Chef Nancy Longo has hobnobbed in the kitchen with the likes of Alice Waters and Paul Prudhomme. She’s cooked for Billy Joel’s band and filmmaker Barry Levinson.
Yet her early passion was for the arts and design.
“I was headed to University of Maryland to study set design, but the course was canceled, so I impetuously signed up for Baltimore’s culinary college,” explains Longo, who has owned Pierpoint restaurant in Fells Point since 1989.
“Growing up I did theater, built sets, took design and art classes – I was never going to live my life in a house that looked like everyone else’s,” she says.
As a teenager growing up near Rosedale, Longo was allowed to decorate her own bedroom. She could be found prowling Howard Street shops for furniture finds.
“My whole life has been about wanting my space to be entirely my own. I wanted people to come to my home and see me, my life, my adventures. For someone who is artistic, a house is just another form of canvas,” Longo says.
Her eclectic style has reached its zenith in her diminutive Canton rowhouse. When she bought the home in 1995, it was “downright scary,” she says, but her artistic eye helped her see its potential. She gutted the roughly 900-square-foot home, focusing on bringing in light. By removing the attic over her master bedroom, she created a vaulted ceiling. She hand-pickled the pine floors herself.
It wasn’t until the renovation was complete that Longo came into her own as a collector. Every inch of Longo’s home is touched with collectibles that express her personality, exude her love of pop art and pop culture, and reflect years of collecting on her own and with her loved ones. A stainless steel hutch that she picked up at the “Homicide” prop sale houses her extensive collection of advertising memorabilia, which, she says, “allows me to return to my childhood.”
She also has an affinity for clocks and antique Fire King stoves.
“I’m fascinated by old stoves,” she says. “They’re very functional, but they’re also pieces of art.”
The one in her kitchen is still in use. Purchased from a home in Bolton Hill for $75, it’s Longo’s favorite piece in the house.
Longo is not one to play it safe, especially when it comes to color. Her bathroom is resplendent in sunny yellow tile. Her kitchen incorporates sleek stainless steel appliances, modern glass cabinets, a mosaic backsplash in refined grays and a vibrant lime green countertop.
“You have to have a vision and not be afraid,” Longo says. “People think of houses in terms of resale. No! You need to live in it! Live now, live with color and fun, and do it now. It’s the same with life. If you enjoy it, do it.”
Perhaps Longo’s greatest gift is seeing treasure where others might see trash. A long wooden ladder in her master bedroom serves as an art object that holds blankets, too. Yet it was something she found abandoned in the alley behind the restaurant.
The centerpiece of her dining room is a table she had fabricated from an old roller-coaster car that she spotted languishing on the side of the road outside Easton.
When she gutted the house she found old newspaper clippings in the walls, including one about boxing. Her father was a boxer, so it touched a special memory – rather than toss the clipping in the trash, she had it framed.
Throughout the house Longo pairs her eclectic finds with midcentury modern furnishings she picks up at places such as Ikea, CB2 and junk shops. Growing up, her parents had that style furniture in the basement, so it feels familiar, and the unfussy lines allow the pieces to fit seamlessly in among her more unusual acquisitions. In her bedroom, for example, new bureaus were purchased to complement the room’s wood beams and the custom wooden headboard Longo designed and had fabricated. The bedroom, with its soothing natural wood tones and soaring ceiling, is her favorite room in the house.
One would think Longo could easily relax into her home, enjoying her mementos and the company of her golden shaded Persian cat, aptly known as Fuzzy.
“I feel like I’m the curator of the neighborhood with all this stuff,” says Longo with a laugh.
Yet even now she’s in the process of purging her collections and making way for new things. She’s not so sentimental about her belongings that she gets bogged down by them. She’s also considering replacing the doors in the house, maybe trying to squeeze a minuscule European-style bathroom into the home’s second floor.
Recently she refurbished her back yard, installing a slate patio and brick planter boxes where she grows organic herbs and vegetables and small ornamental trees. Her philosophy is that a house should never be static or “cookie cutter.”
“People evolve, and your home should evolve with you. It keeps you from becoming stale and boring,” she says. “People do their house and they get older, and then they’re stuck because they’re scared to renovate it after all those years — they don’t even know where to start.
“If your space and your stuff evolve with you, then you do too.”