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

Charmed Life

Saying Goodbye to Summer

We love any excuse to throw a party, especially one that highlights all the things we love about summer.

Arts & Culture

Learning Curve

Maker spaces transform you—whether blacksmith, potter, or jeweler—from novice to master.

The Chatter

Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?

Navigating my daughter's wedding without my own mother to steer me.

Home & Living

Houses Have DNA, Too

Uncovering your home’s history has never been easier.

Home & Living

Shine On

Holiday entertaining is all about adding touches of cheer and sparkle to our otherwise humble abodes.

Home & Living

Modern Classic

A decades-old design plan finally finds its home.

Karen Graveline of Design Distillery. -Marlayna Demond

Connect With Us

Most Read

Ben Jealous Fared Well in Debate, But Will It Make a Difference?: Democratic challenger scores some points, but Gov. Larry Hogan holds a big leads in polls.

Baltimore Japan Art Festival Returns to Station North With Illustrator Yusuke Nakamura: The two-day fest will also feature a film series and a family-friendly lineup of outdoor events.

Actor Željko Ivanek Hosts 35th Anniversary NAMI Event: The Emmy Award-winner makes his first extended stay in Baltimore since leaving Homicide: Life on the Street.

Baltimore Musician Hunter Hooligan Debuts Song at New York Fashion Week: "Pink" served as the soundtrack to designer Stevie Boi's rose-tinted vision.

Get an Inside Look at City Architecture with Doors Open Baltimore: The fifth annual event shows off 60 unique buildings and neighborhoods.