As a July morning simmers on Maryland’s Gibson Island, golfers crisscross its rolling greens, summer campers hone their backhands on the tennis courts and moms cart water toys to the pool with toddlers in tow. Buttressed from the
pressures of city life, this 1,000-acre private isle rimmed by the Chesapeake Bay and Magothy River goes about its day without a care in the world.
After visiting a few years ago, a DC couple found the enclave near Annapolis impossible to resist. “It’s a secret little piece of heaven,” remarks the wife. “We were attracted by the proximity to Washington without having to cross the Bay Bridge.”
Soon after, she and her husband purchased a vacation home on one of the island’s tree-lined lanes. “We wanted a nice place to spend time with our daughter, family and friends—as well as an oasis so we could get away from the busyness of our professional lives in DC,” adds the wife, a political fundraiser whose husband is an executive at an education non-profit.
Despite its desirable location, the 1990 timber-frame house left much to be desired. Its rooms were dark and dingy and its kitchen and bathrooms screamed for an update. With minimal windows and outdoor living spaces, the vinyl-clad dwelling lacked a meaningful connection to its coastal environment.
Straight away, the owners created a clean slate by painting its mustard-yellow interior walls, wooden floors and pine beams a crisp white. Knowing a thorough overhaul would require professional help, they hired architect Jim Rill to upgrade what they found to be flimsy construction and instill the getaway with character and style.
Rill was confined to the home’s existing footprint by the community’s setback regulations. He cleverly created a bedroom for the owners’ six-year-old daughter by enclosing the two-story vaulted ceiling above the dining room. He designed a new wraparound porch—not only adding outdoor living space, but also bumping up curb appeal. A new screened porch complete with built-in heaters provides a year-round gathering spot.
“The outdoors is just as important as the indoors,” says Rill. “A room always feels bigger when you put a porch on it; the room flows outside and the outside comes in.”
During construction, Rill discovered that the home’s walls lacked structural support. “The original house appeared to be modular with walls just glued over the timber structure. None of the panels had framing—just foam and two pieces of drywall,” recalls the architect, who specified new framing during the renovation. “We also replaced all systems, windows, doors and hardware, so there’s not much left in this house that’s original.”
As the plans crystalized, the owners tapped interior designer Nancy Harper to advise them on everything from material selection to furniture and art. The friendly architect-designer collaboration that ensued took the house in a decidedly “beachy” direction without going overboard.
Pale aqua accents on the exterior door frames, beadboard ceilings and even the new kitchen cabinets offer subtle reminders that the shimmering Chesapeake beckons nearby. “We wanted the vibe to be more soothing than bold,” says Harper.
The open kitchen was designed for easy entertaining. Cabinetry topped with no-fuss Caesarstone surrounds a large island with bar seating on one side and a pull-out work table on the other.
New French doors flood the adjacent dining area with light. Along with added windows in the kitchen, they forge a connection to the outdoors. Efficient circulation between the interiors and porches was part of the plan, as the homeowners host a steady stream of guests who settle into two extra bedrooms with en suite baths, one on the ground floor and another upstairs. “That was the biggest driver for our decision-making as we’d consider, ‘How does this work for guests?’” reports Harper.
Working with the owners’ existing furniture (some acquired with help from a previous designer), Harper tied it all together via a judicious selection of fabrics, accessories and art. “Though both clients come from traditional backgrounds, she is drawn towards the modern,” says Harper. “It was a matter of threading the needle on being sleek and sophisticated but still comfortable and kid-friendly.”
Approachable and not stuffy, the home now makes a perfect base for the owners, who live there full-time between May and September. Both parents work at home and commute to DC as needed. This leaves plenty of time for sailing, fishing, canoeing, paddle boarding and swimming in the island’s freshwater lake—followed by a rinse in their new outdoor shower tucked behind the carport where the family stores their golf carts (the preferred mode of transport among Gibson Islanders).
For the owners of this utterly chic retreat, arriving on Gibson Island—a world away from their DC neighborhood—is an instant balm. “It is calm and quiet. We can ride our bikes wherever we want,” says the wife. “Our daughter can be a kid there and run around and be safe. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
Renovation Architecture: James Rill, AIA, Rill Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Nancy Harper, Studio Miel, Washington, DC. Landscape Design: Christopher J. Dow, Gibson Island Corporation, Gibson Island, Maryland. Renovation Contractor: Thorsen Construction, Alexandria, Virginia.
Sofa & Chairs: southernhomeinc.com. Swing: ballarddesigns.com. Sofa, Swing & Chair Fabric: sunbrella.com. Stools: palecek.com. Throw Pillows: nomiinc.com, onekingslane.com. Bar Cart: serenaandLily.com. Fan: minkagroup.com. Planter: shopterrain.com. Flooring: fiberondecking.com.
Sofa & Skirted Chair: leeindustries.com. Console, Rug, Wooden Armchair, Ottoman, Side Tables & Lamps: Owners’ collection. Ottoman: oomphhome.com.Chair Fabric: archivenewyork.com. Throw Pillows: Victoria-larson.com, Victoria Larson, marikameyertextiles.com, lakeaugust.com. Ceiling Paint: benjaminmoore.com. Chandelier: shadesoflight.com. Painting: jamiekirklandart.com through gallery-orange.com. Drapery Fabric: pindler.com. Fabrication: Leslie Pease
Hallway Mirror & Pink Console: Owners’ collection. Rug: georgetowncarpet.com. Carpet Design: mcnamara-design.com. Pillow: archivenewyork.com.
Countertops: graniteworksmd.com. Cabinets: crown-point.com. Stools: bungalow5.com. Macaroon Painting: Stella Leblanc through gallery-orange.com. Flooring: trinitytile.com. Hood: subzero-wolf.com. Paint Colors: benjaminmoore.com.
Table: zgallerie.com. Chairs: bungalow5.com. Chair Fabric: sisterparishdesign. Cushion Fabric: nomiinc.com. Pillow Fabric: sisterparishdesign.com, radishmoon.com. Lighting: pelledesigns.com.
Tile: missionstoneandtile.com. Shower Head: outdoorshowerco.com.
MAIN-LEVEL GUEST BEDROOM
Bed: leeindustries.com. Headboard Fabric: pindler.com. Bedding: leontinelinens.com. Side Tables: onekingslane.com. Bedside Lamps: janabekdesigns.
Beds: crateandbarrel.com. Bedding: potterybarn.com. Throws: vintage. Throw Pillows: johnrobshaw.com. Sconces: schoolhouse.com. Drapery: sisterparishdesigns.com, samuelandsons.com. Fabrication: Leslie Pease. Bench Fabric: serenaandlily.com. Poufs: Owners’ collection. Rug: mohawkflooring.net. Installation: rickscarpetandflooring.com.
Bed & Side Tables: Owners’ collection. Side Table Decoration: mcnamara-design.com. Bedding: leontinelinens.com. Throw Pillows: johnrobshaw.com, quadrillefabrics.com. Throw: jonathanadler.com. Sconces & Floor Lamp: circalighting.com. Armchair: bungalow5.com. Drapery Fabric: quadrillefabric.com. Drapery Fabrication: Leslie Pease.
Countertop: caesarstoneus.com. Vanity: crown-point.com. Lighting: rh.com. Shower Tile: annsacks.com. Shower-Floor Tile: architecturalceramics.com.