Kimberly and Raymond Herman didn't purchase their waterfront home 17 years ago because they loved the house—it was all about the setting. "I went out with a Realtor and fell in love with this property," Kimberly recalls. "The views and the access to the water drew us to this house."
The location in Crownsville, on a calm creek off the Severn River, was perfect for the Hermans and their children. It was particularly ideal for Raymond, who was a tournament water skier. "I remember calling my husband and saying, 'Bonus—there's a water-ski course out front!'" Kimberly laughs. In the evening, the cove fills with boaters who come to watch the spectacular sunset. The house is in a gated community with low housing density that preserves a sense of pristine solitude.
However, for all the home had in waterfront cachet, it lacked any architectural charm. It was a home that didn't know what it wanted to be, or, more optimistically, says Kimberly, "a blank canvas with which to work." The house was clad in nondescript siding and the whole composition rambled over its hillside site, a jumble of ill-proportioned rooflines. The first thing one noticed upon arriving was the dominance of the two-car garage.
The Hermans took on the renovation of the project in stages, beginning with a complete interior makeover championed by Kimberly, who has a design background. But just as when you repaint one wall of a room, the others suddenly look shabby, it was a renovation of the pool area that made the rest of the home's exterior appear in serious need of TLC. The couple considered moving elsewhere, but the homes they found were mostly teardowns and, with the rise in waterfront prices, Kimberly says, "We were finding homes that begged for bulldozers for five million! And we'd gone to such trouble on the interior details, making the home exactly what we wanted." So they decided to stay put and give their current home a major facelift.
The Hermans interviewed several architects, but ended up finding the man for the job at Raymond's gym. "He and I had talked about doing this for years while we were doing our sit-ups at the Merritt Athletic Club," quips architect Wayne Good, whose Annapolis-based firm is a perennial winner of design awards from the American Institute of Architects. Out of the gym and on-site, Good describes the Hermans' home as "the most banal builder-built house."
Kimberly's design experience coupled with Raymond's professional background in commercial construction made them the ideal client for Good. There was little to no learning curve, and the couple brought plenty of ideas and expertise to the drawing table. Raymond and builder Bert Winchester of Winchester Construction worked on the structural details while Kimberly divested herself of a file of images collected from architectural magazines over the years. Everything pointed to a shingle-style home with gambrel rooflines.
"I wanted the house to blend into nature," not to mention the established aesthetic of the neighborhood's architecture, Kimberly says. "The whole community is tans and browns, and we wanted to blend seamlessly into that."
Fortuitously, this style worked well with the somewhat disordered mass of the original structure. "The shingle style is a rambling, flexible design style that lent itself well to what we did here," Good explains. "I was very excited by the prospect. I could see exactly what Kimberly and Raymond had in mind and saw that it would work beautifully here."
Good used the original builder drawings and loosely sketched a new design on top of the old, drawing on precedents set by renowned architects like Robert A.M. Stern and McKim, Mead & White. His design encompasses the classic details, fun angles, and unique proportions of old, cedar-shingle ramblers. Those original sketches were barely changed in the final design. Kimberly took the drawings to the neighborhood architectural board, which approved the work, then waited with bated breath as the project unfolded over a year and a half.
The renovation called for a classic shingle house with flared skirts and a stone foundation replacing the previous brick. The skirts and stone would help give the house a solid-looking base, which was particularly appropriate given the hefty roof forms.
The most striking change was the addition of a massive gable at the front entrance. The front porch was extended to create a more graceful and proportionate entry and to allow for large, chunky columns to support the gable and visually anchor it in the landscape. The new gable was built on top of the old, which required some fancy engineering footwork to bolster the pre-fab roof structure in order to hold this new architectural element.
At the last minute, a decision was made to add more volume to the second floor of the garage, which at the time was little more than an unfinished attic. The added height now gives the overall design an improved sense of balance and provides the Hermans with a pleasant extra room for guests.
"Figuring out how to get up to the attic space gracefully was a challenge," remembers Good. The solution was a classic-looking tower that concels an essential ingredient: a circular staircase. Although a fun addition to the house, and serving a practical purpose, it also enhances the overall design. "The tower really works very hard," Good explains, "to bring together the two volumes of the house and garage and balance the height."
Another significant refurbishment was the demolition of a predictable deck at the rear of the house in favor of a covered octagonal porch, set on a 30-foot elevation overlooking the creek. The new deck is made of ipe, a renewable, farmed tropical hardwood from South America that's virtually indestructible and has the same appearance as teak. Old wooden handrails that were constantly requiring a paint job were replaced with powder-coated steel and mahogany railings. Another covered entertaining space sits below the porch where views to the water are framed by shingled arches.
The entire house was reskinned in pre-painted, Alaskan Yellow Cedar shingles, which have a longer life expectancy than traditional cedar shingles. New mullioned windows were also added, which have built-in screens that automatically draw up as the window is opened so the screens don't mar the view when not in use. The roof is now slate and features classic copper gutters and snowbirds.
The new house is striking, yet apropos for its site. And though the big gables and lovely shingles might be the most show-stopping change, the success of the house is in the attention to detail. For example, little ornamental dormer windows were added to the rear edifice. Every window has a touch of molding, every flared gable a decorative bracket. Kimberley took painstaking care, selecting lanterns evocative of the renovated architectural style. Those finishes took time and patience but were worth the effort to create a look that is polished and authentic in the vernacular of rambling shingle homes.
Good doesn't mince words when he looks over the collaborative creation. "Before, it was a wimpy house with no character," he says. "This house has a solidity to it. A stately sense of permanence."
"When you come down the driveway now," says Kimberly, "you see that big gambrel and graceful porch and the tower—it's so striking."