baltimore neighborhoods to Memorial Stadium, Graveline loved seeing people sitting on their stoops and decided she wanted to live here. Graveline studied interior design at University of Maryland but became a graphic designer. When she and her engineer husband, Stanley, bought a rowhouse near Riverside Park, she says, “That’s when I got interested in furniture again.”

She would buy mid-century modern castoffs from auctions and estate sales to fix up and sell at the Antique Center at Federal Hill. Then, when she and Stanley saw a store (with an apartment upstairs) for rent in the neighborhood, they decided to give retail a go, opening Home on the Harbor in 2002 with a unique niche—smaller, modern pieces made to scale.

But in a country of giant rooms and giant furniture, they had some ’splainin’ to do. “Back then,” she says, “people didn’t know what to make of us. So I said, ‘It fits in rowhouses.’” That, she says, became the hook: “furniture that fits.”

A couple of years later, she opened a second store in Mt. Washington, then relocated to a repurposed industrial space in 2010, and doubled the store’s size to 9,500 square feet in 2016, while also renaming the business.

When she’s choosing furniture for the store, Graveline has an important requirement: “I have to picture it in a Baltimore home.” While, at one time, that simply meant a sofa had to fit through the narrow door of a Federal Hill rowhouse, she has refined the notion over the years. “Baltimore wants proven design,” she says, but nothing too fussy. “Baltimore tends to be informal.”





You May Also Like


Home & Living

A Story to Tell

Interior designer Patrick Sutton mixes beautiful spaces with narratives in his new book.

Home & Living

It’s Easy Being Green

Small effort can still yield big returns when it comes to potted plants.

Home & Living

Redo at the Retreat

A careful facelift restores a landmark home.


Home & Living

Think Pink

Gather your closest pals for a rosé tasting that will have you in the mood for spring in no time.

Arts & Culture

At Home in Nature

Liza Hathaway Matthews’ layered floral paintings have found their way into the world of textiles.

Charmed Life

How to Not Kill Your Plants in Eight Easy Steps

Local plant pro Hilton Carter sets us up for success this spring.

Karen Graveline of Design Distillery. -Marlayna Demond

Connect With Us

Most Read


City Officials Express Concern Over Elon Musk’s Baltimore to D.C. Transit Plan: Before exploring intra-city transportation options, local leaders hope to address issues at home.

Micah E. Wood Embraces His Emotions: The local singer-songwriter focuses on self-love in his new self-titled album.

Baltimore Magazine Wins Three CRMA Awards: Publication takes home honors for editorial, design, and digital at the annual industry awards.

Gender-Neutral Bathroom Bill Unanimously Passes City Hearing: Supported by transgender activists and Mayor’s LGBTQ Commission, legislation could be signed during next month’s Pride Weekend.

CookHouse to Replace B. Bistro and Bring European Fare to Bolton Hill: The new spot will debut this fall, offering an all-day menu, full bar, and takeout service.