The commercial real estate developer and his wife had renovated three homes in the DC area before deciding to build a house from scratch. As their two daughters grew closer to leaving home, they began looking for land in Annapolis where they could construct a large family residence for their retirement. “We had a summer home on the Severn River for many years and loved being in a water-oriented community,” says the developer.
Their search led to the purchase of a five-acre parcel on Aberdeen Creek that is close to downtown Annapolis yet feels secluded. The property, however, offered several challenges to building a dream home. The shoreline was badly eroded, wooded areas and wetlands were overgrown with invasive vegetation and an outdated ranch house still stood on the site. “Because the property was within the critical area of the Chesapeake Bay, there were severe restrictions on exactly what and where we could build,” the developer says.
Seeking expert advice, the homeowners turned to Annapolis architect Catherine Purple Cherry, who specializes in designing waterfront homes and is used to navigating the permitting processes required of building on the bay. For Cherry, the project “was a unique opportunity in that the client comes from the real estate industry and appreciates quality design and details.”
In designing the new, six-bedroom home, the architect drew on traditional elements of coastal architecture—“Tidewater Maryland meets Nantucket,” she says. The hybrid, Shingle-style design led her to separate the home’s various functions into complementary wings. Gables, dormers, towers and porches keep the three-story building from appearing too massive and create spatial variety inside the home. “One of my goals was to humanize the design so every room has a comfortable scale,” says Cherry.
Taking advantage of the site, she opened the living room, breakfast area and kitchen to views of the water at the rear. “The owners wanted to be able to entertain in different ways, and be able to go from the kitchen straight into the screened porch at the back,” says Cherry.
A more formal dining room at the front is illuminated by the Murano glass sconces and chandelier purchased by the owners on a trip to Italy two decades ago.
These ground-floor rooms anchor the three-story “farmhouse” at the home’s center, where a graceful, light-filled staircase rises to the upper levels. The living spaces lead to the owners’ offices and garage at one end, and family room and swimming pool pavilion at the other.
On the second floor, the master suite overlooks the waterfront through banks of windows on three sides. Adjoining the bedroom is an airy sunroom where the wife likes to read. This level also includes another bedroom suite, an exercise room and a home theater over the garage.
The third floor offers several guest suites, including a wood-lined bunkroom for the couple’s visiting grandkids. A tower room in the back corner of the house provides a retreat for enjoying expansive views of the creek and bay.
Well-crafted architectural elements enliven each space, even in the most practical rooms. The movie room’s kitchenette is illuminated by eyebrow dormer windows and the hallway-turned-library is topped by carved timber beams and beadboard ceilings. Elegant moldings, wainscoting and woodwork ground even the tallest rooms so they feel comfortable and inviting. “The millwork helps to create a sense of intimacy,” says Cherry.
Wide-plank cherry floors add richness throughout the house. Douglas fir beams and paneling in the family room and pool pavilion create the woodsy look of a mountain lodge.
“We wanted to use natural materials, but we also wanted the structure and systems to be cutting-edge,” says the owner. High-performance wall and roof insulation, triple-pane windows and geothermal heating and cooling ensure the house is energy-efficient.
Cherry and her team also worked with the owners to select interior finishes and furniture. The furniture, lighting and artwork are mostly contemporary in contrast to the more traditional room settings. “The idea was to create bright, open, modern interiors—not too formal,” says the developer.
Adds Cherry, “The overall approach to the house was not to be completely minimalist or traditionalist, but to have a foot in both worlds.”
Some of the more unusual art pieces include a sleek, metal sculpture made from an airplane wing and a chair fashioned from a supermarket shopping cart. Groupings of bells, bear sculptures, train paintings and dog prints throughout the house attest to the husband’s avid collecting habits.
His impressive holdings of antique cars, motorcycles and gas-station artifacts are stored in the red “barn” at the front of the property. The Maine Barn Company built this post-and-beam structure based on Cherry’s design to house a garage, workshop and small apartment, and also constructed the timber-framed wing for the indoor pool.
Between the barn and house, Annapolis landscape architect Jay Graham restored the marsh and thinned out the woodland to preserve trees and open the view to the water. He then created new gardens of mostly native plantings that already look mature. “This design was about creating four-season interest and adding depth to the landscape,” Graham says. Evergreens, inkberry and viburnum, among other plantings, ensure visual interest year-round.
Working with him on the project, landscape architect Kevin Campion helped to design a walled garden that is intended to be viewed from upper-story rooms as well as at ground level. The contemplative space, framed by a row of hornbeam trees, features a graphic pattern of bluestone pavers and grass, and a bubbling fountain.
“These weren’t clients who just looked at the drawings and told us to plant,” says Campion, who now runs his own practice. “They were involved in the design process every step of the way.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Tria Giovan is a photographer in New York City.
ARCHITECTURE: CATHERINE PURPLE CHERRY, AIA, LEED AP, Purple Cherry Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: JAY GRAHAM, FASLA, Graham Landscape Architecture, Annapolis, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: PILLI CUSTOM HOMES, Millersville, Maryland.