In their search for a waterfront property near Annapolis on which to build their retirement home, Skip and Debbie McKenzie brought along a secret weapon: their architect. As they toured several locations, architect Marta Hansen counseled them on sightlines and topography. She helped the couple finally settle on a 1.4-acre lot on Whitehall Bay.
“We liked the views, the size of the lot and the elevation of the land,” says Skip, a retired real estate executive.
“All year long, even in the dead of winter, the view has something to offer,” adds Debbie. “It’s always calming and unique.”
The couple decided to tear down the abandoned house on the property and build a comfortable, gracious home that they could share with their grown children and friends. They turned to Hansen and builder Matt Ellison to help make their dream a reality.
The McKenzies wanted a New England-style home that would be more casual and comfortable than their previous full-time home in Potomac; they even nixed the idea of a formal living room. Skip wanted a sleeping porch and Debbie wanted a screened porch as well as a petite sunroom where she could display her shell collection. Most important, they both wanted to see the water from every room in the house.
Fortunately, the lay of the land made this possible. “The topography curls down so it almost feels like a point,” says Hansen. “So the house could open up in more than one direction.”
Hansen relied on historic precedent to create a beautifully detailed Shingle-style exterior. The length of the house extends parallel to the water, with a turret that grounds one end, “turning” the house and opening it to a fresh sightline. Palladian windows and gambrels with flared eaves create the traditional look the McKenzies desired.
“I like combining curves, both in plan and in elevation, into a very rigid structure, like a melody that softens and unifies a composition,” Hansen says. “You have to use curves judiciously, though, or it looks too sweet or romantic.”
The success of the house lies in details that might be missed by the casual observer. For example, Hansen laid out the interiors so that the sun hits rooms when the owners are most likely to use them. Hence, the sunroom is on the east side of the house for morning light while the large family room and screened porch, most often occupied in the evening, face west for sunsets.
Hansen paid close attention to the mullion patterns in the windows, too. “You don’t want too many such that they block your view or too few so that it looks antiseptic,” she explains.
Ten-foot ceilings on the home’s first floor create a grand and inviting entry that opens onto a breathtaking view of the bay. All the rooms are situated on the waterfront; a corridor at the back connects to the main rooms via archways that create clear, unifying circulation. The archways, a signature of Hansen’s work, appealed to the McKenzies. The use of wainscoting on walls in high-circulation areas such as the corridor is another nod to historical vernacular and enhances the interior architecture. “Marta’s attention to detail is just amazing,” marvels Debbie.
The McKenzies felt fortunate to have such a positive working relationship not only with their architect but also their contractor. “Matt never rushed anything and was such a perfectionist,” says Debbie. “That really shows in the quality of the completed house.”
While the home’s design embraces traditional style, the McKenzies wanted to leave behind the formality of their Potomac residence, trading Queen Anne style for a look that’s coastal chic. Interior designer Catherine Lowe worked with Debbie to combine some of their existing furniture with new pieces. “We tried very hard to select livable fabrics and comfortable furniture,” Lowe explains. The walls are predominantly painted in Benjamin Moore’s Elmira White, but there are bright splashes of color, from dining room chairs upholstered in turquoise fabric to punches of lime green in the master bedroom.
Debbie, who has an eye for fabrics, worked with Lowe to source a colorful Robert Allen toile for the kitchen and breakfast nook and a vibrant P/Kaufman floral that upholsters the headboard of the master bed. “I had picked out something completely different,” recalls Debbie of the bedroom fabric. “Then we went to a historic inn in Florida where I saw this fabric and fell in love with it.”
A second-story porch off the master bedroom encircles the home’s turret and captures a view of the Bay Bridge. “The view is so cool,” says Skip. “In the morning you have the commercial crabbers out here, on Wednesday nights we have the sailboat races, and every Sunday evening the big cruise ships go by like clockwork. It’s an ever-changing view.”
This extraordinary slice of waterfront life seems to have captivated the McKenzies—and their new home is the perfect framework from which to enjoy it.
Writer Christianna McCausland is based in Baltimore. David Burroughs is an Annapolis photographer.
Architecture: Marta Hansen, AIA, LEED AP, Hansen Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Interior Design: Catherine M. Lowe, ASID, Interior Planning & Design, LLC, Annapolis, Maryland. Contractor: Matt Ellison, Ellison Custom Homes, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Heike Nolker, ASLA, Annapolis, Maryland.