Home & Design

The dining room occupies a flat-roofed glass pavilion that links four volumes together. Photo: Helen Norman.

The pavilion is delineated by a heated concrete floor and cedar shingles that extend inside from the exterior. Photo: David Burroughs.

White oak boards detail what Ehrman terms “a freestanding box” by the home’s entry that leads to a hall closet and powder room; inside, a petrified-wood console lends a raw, sculptural edge. Photo: Helen Norman.

A playful underwater photograph adorns the great room, where crisp-white walls offset woven furnishings and fresh blue and green accents. Photo: Helen Norman.

The great room overlooks the pool and pavilion. Photo: David Burroughs.

Irregular flagstone clads the pool deck, beyond which the Magothy River is visible. Photo: David Burroughs.

Landscape architect Bob Hruby created pathways between buildings to heighten the experience of the architecture. Photo: David Burroughs.

In the kitchen, designer Lauren Liess kept the water views central; rattan and metal stools pull up to a massive concrete island topped with Caesarstone. Photo: Helen Norman.

Glass panels in the primary bedroom let light into the adjacent bathroom. Photo: Helen Norman.

The primary bath features extensive cabinetry and drawers in lieu of a separate closet. Photo: Helen Norman.

In the kids’ bunk room, the walls and ceilings are mapped out with navigational charts of the Chesapeake Bay area. Photo: Helen Norman.

A wall of vintage tiles enlivens the powder room. Photo: Helen Norman.

A view of the rear façade reveals glass walls reflecting an expansive water vista; stainless-steel windows and doors are powder-coated black. Photo: David Burroughs.

Outside the Box

A design team gets creative while devising a custom getaway on Gibson Island

Sometimes, working with a dream team means that what architect Gregory Ehrman calls the “daydream phase” of a project actually comes true. That’s what happened on a piece of land overlooking the Magothy River near its confluence with the Chesapeake Bay; even before his clients drew up a wish list for their Gibson Island, Maryland, retreat, Ehrman says there was a fantastic team in place.

“We were all in lockstep from the beginning,” agrees landscape architect Bob Hruby.

“A dream team is what it was,” echoes interior designer Lauren Liess.

When designing a second home for a young family, “practical doesn’t always win the day,” says Ehrman, adding that the final design might be “more fun and experiential.” In this case, the challenge was to conjure a retreat that would be both a comfortable getaway for the parents, who live and work in Washington, DC, and a functional space for a family with young kids. “We spent a lot of time in their DC house listening to them talk about how they live with their children,” the architect recalls.

The solution turned out to be four linked volumes on the one-and-a-half-acre lot. “It’s one house,” notes Ehrman of the design that weaves the landscape in around it, “but each part has its own special character. We were enamored by the idea of moving between sections of the building.”

The idea was sparked, in part, by the former house on the lot, which occupied the same spot on a cliff 30 feet above the water but was hampered by architecture that blocked the views. Ehrman envisioned the opposite for his clients. No matter the arrival—whether by bike, car or sailboat—and no matter if one is indoors or out, unique and ever-changing views of the water, land and home itself should be visible.

The completed, 6,500-square-foot abode is anchored by a central, flat-roofed glass pavilion. “Located between the gabled and shingled volumes, it accommodates all the circulation into and out of the home,” Ehrman explains. In addition to the pavilion which contains the dining room, other structures house a great room with a cathedral ceiling; a kitchen with a primary suite above and basement space below; a family room with three bedrooms above; and a barn-style garage and bunk room. Three staircases also connect the disparate zones.

Ehrman’s clean-lined architecture is reflected in airy interior spaces. Exterior shingles clad the dining room walls and exposed structural steel is present where there are large expanses of glass. “By using exterior materials and details in the interior, we blur the line between the inside and the outside,” the architect notes.

In her plan, Lauren Liess worked off the minimalist architecture to create tension between “simplicity and a happy, bohemian vibe,” the designer says. She selected a color palette that evokes the greens and tans of grasses and the blues of the water to connect with the scenery, then sprinkled in “unexpected patterns in unexpected places,” such as vintage tile in the powder room that adds a playful element. The concrete floor in the dining room became a link to surrounding structures such as the kitchen’s concrete island.

The kitchen also illustrates Liess’ approach in other ways. The cabinets and refrigerator are recessed unobtrusively into one wall, while the range occupies a niche with the vent hood concealed above it. “I wanted the kitchen design to feel really understated so that when you walk in, you’re focused on the views,” she explains. A single open shelf in the island for storage represents “a relaxed, more European way of doing things,” which reflects the owners’ carefree, down-to-earth vibe, she adds.

The large great room is “both a family hangout and an entertaining space when there are guests,” Liess says, referencing salon-style seating that can host multiple conversation groups. “I love doing rooms like that when the floor plan isn’t typical.” She furnished this room and the other social spaces with a mix of playful, colorful fabrics; natural textures like rattan and raw wood; and layered woven and patterned rugs. “Materials like wood, jute and rattan ground the brighter colors and keep colorful spaces from feeling too sweet,” the designer notes.

The project’s vision is reflected in a landscape that “both supports and softens the house, like walking through a sculpture with plantings that reinforce that experience,” observes landscape architect Bob Hruby. He de-emphasized the 30-foot cliff with grasses typically found on a shoreline to convey “a feeling that the landscape goes on forever.” Avoiding the ordered geometry of a typical garden, he created what he calls a “wild, Chesapeake-style garden,” with adaptive native and non-invasive plants that will evolve over time without requiring much maintenance.

A large oak tree became central to the project, even forcing the team to survey the root system and push the front of the house back. In fact, the tree inspired the primary bedroom’s décor. “We pulled that tree into the palette with greens and beiges and tans and browns,” recounts Liess. “When you’re standing in the bedroom, it feels like you’re up in that oak tree.”

Architecture: Gregory Ehrman, AIA, Hutker Architects, Falmouth, Massachusetts. Interior & Kitchen Design: Lauren Liess, Lauren Liess Interiors, Great Falls, Virginia. Builder: Michael Banks, The Banks Development Co., Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Bob Hruby, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland.

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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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