A walk through a pine forest near Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore led two weekending Washingtonians to notice a brick rambler on the edge of a pond. “It was unexpected. I hadn’t seen the house before,” says the Venezuelan-born wife, who runs an investment company based in Arlington. “It intrigued me and I thought it might be on the market. I always wanted a house in the woods.”
At the time, the owners of the small, mid-century home had no interest in selling. But eventually, they came around to the idea after deciding to move to Florida. So in 2012, the DC couple purchased the one-story structure and spent nine months transforming it into a guesthouse getaway to share with their three grown children.
“They wanted something clean, bright and modern,” says architect Salo Levinas of the DC firm Shinberg.Levinas Architectural Design, which led the renovation. “Our challenge was to retain the best features of the old house, but change the interior dramatically for today.”
The cramped rooms at the center of the house were gutted and combined to create an expansive living/dining area that opens to a kitchen with a 19-foot-long island. The original ceiling was removed, making the newly enlarged space taller and exposing the slanted planes and beams on the underside of the roof.
“The challenge was how to create the open space without adding noticeable columns,” says the owner. Levinas’s solution was to stretch tensile steel cables across the area that would support the structure while imparting the unencumbered feeling of a loft.
To maximize daylight, a light well was inserted into the roof above the kitchen. Its translucent glass enclosure softly illuminates the space through a skylight at the top. From the outside, this projection resembles a large chimney.
White surfaces unify the living/dining/kitchen space and create a backdrop to vibrant, multi-hued furnishings and artwork. Uniform finishes, such as synthetic stone countertops and laminated porcelain flooring, are repeated throughout the house to create visual flow and consistency. “We didn’t want to distract your eye with a showroom of materials,” says Levinas. “Everything is kept simple and easy.”
Next, to the kitchen, the open-plan great room is organized simply, with two nearly identical seating areas flanking a dining table in the middle of the space. Each furniture grouping is arranged next to one of two gas fireplaces that anchor the rear wall, increasing the coziness factor.
Secluded at the north end of the house are three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. Levinas expanded this part of the home with a small addition to create room for closets and one of the bathrooms. “It’s a big transformation, but we did it by making just a few moves and largely keeping to the original footprint,” he notes.
A laundry room, a powder room, and another bedroom suite are located at the front next to the garage. “Every space, even the closet, and laundry has natural light,” says Levinas, pointing to tiny skylights in the bathrooms.
Throughout the property, window openings were enlarged and updated with new glazing to fill the interiors with daylight and views of the outdoors. At night, the house is illuminated by a variety of fixtures—pendants, torchères and recessed lamps, all orchestrated by lighting designer Fernando Soler of One Lux Studio in New York.
Large glass doors in the living room slide open to an outdoor entertaining space at the rear of the house. On one side, a striking, contemporary pergola of wood and steel shelters a dining area centered on a mahogany table large enough to seat 16.
Framing this area is the home’s two existing chimneys, which were extended in height by several feet to visually punctuate the low-slung building with vertical contrast. The wooden deck that supports the entertaining area is raised as if floating in the landscape. Similar decking extends to the front of the house, where a boardwalk leads from the entrance to a dock next to the pond.
Lush vegetation surrounds the house and pond, part of the landscape designed by Eric Groft of Washington, DC-based Oehme, van Sweden. “A combination of native and water-loving ornamental plantings provides a foil for the clean lines of the house,” says Groft. “Panicum, carex, hibiscus, Juncus and Petasites act to absorb the wet soil conditions and provide textural and seasonal interest.”
As Levinas explains, he and Groft collaborated closely from the project’s start “to create harmony between the indoors and outdoors.” The architect related the home’s conventional exterior to its more contemporary interior by streamlining openings and rooflines and covering the brick in white paint.
“From what was an ugly house in the middle of the woods, we created something miraculous inside,” says the owner. “This is a meditative, peaceful place where you can get in touch with your soul.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Alan Karchmer is a photographer in DC.
Renovation Architecture: Salo Levinas, Associate AIA, project architect; Milton Shinberg, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, contributing principal, Shinberg.Levinas Architectural Design, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Tim Saulsbury Construction, Easton, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Eric Groft, FASLA, Oehme, van Sweden, Washington, DC. Styling: Sandra Benedum.