After renting a house on 20 acres overlooking the Tred Avon River, a couple decided to buy the property in Easton, Maryland, and replace its outdated main dwelling with a modern vacation retreat that would embrace the views. The reasons for the purchase are obvious: Where the land juts into the river, magnificent water vistas lie in almost every direction.
Building a new home from the ground up in this remote location required a strong commitment to place. The husband, who runs an energy company, and his wife, live outside Pittsburgh and have to fly or drive about five hours to reach the Eastern Shore.
Their choice of Washington, DC-based architect Robert Gurney and interior designer Therese Baron Gurney, a husband-and-wife team, led to the design of a three-volume, 5,500-square-foot structure. The center volume houses an entrance hall and second-floor guest suites. It’s flanked on one side by the one-story main residence and on the other by a low-slung garage. Built at differing heights, the three wings appear to be separate but are actually joined by glass-enclosed connectors.
“By varying the sizes and proportions and combining vertical and horizontal volumes, the overall composition becomes dynamic,” says Robert Gurney. “I like when you can look out from one volume and see into another.”
Water views are revealed slowly, enveloping visitors once they are inside the glass-enclosed living spaces. “You arrive at a solid volume—the entrance doesn’t have windows—and you don’t sense the water until you are well inside the house,” Gurney says.
Wanting to use materials that would be maintenance-free, he eschewed wood and painted surfaces for fiber-cement panels and aluminum-framed glass. The chimney in the living area is clad in terne-coated stainless steel.
The heart of the house is a 124-foot-long pavilion enclosed in glass and raised four feet above the ground to accommodate occasional flooding. Wrapping the perimeter, elevated terraces with roof overhangs for shade offer seating aimed at the best views.
An outdoor staircase leading from one terrace descends to a swimming pool and patio. Overlooking this area is a secluded, screened porch that Gurney located at the back of the entrance hall. “I didn’t want to make the porch directly accessible from the living spaces, as that would have created a barrier to the landscape,” he explains.
The flat site, reconfigured by landscape architect Lila Fendrick to improve drainage, now slopes gently and features a rain garden. Fendrick also preserved the mature trees on the property. “We protected the majority of maples, oaks, cedars, conifers and other trees so the house would look like it has been there for a very long time,” she explains. “The landscape design is very restrained and architectural in character.”
In addition to the overhanging roof, which shields the house from the sun’s rays, other energy-saving features include a geothermal heating and cooling system, solar tubes that heat the pool and in-floor radiant heating. Automated window shades are built into the ceiling.
Inside the house, Therese Baron Gurney reflected the clean-lined architecture with modern furnishings and a color palette drawn from bright hues found in nature. Swivel chairs upholstered in burnt orange wool bouclé echo the sunsets, while wood tables serve as reminders of the tree-lined setting.
“The furniture needed to respect the scale and proportions of the house,” Baron Gurney says. “My goal is to provide a harmonious environment that complements both the architecture and the way the clients live.”
The pavilion nearest the water houses an open living/dining area and kitchen at one end and the master suite and the husband’s home office at the other. The living area centers on a marble-clad fireplace with a movable panel that conceals the TV. A custom console table behind the sofa “allows you to rest your arm and your drink, and enjoy yourself,” notes the designer.
The custom ash dining table is paired with classic Brno chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe, whose 1951 Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, inspired Gurney’s design of this project. Behind the kitchen, the home office incorporates a seating area with comfortable sofas and a painted-steel and walnut coffee table.
For the master suite, Baron Gurney designed a leather and walnut bed that rests on a linen-banded rug. Tucked above the screened porch and entrance hall are two additional bedrooms for guests.
Before the home was built, Gurney renovated an existing guesthouse on the property for the homeowners to stay in during the 18 months of construction. He has since modified the original dock with a covering made of the same fiber-cement panels that clad the house and is currently redesigning a two-story building on the property to hold an exercise room, guest suite, and garage. With all these features in place, the owners may make the long trek to their sleek vacation home more often—and stay longer to soak in the views.
Deborah K. Dietsch is a Washington, DC, writer. Maxwell MacKenzie is a Washington-based photographer.
Architecture: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, principal; Brian Tuskey, project architect, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Therese Baron Gurney, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors, Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Lila Fendrick, Lila Fendrick Landscape Architects, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Contractor: Peterson and Collins, Washington, DC.