Home & Design

When the folding doors are open, the living area merges with the rear terrace; low-slung Rove Concepts sofas in blue velvet echo the mesmerizing hues of pool, river and sky.

From the arrival court, the second-story office is the only visible part of the house; a concrete tunnel appears in the berm planted with native mountain mint.

An acid-washed aluminum door pivots open to the entry sheathed in reclaimed mahogany, with the atrium beyond.

Moody Graham rimmed the ipe spa terrace with Karl Foerster feather reed grass and aster and planted the central courtyard with a Japanese maple, a sweetgum tree and other local species.

A central interior courtyard brings light and greenery into the heart of the kitchen.

Concrete pavers and an allée of sweetgum extend to a Corten steel sculpture leading into the forest.

A view of the house from the forest.

A stairway contained in one of the parti walls ascends to the glassed-in upper office.

The office enjoys heady views of the forest and watery horizon.

The northeastern elevation reveals the central reading room, flanked by a den on the left and a guest suite to the right. Vintage B&B Italia chairs and a circa-1970 Gaetano Pesce sculpture enliven the reading room.

A deep passageway demarcates the transition between the dining room and living area.

A skylight soars above the kitchen, where custom concrete counters rim the islands.

Nature rules in the owners’ suite, where another skylight helps sustain a living wall.

In the primary bath, mirrors are suspended above a concrete vanity made by Steven Eyler Precast Artisans.

Shadows dance across a bathroom wall clad in PVC trim.

As seen from the Potomac, the home’s two massive parti walls, clad in cement-like tile, envelop the central living area and kitchen; the primary bedroom and dining room are located on the outer sides. A glass-enclosed upper office glows like a beacon at night.

Waterfront Oasis

A humble request evolves into a daring modern dwelling on the Potomac

After traveling a mile through the woods, the car arrives at a berm blanketed in mountain mint. A concrete tunnel in the slope leads to a weathered metal door. It swings open and visitors emerge into the light.

Suddenly a modern refuge unfolds revealing a confluence of earth, water and sky.

If the entry is a bit out of the ordinary, that’s because this is no ordinary house. Pushing the concepts of threshold and boundary, openness and protection, it accentuates the magnitude of a setting where the Potomac River converges with the Chesapeake Bay.

It all started when a DC-based executive acquired the 144-acre Leonardtown, Maryland, property in 2019, then enlisted architect Todd Ray of Page to design a weekend escape on site. The initial request gave Ray pause. “He asked for a Hobbit house,” relates the architect. “I told him, ‘Well, you came to the wrong guy.’”

But as the dialogue deepened, sparks began to fly. “I liked the idea of a home that fits into the land,” the owner explains. “There is something exciting, a bit foreboding and very cool about going through a tunnel into the earth and entering a home you cannot see.”

As Ray and colleague Ana Zannoni collaborated on the plan, they envisioned the main entry as well as other thresholds that would offer revelations of their own. Walking the site, they took cues from black stone jetties protecting the beach. “The cadence of these manmade elements at play with nature,” says Ray, inspired them to carry the lines of the jetties onto the property. They created two massive parti walls that would form the home’s framework, perpendicular to the entry tunnel. “The two big walls created boundaries and have a very strong presence,” says Zannoni.

Social spaces—an open kitchen, living area and reading room—are laid out between the four-and-a-half-foot-thick walls while a dining room, two bedrooms with ensuite baths and a den/guest room are situated on opposite sides of the parallel partitions. A central interior courtyard brings light and greenery into the heart of the kitchen. When the folding doors are open, lines are blurred between the living area, pool terrace and the watery vista beyond.

The architects riffed on contrasts between dark and light and indoor and outdoor conditions. Enclosed passageways signal transitions from public to private realms. For example, a tunnel-like stair leads to a second-floor office with 360-degree views of nature. “Our client wanted the experience of entering a compressed spatial threshold that leads to an unexpected expanse—a place of safety, refuge and wonder,” says Ray.

“The contrast—between feeling contained and protected and instances where we blow out the walls so they almost disappear—is a reminder that we want a connection to the outside but are also conscious that at times, we shelter,” elaborates Zannoni.

A year after its 2022 completion, the owner and his long-time partner were married under the stars on the property. He and his now-husband, a consultant, selected most of the furnishings and building materials. The simple, organic palette pays homage to the architects’ exterior program. Concrete-look tile clads the floor and walls; custom concrete countertops and sinks grace the kitchen and baths. In the primary suite, a living wall illuminated by a skylight brings the outdoors in.

The 4,731-square-foot residence is an ode to the beauty—and fragility—of the site. Equipped with solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling, it has nearly achieved net-zero status. The entry berm was made from soil excavated during construction.

As the project neared completion, landscape architects Ryan Moody and Nick Wittkofski of Moody Graham joined the team. “We pulled the amazingly strong concepts that Todd and Ana developed into the landscape and pulled some of the forest back into the site,” says Moody. Focusing on native species, they planted the berm with silvery mountain mint and fringed the pool terrace with Virginia sweetspire, oakleaf hydrangea and Russian sage.

Continuing the axis established by the jetties and parti walls, concrete pavers extend from the home toward the forest, culminating at two Corten steel panels. “These planes that you can pass through create another portal, a transition point where you enter a different landscape,” says Wittkofski. Ana Zannoni, who launched her own architecture firm in 2022, has designed a new guesthouse and freestanding gym to be built in the woods.

The owners often get away to Leonardtown with friends and family. “They go there to rejuvenate and read, swim and be with nature,” observes Todd Ray.

“Coming here,” muses one resident, standing on the dock near a fleet of paddleboards, “you feel your blood pressure going down. The relaxation of it all is just amazing.”

Architecture: Todd Ray, FAIA; Ana Zannoni, Page, Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Ryan Moody, principal; Nick Wittkofski, Moody Graham, Washington, DC. Contractor: J. Johnson Enterprises Inc., Hollywood, Maryland. Landscape Contractor: Hurley Landscape & Design, Leonardtown, Maryland.

 

RESOURCES

GENERAL
Windows & Doors: andersenwindows.com. Wall & Floor Tile: tilebar.com.

LIVING AREA
Sofas & Coffee Table: roveconcepts.com. Rug: floorson14.com.

DINING ROOM
Table: rh.com. Chairs: roveconcepts.com.

KITCHEN
Countertops: steveneyler.com. Cabinetry: Farm View Kitchens; 301-475-7047. Cooktop: fisherpaykel.com.

OFFICE
Desk: roveconcepts.com. Windows: westernwindowsystems.com.

READING ROOM
Rug: ruggable.com.

EXTERIOR
Chaises: roveconcepts.com.

PRIMARY BEDROOM
Bed: roveconcepts.com.

PRIMARY BATH
Sink: steveneyler.com. Cabinetry: Farm View Kitchens; 301-475-7047. Sink Faucets: grohe.us. Shower Faucets: kohler.com. Tile: porcelanosa-usa.com.

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HOME&DESIGN, published bi-monthly by Homestyles Media Inc., is the premier magazine of architecture and fine interiors for the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia region.

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The H&D Portfolio of 100 Top Designers spotlights the superior work of selected architects, interior designers and landscape architects in major regions of the US.

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