It was not the house, but the views of the Naval Academy and the incredible sunsets over the water that sold one Annapolis couple on the Severn River property they bought in 1997. That’s not to suggest they didn’t like the charming saltbox house on the site, which they had lived in for 10 years. But as their two children grew into teenagers, “every time we tried to make the house work for our family and add on to it, it lost its character,” says the owner. After much debate, the family decided to build a new home on the property, one that would be a spacious entertaining place for their kids’ friends, yet intimate enough for a family.
Wayne Good, principal of Good Architecture, worked with the homeowners to create a plan that took full advantage of the property’s stunning location atop a bluff overlooking the river. At the same time, the new structure needed to edit away the view of the neighbors to create a sense of privacy. And what should it look like? “When they’d travel in the summer, they would send snapshots of homes they liked and they were all in this shingle, classical-revival ilk,” says Good.
Luckily, that style was in keeping with other residences in the neighborhood, which includes several 1930s Colonial-revival homes. Good took inspiration from the best of what he saw in the neighborhood and perused his own library (which contains more than 1,000 volumes) to study the great old houses from the 1920s. “We took the genetics of the neighborhood and brought it forward and reinterpreted it into today’s living patterns,” he explains.
Good describes the final product, an 8,000-square-foot home built on a symmetrical axis, as “a dead-simple plan, but so elegant,” with the main volume flanked by two pavilions. Good’s design also ensured that his clients’ cars were not visible from the street, working with the property’s natural grade to sink the garage under the house. One pavilion houses a mudroom and office area; the other is a guest wing with private entrance that is often used by the Naval Academy midshipman sponsored by the family.
If the exterior is historically inspired, the interior is cautiously contemporary. Large rooms with 10-foot ceilings provide an open, airy feeling that’s well proportioned and entirely modern. The spaces are clean and restrained so each architectural detail can shine. The kitchen, for example, is so elegantly simple that the brass and copper range hood and the two walnut dressers stand out as artistic elements. Good designed the dressers, which enclose refrigerator drawers that are ideal for storing drinks for the kids and for parties.
The homeowner loves to cook but hates clutter, which is why the kitchen is designed with no perimeter counterspace save for the large island. A Sub-Zero full freezer and refrigerator flank the kitchen entrance, ensuring no shortage of food storage.
“Many kitchens are pretty, but they don’t function well,” says the owner. “They designed knife drawers, and the coffeemaker and toaster are behind cabinets that open easily. I’m not very tall, so the dishes are in drawers right behind the dishwasher, so it makes unloading the dishwasher very easy.”
The kitchen flows into a family room, but there’s the option to close it off with bi-folding, glass pocket doors. “I like having the kids around, but sometimes, if you’re entertaining and the kids are watching television, the adults can’t carry on a conversation,” says the owner. “I love the way the doors close so they can feel a part of us, and I can feel like they’re a part of us and, yet, we don’t need to hear the noise.”
The homeowner worked with noted interior designer Mona Hajj, whom she describes as “having exquisite taste.” The family room is the perfect example of Hajj’s ability to create a beautiful space, yet one that can function with kids, a dog, and the occasional midshipman.
“The room has that gorgeous Italian sofa [Hajj] found, yet you can have eight or 10 people being lounge lizards comfortably on that sofa and because it’s leather, you don’t worry about someone spilling something,” says the owner. “She has a way of making it elegant yet family-friendly.”
Enter the house from the front door and you step into a foyer that draws you into an open living-room-and-dining-room space featuring a wall of French doors that lead to a veranda running the length of the room. “We probably looked at thousands of diamond-in-ellipse patterns before settling on these,” says Good of the room’s gorgeous doors. Fireplaces anchor each end of the room. One fully expects Jay Gatsby to enter stage left with a silver tray of gin cocktails in this room.
Yet the room was, in fact, cause for lengthy debate. Good recalls that the homeowner was unsure about the openness and there’s still talk of creating a retractable wall between living room and dining room. When thinking about this space, Good invokes the words of architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, who said every home needed “a Jesus Christ!” room.
“The living and dining room explode and are a big surprise when you enter the house,” says Good.
Of course, the great view could be diminished by looking at it through the webbing of a screen porch encasing the veranda, but mosquitoes are a fact of life on the water. So to preserve the appearance of the house, the porch uses retractable screens that drop down from the porch cross beams when needed. These “phantom screens” were a feat of engineering executed by contractor Bert Winchester. They are one of the owner’s favorite features.
Attention to detail is a distinguishing element in all of Good’s work. The high wainscoting in the hallway, for example, features an embedded picture rail. The landing of the main stair cuts across a window, an oddity that was purposely executed.
“Many 18th-century houses have a stair crossing the window,” explains Good. “It was common when rectifying the strict symmetry outside with the interior workings. I wanted it there to express the architectural genetics of some of the houses here, and it brings light into the stairwell.”
Other details are more contemporary: In the bathing alcove of the master suite, for example, the corners of the glass windows come together without joinery for a very modern aesthetic. The alcove, which sits out from the main bath and encompasses the Severn River view, exemplifies the success of Good’s plan at shielding the interiors of the home from neighbors.
The master suite includes a bedroom, sitting area, patio, and his-and-hers closets. It is a dream come true for the owner. “Before we had this house, I said to my husband, ‘I don’t think in our entire married life I’ve had a nice kitchen, a nice bathroom, or a nice closet,’” she says with a laugh. “Now we’ve got them all.”
She particularly enjoys the sitting suite between the bedroom and bath. “If one person gets up and the other is sleeping, you don’t hear the water running so you can continue to sleep,” she explains. Hajj’s decision to place the television in the sitting room and not the bedroom was another stroke of genius. “It’s wonderful—we’ll probably never put one in [the bedroom],” says the owner. “When I walk in and step on the chenille carpet in the bedroom, I’m totally relaxed and ready for bed.”
The home has inspired other lifestyle changes as well. The owner explains that they love to travel but the impulse to get away is subdued now that they have a home to enjoy. “My husband has said, when we talk about going out to dinner, ‘Your food’s better and my wine’s better, why don’t we stay home?’”
Another reason to stay put? “When my daughter first walked up to the house, she said, ‘This is where I can get married,’” says the owner. There is an elevator connecting the garage to every floor. Right now, it’s most convenient for moving luggage. But in the future, they hope to finish the attic level into an in-law suite where the couple can move when their children are old enough for the main house to pass to that generation.