Home & Design

 When architecture and landscape come together, wonderful things can happen. At first, an outdoorsy McLean, Virginia, family built a custom home on Annapolis’ South River as a weekend getaway, but it quickly became their full-time residence. Jessica and Alan Whitehurst, both lawyers, fell in love with the eight-acre property’s tranquility and watery views. They envisioned it as a place where they and their three college-age children could create memories for years to come. “We wanted to design a house that would maximize the natural beauty around it,” explains Alan, “with large, open areas for spending time with family and friends.” 

Conceived by ABS Architects and constructed by Pyramid Builders, the residence sits on high ground along Childs Point peninsula. Though large—6,000 square feet on the first floor and 4,000 square feet on the second, plus two garages and a 600-square-foot attached pool house—it meets the ground graciously, thanks to careful massing and garden vignettes that extend the indoors outside.

The couple’s preference for English Tudor-style architecture was a good fit for the site. “The Tudor gable ends helped us make a graceful house that cascades down to land and water,” says project architect Sarah Favrao. Clad in stucco with durable slate-composite and metal roofs, the house reads as two stories on the front, but the second floor is tucked under the rear roofline so the structure looks less imposing from the water. 

Views are everything on the spectacular property. From the  foyer, sightlines extend straight through the house to the South River. Both floors are organized around a long spine that pivots where the footprint bends to track the water’s edge. “The core circulation space is on the street side,” explains Favrao, “while family living areas wrap around the back of the house with the water view.” 

Canted due south, the family wing on the left is entered through the mudroom or the three-bay garage—one of two that bookend the house. This wing holds a family room that opens to a screened porch and the pool terrace, as well as the kitchen, breakfast nook and jewel-like butler’s pantry. Behind the central foyer are formal dining and living rooms and a sitting room. The latter is attached to a primary suite that enjoys its own realm on the southwest corner, at the opposite end of the house from the family zone. “The owners’ suite has a private outdoor space and the sunset view,” explains Favrao. “And a loggia connects it all the way around to the pool. It’s a very indoor-outdoor kind of house.” 

Upstairs are three ensuite bedrooms, two offices—the larger of which opens to a curved deck overlooking the river—and a gym, laundry and in-law quarters. A back stairway leads down to the family wing and a lower-level rec room.

If the footprint perfectly suits this serene setting, flawless interior craftsmanship anchors it in place. “An extensive millwork package with diverse finishes made this residence both exhilarating and complex to complete,” says Bret Anderson of Pyramid Builders. Wooden ceiling beams create a rhythm along the corridor that connects the public spaces and family wing, where painted ceiling beams align with exterior doors to draw the eye outside. Pops of brass punctuate the muted palette of marble countertops, European white oak floors and gray kitchen cabinets. 

“My favorite view is looking across the kitchen island to the big dining table,” says the project’s interior designer, Bryan Huffman. “With the water beyond and sun reflecting on the marble counters, it feels like the kitchen is floating.” 

Given the size of the house, it was important that the interiors feel “fun and youthful, fresh and modern, yet have some warmth,” he notes. In the living room and owners’ suite, Oushak rugs and pillows reinforce the restful color scheme of taupe, mauve, gray and sand.

The residence strikes a balance between enclosure and exposure. “I spend a lot of time at the pool house in the summer,” says Jessica. “It provides shelter from the sun but you’re still able to be outside and enjoy the beautiful views.” 

The loggia extends that quality. “The way the property is situated, we get both the sunrise and sunset, and sun throughout the day in the family areas,” says Alan. “Covered terraces cut down on glare, so we don’t need window shades.”

Directly outside those windows, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects created a series of garden rooms connected by stone and lawn paths. They also replenished and improved the larger landscape by planting swaths of coastal grasses and perennials. To prevent stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake, they built rain gardens filled with Muhlenberg grasses and Cape Breeze and Shenandoah switchgrasses, dotted with coneflower, hibiscus and black-eyed Susans for bright summer color.  

After spending months during covid working remotely from their new waterfront escape, the Whitehursts decided to make it their permanent home. “When we first set out to build, we kind of joked that it was going to be part-time to permanent,” says Jessica. “But covid sped up the process and we fell in love with this place. It was hard to leave.”

Architecture: John Jay Schwarz, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, principal; Sarah Favrao; David Ferrara; Scarlett Breeding, AIA; Richard Anuszkiewicz, kitchen design, ABS Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Interior Design: Bryan Huffman, Bryan Huffman Interior Design, Charlotte, North Carolina. Builder: Bret Anderson, president, Pyramid Builders, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Architect: Kevin Campion, ASLA; Nick Ries, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland.

