When Enoch Pratt Free Library CEO Carla Hayden first walked into the three-bedroom condominium on the 14th floor of Cross Keys’ Harper House in Roland Park, she was struck by the stunning views of leafy north Baltimore. But something else stood out, too.
“Everything was wallpapered. Evvvvery-thing,” Hayden says, drawing out the word for emphasis. Not only was it wallpapered, but the Asian-themed design was all over: Think pagodas and peacocks with purple accents. On the walls were mirrors, the better to capture that wallpapered glory from every angle. And on the floors? “Let’s just say the wallpaper matched the pink carpet,” she says.
Hayden had already considered flashier, updated condos for sale in the building, one with a sleek new kitchen, another with an entire bedroom converted to a closet that Hayden admits she found “gorgeous.”
But a gourmet kitchen was overkill for Hayden, who isn’t a big cook, and, as for the closet, well, “that’s not practical,” she says. “I don’t have that many clothes.” What the 62-year-old library executive does have is—no surprise—books, and lots of them.
“Finding a space for the books became very important,” she says. So, too, was finding a home that could offer quiet respite after busy days at work.
Looking past the outdated décor, Hayden, a fan of renovation TV shows like Property Brothers, focused on the free-flowing layout, spacious second floor, and, yes, those views.
“The thing about watching a lot of those shows, or just being involved even professionally with renovations, is you do look at the potential,” she says. “It had good bones.”
The building itself also offered a certain appeal: Hayden’s mother, Colleen, who is in her 80s, has been living there since 2004, in a condo Hayden initially bought for herself when she moved from Chicago to Baltimore in 1993 to take Enoch Pratt’s top job.
Hayden had long since moved out to a Homeland townhouse, but she almost always stopped by her mother’s place after work. With the demands of a library system that serves 1.3 million visitors a year, days were long and tiring and, as she visited with her mom, Hayden found herself winding down “only to have to get back in the car and go home.” In bad weather, she would sometimes stay the night.
She reasoned that a condo in the same building would simplify things: There’d be just one drive, then a quick trip in the elevator after dinner with her mother. From her balcony, she could sip her morning coffee and see her mother circling the gated community on her morning walk. “So that’s kinda cool, just being that close to her,” says Hayden.
Still, when she closed on the purchase in December 2014, Hayden knew she had a good bit of cosmetic work to complete before moving in. For help, she turned to contractor Brian Schmincke of Accent Specialist Marine, who’d done work for her and for the library in the past.
The problem wasn’t the pink carpeting, which came up easily and revealed pristine parquet floors. Instead, it was the wallpaper, which “was 20 or 30 years old and it was really hard to get off,” says Hayden, who pulls out her phone to display “before” pictures of Schmincke in a silly pose with the wallpaper behind him. “It helped to laugh about it a little.”
Schmincke may have had a sense of humor about the job, but “it was definitely a nightmare,” he says. “I’ve never seen people put wallpaper on the ceiling before. There was wallpaper on the closet doors. There was wallpaper inside the closets. Layers and layers of it.” Still, Hayden’s calm demeanor and good humor helped the job flow smoothly, says Schmincke, who found himself staying late to help move boxes or tackle other tasks. “She’s just that type of person that you don’t mind doing that for her.”
Though she had a new home, Hayden didn’t feel the need for a shopping spree to fill it. “It’s not for entertaining. It’s just a place to come into and go ‘phew,’” she says, exhaling dramatically and letting her arms float down onto the couch. “It’s a refuge and a place to just enjoy the things I’ve collected.”
With the wallpaper gone, Hayden happily got to work setting up. “It’s fun,” she says, “decorating again with your own things and rediscovering them.”
Those things included hand-me-downs from her grandmother, with whom Hayden shared a similar love of knickknacks, and African art that she picked up here and on a 2003 trip to Africa as president of the American Library Association. Her collectibles from the continent favor the practical, like bowls and baskets, “things that are used every day in those cultures,” says Hayden.
There are a host of awards, too, tucked away on an upstairs bookcase, including a Woman of the Year honor from Ms. magazine and one of her favorites, a brightly colored, personalized name tag from the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.
And, of course, there are the books—there were about 90 boxes that moved with her. They are loosely organized by theme—Hayden seems content to buck the librarian’s tendency to “obsess about book placements.” The topics range from entertainment to cooking to self-improvement, and even books about books.
By May of this year, Hayden was still in the process of settling in to her new home and was also in the midst of a busy stretch at work, with an ambitious three-and-a-half-year renovation of Enoch Pratt’s central branch set to start in December, and smaller renovations at the Canton and Waverly branches wrapping up. That’s in addition to ongoing efforts to modernize the library system technology. It’s now the largest provider of public-access computers in the state and boasts an impressive ebook collection, as well as ereaders it loans to library patrons.
Those efforts haven’t left her much time to putter around her new home and discover its secrets (like figuring out the optimal setting for the electronic bedroom drapes that shelter a master-bedroom atrium). “Everyone keeps telling me to take a staycation and take a week to just live in it,” says Hayden, who envisions lingering over coffee on the balcony, cuddling up in front of the TV to catch one of her favorite British programs, or catching up on the latest from two of her favorite mystery writers, Laura Lippman and Sujata Massey.
“I have to do it,” she says, adding resolutely, “I will do it. I’m looking forward to it.”