Home & Design

Traditional Swedish tiled stoves inspired the textured porcelain tile on the fireplace.

A floating chandelier accentuates the home’s vertical architecture.

Teak clads the home's exterior.

Elina Donaldson traveled to New York to find the minimalist kitchen system by German maker Leicht. The cabinets are a deep gray, offset by the warmer tones of the oak backsplash.

As seen from the river side, the home boasts three levels, with spaces for entertaining on the first floor, bedrooms on the second and an office and family room on the top—all with exceptional views through walls of Western Windows.

The dining table by Johannes Andersen is surrounded by Boomerang chairs by Alfred Christensen; polished-concrete floors ground high-traffic areas.

The cube room, suspended between the first and second floors, serves as a seating area with a view of the family boat.

The main living space affords a beautiful view of the family’s Corsair trimaran and the Bay Bridge in the distance.

Sweden on the Severn

A new custom home in Annapolis channels sleek Scandinavian design

Elina Donaldson lived in her native Sweden for nine years with her husband Noah Donaldson, a passionate sailor from Annapolis. When they returned to the States to be closer to his family and job as chief technical officer at Annapolis Micro Systems, she laughs that Noah came back more Scandinavian than when he left. In addition to a slight accent, he and Elina now share an affinity for Scandinavian style. “We both love architecture and beautiful things; being in Europe was inspiring,” she says.

Coming back to Maryland allowed Noah to fulfill the dream of owning a waterfront property where he could keep his own sailboat. When a lot on the Severn River came up for auction, the couple acted quickly, bidding on it sight unseen. Although the old-fashioned cottage on the one-third-acre parcel was not their style, the views were exceptional. The wooded street side reminded Elina of the Swedish forests of her childhood while the water vista takes in a horizon where the Severn empties into the Chesapeake, with the Bay Bridge in the distance.

The Donaldsons decided to tear down the cottage and build their dream home. They envisioned a modern, open retreat that would maximize views and screen out nearby neighbors. When Noah saw a home designed by Annapolis architect Chip Bohl, he knew they’d found the right match. “Capturing the view is something I’ve worked on my entire career,” says Bohl, who was hired for the job. “It’s a core of our practice.”

The lot is narrow but Bohl turned that into an advantage, designing a tall structure that fits perfectly on the site; its verticality acts as a counterbalance to the wide panorama of the bay and the horizon. While the front façade is more closed-off and private, the water side is transparent and dynamic with generous walls of glass.

“Rather than a sheer, flat wall, we sculpted the volumes facing the bay to create complexity,” Bohl explains. “The house has volumetric depth, so each room has a different orientation to the horizon, giving the interiors a rich relationship to the view.”

Completed in 2018, the 4,000-square-foot residence boasts four bedrooms and four and a half baths over three floors. Organized around an airy central staircase, the first floor contains a large, open living space that reflects the family’s social lifestyle, encompassing the living and dining rooms and kitchen. There’s a dedicated “kid space” with sliding doors that enable the parents to shut away clutter when needed.

The second story houses bedrooms for the couple’s two children, now eight and 10, on one side and the owners’ suite on the other; an office and a family room await on the third floor.

Bohl is proud of a cantilevered, glass-enclosed “cube room” that sits at the mezzanine level between the first and second floors. “It’s completely floating,” says the architect, noting that the perch he describes as a crow’s nest required “quite a bit of structural gymnastics as it has no apparent means of support. The design allows for dynamic, anti-gravity verticality that is so important to the success of this house.”

Embodying Scandinavian style, the home blurs the line between interior and exterior, with walls of windows allowing uninterrupted connections to its surroundings. The design balances cool, practical materials like polished-concrete floors with warm woods. As a result, the interiors are beautiful in their effortless minimalism.

Though Elina’s background is in engineering, she has often helped friends with interiors projects and during the pandemic decided to launch her own design firm, Simplicity by Elina. Putting her skills to work in her own home, she searched for furnishings that met her exacting principles with a focus on three criteria: beauty, function and craftsmanship.

In the living room, she opted for a large sectional in blue to give the space a pop of color. The fireplace was inspired by traditional Swedish Kakelugn stoves, updated with modern, textured tile.

In fact, texture was essential to her approach—so wool rugs, sheepskin and cowhide throws and blankets appear throughout the home. And while Elina selected sleek, fully integrated Leicht kitchen cabinetry in a dark, rich gray, the oak backsplash and bronze-toned bar stools offer a warm counterpoint to the cool cabinets and white quartz countertops.

Many of her favorite pieces are treasures she found in Scandinavia, such as the dining table designed by Johannes Andersen and Boomerang chairs by Alfred Christensen—these pieces by Danish furniture makers were purchased at auction in Stockholm. Others came directly from nature, like the tree stump in the living room that washed up on their neighbor’s beach; Elina meticulously dried and shaped it into a functional side table.

The active, outdoorsy family enjoys their new waterfront digs, where they can jump in a kayak or on a paddleboard—or set sail on their 31-foot trimaran, Frequent Flyer, right from their own beach or dock. “But the most important thing to me,” reflects Elina, ”is the feeling inside the house—the light and the connection to nature. I feel a house should be a reflection of its owners and this house reflects us as a family.”

Architecture: Chip Bohl, AIA, principal; Jessica Giovachino; Ted Sheils, AIA, LEED AP, Bohl Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Interior Design: Elina Donaldson, Simplicity by Elina, Annapolis, Maryland. Builder: Riley Custom Homes & Renovations, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Heike Nolker, ALSA, Landscape Architect, Annapolis, Maryland. 

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