Former Georgetown residents Vickie and Miguel Innis fell in love with Middleburg on weekend getaways. So when they began to crave more space to spread out during the pandemic, the Virginia hamlet seemed like the perfect place to give full-time country living a shot. They found a house on a 10-acre plot right outside town, on a quiet street surrounded by 100-acre properties. “We weren’t ready to jump on a larger property, not having had this lifestyle before,” says Vickie. “And—fun fact—our neighbor is Wexford, Jackie and John F. Kennedy’s former estate.” 

Despite its outdated flow and finishes and lack of air conditioning, the circa-1980s abode had character. The couple, whose two children were in high school and college at the time, hired architect Sarah Armstrong of Studio 360 and BOWA builders to improve its functionality, bring in natural light and update it as a “modern Colonial with a hint of rustic farmhouse,” explains Vickie. Room locations follow the standard center-hall floor plan: From the foyer, the living room on the right runs front to back, the dining room is on the left and the kitchen straight ahead. The kitchen connects to a smaller, gambrel-roofed wing containing a den, Vickie’s home office and a laundry room.

As the hardworking heart of the home, the kitchen received the most attention. Armstrong improved light and flow immensely by bumping out its exterior wall about eight feet, raising the ceiling height to match the rest of the first-floor rooms, removing part of the wall between the hall and the kitchen and installing pocket doors to the dining room. The kitchen’s new but salvaged heart pine flooring is sympathetic to the 100-year-old heart pine floors that had previously been installed elsewhere in the house. 

“We exposed the nail heads and, in some places, even fauxed them in to make them complementary,” Armstrong notes. “Yet you can see where the floor is new and different—we didn’t want to fake it. The house tells the story of what’s been added over time, but the changes coordinate really well.”

In another significant move, the architect made a clean sweep of the center hall by tucking a protruding powder room under the stairs and adding glass doors on the front and rear entrances. “Historically on these homes you have a straight shot through the house to the rear yard,” she notes. “This house didn’t have that. With the glass doors, you can see straight through the hallway and out the back.”

Upstairs, where the wood floors were sanded and refinished, updates included a new primary suite bath and closet, and a new hall bath that serves the two children’s bedrooms. The smaller wing—walled off from the rest of the second floor and with its own back stair—contains a new guest suite and Miguel’s study. To improve the larger volume’s exterior proportions, Armstrong also added front-facing dormers on the third floor, which is intended as a future lounge.

Realizing that country houses benefit from a strong connection to the landscape, Armstrong made deliberate decisions to remedy this one’s shortcomings. Windows were replaced, centered and enlarged. “The black window frames have a cleaner aesthetic with the new white board and batten on the larger volume and stonework on the smaller section, whose gambrel roof we preserved,” she explains. “The idea was to make it look like a house added to over time, like a farmhouse would have been.” 

New bands of stone around the porch foundation and on the two chimneys help tie the volumes together. Inspired by Middleburg’s historic National Sporting Library & Museum, the stonework is “over-grouted,” a distinctive Virginia technique whereby masons over-fill the joints and use a rough trowel to clean them up. “We did many samples—some were too messy, some were too clean—until we got it right,” Armstrong recalls. 

The enlarged front porch has an open gable with black metal tie rods, offering the gift of a grander entrance. The redo replaced a small rear terrace with a covered porch, where the owners enter from a detached garage; it’s a comfortable place to sit and survey the south lawn. In addition, asphalt roofs were traded for standing-seam metal befitting a farmhouse.

Finally, new insulation and zoned heating and cooling made the 4,000-square-foot residence fully ready for 21st-century living. “We touched every surface in the home but were able to preserve its humble character by reusing as much as we could,” says Armstrong. “It’s an appropriately sized house for this family and the property.”

DRAWING BOARD: Q&A with Sarah Armstrong

Identify things that make the home great and then make them 100 times better. Then identify things that must go—that are holding it back from functioning well or finishes that don’t support the vision.

If a room’s wood flooring can’t be properly restored, for example, we replace it with the same species, but in a different width or stain or nail pattern. The goal is to complement the original, not match it.

In this home with lots of stained wood and reflections of green from outside, we opted for Sherwin- Williams Pure White, which is on the warmer side. In smaller rooms with less natural light, we used Sherwin-Williams Alabaster, which is a little creamier and creates a cozier atmosphere.

Renovation Architecture & Interior Design: Sarah Armstrong, AIA, principal, Studio 360, Clifton, Virginia. Builder: BOWA, McLean and Middleburg, Virginia.

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