Near the juncture of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, a bifurcated structure appears to float above the shoreline against spectacular views of the water. Reached by a boardwalk raised over marshland, its paired, shed-like volumes are sited at the end of Honest Point, a peninsula in Virginia’s Northern Neck that once was home to an oyster-processing plant.
This remarkable vacation home was made possible by what came before it. “The pre-existing structure afforded the rare opportunity to build on the water’s edge,” explains architect Dale Overmyer. “By law, no new structures can be built within 100 feet of the waterline, so we followed the footprint of the old oyster plant for the new house and provided elevated walkways to reach it.”
Homeowner Bill Dean—chief executive of an electrical engineering company in Dulles, Virginia—calls his new dwelling the Oyster House in homage to its precursor. Dean spent years looking at waterfront real estate before settling on 16 acres in Lottsburg, Virginia, where he built the retreat and restored the land around it.
“Being surrounded by water was the big attraction of the site,” Dean says. “As soon as I saw the big, sweeping views, I knew I wanted to buy this property within one second. It’s like owning an island.”
Overmyer, who had renovated Dean’s primary residence in Georgetown, divided the waterfront house into two parts based on the homeowner’s wishes. “Bill wanted to separate the bedrooms from the entertaining areas for acoustics and privacy, so we envisioned the main pavilion to be as open as possible and a bedroom wing to be more enclosed and cozy,” says the architect.
Design inspiration came from nearby boathouses and local marine architecture. “I wanted to keep the house simple and stick to the waterman’s theme,” explains the homeowner.
Numerous timber piers raise the home enough to withstand flooding and provide an elevated vantage point from which to look out over the water. Its two wings are topped by metal roofs and connected on the upper level by a glass bridge.
The contemporary pavilion used for living and entertaining is more transparent than its neighbor, and a portion of its window wall can be opened completely to the outdoors. The two-story great room, topped by a fir ceiling, offers water views in nearly every direction. Only the mahogany enclosure of the kitchen and staircase leading to the bedrooms interrupts the open expanse.
The kitchen opens through a fold-away window to the screened porch—also enclosed in mahogany—that in turn spills onto the sundeck. A rooftop balcony atop the porch offers dramatic panoramas of the river and bay. “When there’s a party, everyone gravitates to the porch,” says Dean. “A TV pops out of the ceiling and we often watch movies there on a beautiful night.”
Adjoining the main pavilion, the shingle-clad bedroom structure is designed with smaller windows and a clerestory atop the pitched roof to maintain privacy. The four-bedroom suites feature fir ceiling beams, painted-wood paneling and slate floors in the bathrooms. The master bedroom centers on a fireplace fitted with a marble slab incorporating fossils.
Interior designer Elizabeth Hague, who worked with Overmyer on Dean’s Georgetown house, created what she calls “relaxed coastal contemporary” décor throughout. “It was important for the all the furniture and finishes in the living spaces to be impervious to the elements since the glass walls are frequently open,” Hague says.
Teak was chosen for the custom sofa bases and end tables, and stainless steel for the coffee table. Gray and blue fabrics complement the marble in the bathrooms and kitchen, and concrete floors in the living areas.
Dean mostly spends weekends from March through October at Oyster House and often invites friends and family to join him. Guests are welcomed from both land and sea. They can approach the house from an entrance drive on the mainland and walk or hop a golf cart to the house on a 375-foot-long ipe bridge on pressure-treated pine pilings. The walkway extends to the house from a forecourt flanked by two garages with one-bedroom apartments on their upper levels for visitors.
At water’s edge, another boardwalk extends past the house to a boat dock on the river. Dean often travels from DC to the vacation property on his 87-foot yacht—which allows him to arrive practically at the doorstep of his waterfront escape.
In addition to building new structures, the homeowner revived the former agricultural fields on the property with native grasses, shrubs, and trees, following a landscape design by Oehme, van Sweden. “The existing marshlands along the shoreline were pristine and beautiful, and inspired how we moved forward with our design,” says landscape architect Sheila Brady, vice president and principal of Oehme, van Sweden. “We preserved and reinforced their character with durable, dependable grasses that could withstand being inundated with water.”
Brady and her team redesigned other portions of the property, bringing in soils and plants to refresh the depleted landscape. A grove of loblolly pine was added next to the entrance drive, along with a play court built for tennis and volleyball. Meadows extend from the entrance drive at the center of the site.
An existing barn and old house on the edge of the property await renovation, and the owner plans to add more structures to the waterfront site. He recently commissioned Overmyer to design a guest
house and a pavilion next to a future swimming pool near the barn. As Dean notes, “It’s a big property and we’ll have more on it one day for enjoying this beautiful place.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Maxwell MacKenzie is a photographer in Purcellville, Virginia.
Architecture: Dale Overmyer, AIA, principal; Jeremy Fletcher, project manager, Overmyer Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Elizabeth Hague, principal; Linda Lewis, designer, Elizabeth Hague Interiors, Washington, DC. Builder: ILEX, Easton, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Sheila Brady, principal; Marisa Scalera, associate, Oehme, van Sweden, Washington, DC.