At the picturesque spot where Old Man Creek flows into the Magothy River, a squared-off spit of land juts out. On it, a correspondingly square stone house stands atop a low hill—a prominent sight for anyone on the water. By land, however, it’s another story: This striking abode in Severna Park is tucked away on a dead-end road, partially hidden behind a high stone wall and imposing iron gate.
The 5,000-square-foot house was built in 1936 using local ironstone. In 1945, two clapboard cottages were added on the property and a new owner—then superintendent of the Baltimore Jail—reputedly co-opted the prison gates while the jail was under renovation. He installed them at the entrance to the property, where they still greet visitors on arrival.
When empty nesters looking for a waterfront property came across this unusual setup a few years ago, they couldn’t resist it, though they knew the house had fallen into disrepair. “We kept coming back and thinking, ‘We’re never going to find this again,’” relates the husband, who co-owns a specialty contracting business with his wife.
The couple purchased the two-and-a-half-acre compound, which encompassed the house, garage, cottages and another ironstone structure that had been damaged and partly rebuilt. They enlisted architect Marta Hansen to design a whole-house renovation and landscape architect Bob Hruby to enhance their waterfront locale.
The first priority was preserving the main home’s stonework, characterized by a distinctive, over-grouted look. “The amount of labor involved turned out to be the biggest hurdle,” Hansen recounts. “Every joint was raked out and repointed; the mason was there for a year and a half.”
As a foil to the rustic stone façade, she says, “We added classical elements in snowy white.” A new, rounded portico graces the front entry, with another on the back that spills onto a terraced slate patio. Chunky yet elegant balusters keep water views open while imparting lightness to the home’s architecture. A ramshackle addition on one side was replaced with a squared-off bay and gables that add livable space to the second floor.
While the exterior was preserved, compartmentalized interiors were gutted to convey a sense of openness. Hansen moved the home’s center staircase to one side, creating a line of sight from the front door to the back of the house and water view beyond. In the living room, the massive original ironstone fireplace recalls the home’s history, while a coffered ceiling and columns add interest. Curved archways without edges “express the masonry nature of the structure,” the architect observes.
A new kitchen blends transitional cabinetry, granite counters and glass-tile backsplash with rustic accents such as brick-look ceramic floor tile. The wife selected all the finishes and also chose the furniture throughout in collaboration with designer Stacia Smith of Homewood Interiors. “Almost everything is new,” says the wife. “I wanted a transitional look—something neutral to focus you on the view. We also reupholstered some furniture and purchased art.”
To create more outdoor-living space, Hansen converted a narrow, single-story sitting room into a new porch. “Transforming the use of that corner room let valuable southwest daylight into the heart of the home,” Hansen notes. To preserve visual symmetry even though the room is gone, she left the upper half of the exterior wall facing the water fully intact.
Hansen and her clients opted to replace the damaged stone outbuilding with a swimming pool in the same footprint. However, one of the building’s original walls along the property line was left standing. The clients “wanted to keep it,” recalls Bob Hruby, “so we attached a pergola to create a shady spot poolside. We reinforced the wall with steel to shore it up.”
Hruby’s landscape plan created a circle motif in the front yard that unifies the built elements—including the white-painted garage—and echoes the curved front portico. “We kept up the motif with retaining walls and paths,” he says. “The circles counteract the squareness of the house and pool.”
The owner replaced the original ironstone driveway with asphalt, freeing up stones for use elsewhere. Scapes, Inc., which installed the landscape and hardscape, used them to fashion curved retaining walls capped with slate, creating terraced levels down to the water. Ironstone paths connect the front and back. On the waterfront side, “the goal was to make sure the house was prominent from the river,” Hruby says, “so nothing tall was planted in front of it.”
In retrospect, “the strength of this project was in the use of stone contrasting with other elements,” says Hansen. “The infinity-edge pool looks sleek and modern against the old stone wall. The simple house form looks stately when articulated with classical accents.”
Standing by the water, the husband points to six steel sculptures of Canada geese in flight; they hover above one terraced level of the yard. They may look familiar to anyone who has flown out of BWI Airport, where a flock of the same geese adorns the main terminal. “The sculptor had six left over and I bought them,“ the husband says. “We added flood lights that illuminate them as you come up the river. They look beautiful.”
Renovation Architecture: Marta Hansen, AIA, LEED AP, Hansen Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Interior Design: Homewood Interiors, Glenelg, Maryland. Renovation Contractor: McGrath TP Builders, Stevensville, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Robert Hruby, ASLA, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Installation: Jeff Crandell, Scapes, Inc., Lothian, Maryland.