A 1.4-square-mile outpost on the Chesapeake Bay just north of Annapolis, Gibson Island has welcomed weekenders from the Baltimore-Washington area for decades. In the 1920s, the island’s developer hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to create a master plan. Today, a corporation still preserves the island’s pristine character: 200 homes, a private club and golf course dot its shores, yet Gibson Island remains blessedly free of commercial establishments—or even a single traffic light.
Many residents choose to call this waterfront community home year-round—including interior designer Erin Paige Pitts and her family. “We have a long history on Gibson Island,” says Pitts. She and her husband Gregory, director of design and marketing at Baltimore furniture manufacturer David Edward, rented a cottage on the island before they had kids. The couple later moved to Annapolis, where they were living happily with their first daughter, Scarlet, and a son, Jackson, on the way. Then fate intervened.
“We met friends for dinner on Gibson Island,” Erin recalls. “Greg woke up the next day and said, ‘I’ve always said I wanted to move back to the island. I want my kids to grow up there.’”
She agreed and the couple bought a small house with the intention of seeking out a more permanent home. When neighbors offered their 1.5-acre property to the Pittses in a private sale, they jumped at the chance. “We fell in love with the privet hedge out front—this wonderful old genteel thing that’s great privacy protection for our kids,” Erin says. “And the property has a really beautiful, picture-frame view of tidal marsh and the Magothy River.”
The picture was not so pretty after they’d moved into the property’s 1920s summer cottage and discovered its shortcomings. “It had three bathrooms and they all leaked,” Erin recalls. “The foundation was cracked, so after a rain storm the basement filled up with water.” They soon realized that despite its curb appeal they could not rescue the house, and decided to build anew.
As luck would have it, Erin had been “doodling” plans of the family’s future home for a while. “I designed a whole house from the floor-plan perspective,” she says. “I like to tell clients that interior designers design from inside out and architects design from outside in. I knew what I wanted the outside to look like and turned to a project architect, Allen Hutcheson, to help with rooflines and exterior details.”
Pitts drew inspiration from architect Robert A. M. Stern, whose firm designs a furniture collection for David Edward. “We’ve had a long relationship with Bob and have always loved his work,” she explains. “We took a lot of cues from some of his detailing. That, along with the Hamptons, Nantucket and very classic New England Shingle-style architecture, was our driver.”
Finally in 2007, the Pitts family moved into their new home just after daughter Hutton was born. Clad in sun-bleached cedar shingles, the house forges a strong connection with the outdoors, and the owners love to gather on its three porches. “We are believers in as much outdoor living space as indoor living space,” says Erin.
Inside, an open plan lets the family and their guests enjoy the surrounding scenery. Dark wood floors offset Pitts’s classic architectural detailing—“I absolutely love crisp, white, strong architectural millwork in a house,” she explains—and furnishings that convey a sophisticated nautical vibe.
From a small, paneled foyer, guests enter an open living/dining space where French doors lead onto a terrace with water views. “I like the idea of having spaces that are really open to one another, that have great visual sight lines,” Pitts continues. “My husband and I entertain a ton for business and pleasure, and we wanted ease and flow between the indoor and outdoor spaces and throughout the house.”
Pitts’s décor embodies a laid-back yet sophisticated coastal style that is chic, but never shabby. A case in point is the kitchen, where a beadboard backsplash on one wall gives way to white marble on an accent wall and the countertops where her children do their homework. “Everything at this point has been spilled on it,” she says. “Quite frankly, most of it comes out and you just learn to live with it. The kitchen is at the center of how we live and how we entertain.”
The kitchen leads to an intimate family room with a custom mantel that Pitts modeled after an antique. “I really wanted something that was authentically nautical, that had kind of an old salty feel to it,” she says. The designer drew a ship’s medallion and commissioned a local artist to carve it out of wood.
In the master bedroom, the home’s prevailing blue-and-white palette shifts to soft greens and grays. The suite features luxurious custom seating by David Edward and a spa-like bathroom where the light limestone floors evoke sand.
It’s no accident that Pitts finds herself working on a growing number of homes with a decidedly coastal attitude. “I’ve always been a beach lover,” she admits. “I didn’t have a beach house as a young person, but we went to the beach for one week every summer. I cried all the way home.”
Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURAL & INTERIOR DESIGN: ERIN PAIGE PITTS, Erin Paige Pitts Interiors, Gibson Island, Maryland. PROJECT ARCHITECT & CONTRACTOR: ALLEN HUTCHESON, Hutcheson Design Build, Annapolis, Maryland.