It would be quite difficult to match the “before” and “after” of this waterfront site and house. The “before” picture shows a small one-story cottage set onto a steep hilltop in the dense area of Herald Harbor. A long flight of stairs led down to a deck on top of a well house at the water’s edge. The owner who bought the property wished for a weekend retreat and the architects delivered that and much more, guided by the principles of environmentally sensitive design. Every inch of the house footprint, site hardscape and landscape was carefully thought out to take its place as part of a unified whole and was executed with great attention to detail.
The twenty-foot wide rectangular footprint of the main level is nestled into four terraces of native plantings with Smart Slope retaining walls. Beautiful rain gardens and a rain barrel filter rainwater that falls onto the home’s metal roof, creating a natural hydrological cycle. Decks on the main level, upper level, the deck over the former well house and the deck by the pier are links in a delightful meandering progression from house to waterside. The former well house has been transformed into a “bunker” with a full height wall of glass segments that slide away to extend the living space onto another deck leading to the pier.
The Craftsman style front elevation of the two-story house is articulated by front gable with a smaller gable projection with high windows over the garage door below. The entry door is sheltered by a wrap-around shed roof with brackets and triple unit windows above the entry door filter sunlight into the two-story foyer below. The earth toned exterior color and material palette of stone base, lap siding with a darker shade for window, door, eave trim and corner boards, stained craftsman garage door and the accent deep red of the front door and metal roofs has great appeal.
The main floor contains a one-car garage, entry foyer, powder room and kitchen-living room with stairs to the second floor. EcoTimber bamboo flooring flows throughout the open plan. The front door opens into a foyer with a vista through to the wall of glass at the rear kitchen/living/dining area. The entry progression then continues along a short hall between the stairs and the garage. The stairs are beautifully detailed with subtle squares recessed into the stringer that ascend to meet recessed shelving for storage and collectibles. The rear wall has a pair of French doors centered between double-unit windows with the sill heights set directly above the top of the kitchen counters to provide a stunning water view from the kitchen sink. The white Craftsman styled cabinets with simple knob hardware, solid surface counters and stainless steel appliances create a crisp look. The upper cabinets extend to the underside of the ceiling to maintain the volume of the space and alternating cabinet doors have glass fronts and the peninsula base cabinets have a countertop extension to accommodate bar stools. The deck beyond the French doors extends the sitting and dining area to the outdoors and the Ipe caps and stainless steel cable railing disappear into the view of the river.
The windows at the second floor stair landing filter light from the setting sun to fill that area with exquisite soft light. A short hall connects the front guest bedroom and the rear master bedroom. In between are two baths and a stack laundry closet that fit together as tight as puzzle pieces. I loved the master bedroom with its geometry of bulkheads that cleverly disguise the HVAC supply ducts and break up the pitched ceiling on either side. Centered in the rear wall is a pair of French doors flanked by full height windows for maximum eastern river views through the cable railing around the perimeter of the balcony/deck. I especially liked the arrangement of small accent windows; one dual unit is above the French doors and acts as a transom and the others are separated high on a side wall for flexible locations of furniture. Another double unit window on the other side wall gives additional views of the water. A built-in storage unit with doors above and drawers below provides storage. The light blue walls, white trim and white sconces beside the French doors create a serene retreat.
The surprise room is the “bunker” that anyone would covet that replaces the former well house. Steps lead down from the main level deck to the roof of the bunker with a seating area surrounded by native vegetation in the planted roof which softens the hardscape. Another flight of steps brings you to the “bunker”. When the glass wall is fully open, the “bunker” becomes a unique large indoor-outdoor entertaining room at the water’s edge. Built-in millwork, wall mounted TV and comfortable rattan indoor-outdoor furniture create an irresistible space for relaxing and escaping from the midday hot summer sun. There is also a walkway from the front of the house to another stone-lined stair that directly leads to the dock and pier.
This environmentally sensitive design is an extremely imaginative solution to the challenge of a steep narrow site with its compact floor plan, beautiful Craftsman style architecture, variety of outdoor spaces and water views from every level of the house. It is no surprise that the Architects received two awards from the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for this house’s sustainability and design. Bravo to the design team!
Photography by Kevin Wilson Photography
Spy House of the Week is an ongoing series that selects a different home each week. The Spy’s Habitat editor Jennifer Martella makes these selections based exclusively on her experience as a architect.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.