In boating terms, Little Round Bay on Maryland’s Severn River is what’s known as a “gunkhole”—a protected spot for anchoring overnight. The picturesque cove is perfect for day outings, too. No wonder architect Alan Dynerman and his wife, Nancy Seybold, owners of a classic Cape Cod Marlin, chose a perch above its shore as the site for their new weekend retreat. “We bought the property for the view, the water access and a place to put our sailboat,” reveals Dynerman.
Seybold first spotted the lot online. Undeterred by its existing 1970s split-level, she made a scouting trip to Crownsville, just outside Annapolis. The easy drive from the couple’s primary residence on Capitol Hill checked one box from the get-go. “I saw the view and thought, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for,’” says Seybold, a website consultant, and nonprofit COO. “I knew right away.”
With the site secured, Dynerman began designing the modern escape he would build to replace the outmoded home. His goal was to create a house that works well for two empty nesters but also comfortably accommodates visiting friends and family (Dynerman has a grown son who recently married).
One of the couple’s annual New Year’s celebrations served as the prosaic impetus. Dynerman wanted the young children of overnight guests “to have room to make a mess,” away from the main gathering area. “It’s not very poetic,” he confesses. ”That’s how I think about architecture: You start by asking ‘What are the issues I want to address?’ and you buy into those and make something beautiful from that.”
As he explains it, the house is “a simple assembly of boxes,” organized into three volumes—two programmatic structures connected by a stair tower. It combines open space for entertaining with privacy for owners and guests while taking advantage of views. A raised entry opens onto the second-floor living/dining/kitchen area. To the left are the stairs and library. Below are two bedrooms, a TV/playroom and Seybold’s office; above is the master bedroom suite.
“The plan is amazingly simple and works for the way we live,” asserts the architect. “The house is meant to support the dance that’s life.”
Careful planning and construction processes minimized impact to the critical-area terrain and protected waterway. Dynerman, who envisioned a modern cabin tucked into preserved trees, introduced rusticity by way of weathered cedar siding, for posts and beams and wide-plank pine floors. His updated interpretation of a cabin-style kitchen includes bamboo cabinets, open shelves, and concrete countertops.
Bold and subtle moves throughout capitalize on natural light to varying effect. A dominant skylight suffuses the kitchen with sunshine, while open risers stream bright rays onto the stairway wall. Glass blocks, set randomly into the front walls, create a dynamic glow—inside by day and outside by night. “I tend to play randomness against the hard geometry of building,” Dynerman notes.
The great room celebrates its surroundings thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors. “This space is imagined as an enclosed porch, an outdoor space that’s not outdoors,” the architect explains. “The view becomes the character of the home, giving it a sense of place.”
A deck off the great room, a flagstone terrace, and a roof deck offer outdoor-living options. Together, Dynerman says, they “allow for a range of experiences that work with and are informed by the site but also are particular to the house.” Under Dynerman’s site plan, developed with input from landscape architect Lisa Delplace at Oehme, van Sweden, river birch lines the flagstone path connecting the driveway to the slate front stoop.
The couple retreats to Little Round Bay most weekends year-round. Friends often join them for sailing jaunts, informal dinners, and overnight stays. “The house absorbs extra people well,” says Seybold. “We can have six people spending the weekend, and it feels just the right size.”
Before long, plans will get underway for the New Year’s Eve bash. “Last year I made a leg of lamb,” recalls Dynerman. “It’s usually a heavy winter dish—a get-out-the-big-red-wine dish.” One thing is for sure: Guests roll up their sleeves and participate. “Everyone gets involved. Some are shucking oysters or making this or making that. It’s just fantastic.” It’s a dance, indeed.
Architecture & Interior Design: Alan Dynerman, FAIA, Dynerman Architects, Washington, DC.
Writer Catherine Funkhouser is based in Arlington. Paul Burk is a photographer in Baltimore.