Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Tale of Two Holiday Homes

Nov 19, 2012 07:19PM ● By Anonymous

Many homeowners would consider themselves one of two types when it comes to dressing up their home interiors for the season’s holidays: either enthusiastic and embracing or apprehensive and challenged. The reality is that we’re all a little bit of both. Whereas you might love the idea of the perfect Christmas tree sitting in the bay window, the thought of how in the heck to get it there lingers like frost on a window. Or maybe you simply can’t wait to dive into decorating, but are unsure of where to begin. Two properties, each showcased during a holiday home tour last season and photographed by What’s Up?, offered season’s greetings with open doors and traditional décor that pleased all … even Kris Kringle we suspect.

’Tis the Season

In Annapolis, at the headwaters of Mill Creek, reside Allen and Janet Alexopulos, who purchased their wooded lot in the autumn of 1982. An engineer, Allen was entertaining the idea of building an underground, energy-efficient dwelling. But after immediately falling in love with the natural surroundings, the couple scrapped plans for subterranean living and built a rustic cedar design that blended well with the environment. Energy efficiency was kept in mind by incorporating south-facing windows and skylights, and centrally locating a wood stove into the plan. The walls were also constructed using two-by-six framing, allowing for more installation of insulation.

But after 25 years of blending a little too well with the trees—leading many woodpeckers to take residence within the framing—a renovation was in order. An entirely new façade and expansion was called for. “We decided upon an Arts and Crafts-inspired design,” recalls Janet. In the front, a porch was added and the roof over the existing living room was changed from a shed to a gable roof to match the porch. A large window was added and placed in the gable, which really opens the living room to the outside. New garage doors blended well into the overall design. What was once a high-maintenance exterior became a no-maintenance exterior with the use of Cedar Impressions vinyl siding that gives one the impression of shingles typically found on coastal homes.

Inside, extensive changes were also made. The entrance was expanded with changed roof line, new front door, and skylight. The foyer closet was enlarged, and the wall separating the dining room from the foyer was changed from a full to a half-wall, allowing for a more open plan with an increase of natural lighting.

More extensive changes were made to the rear of the house, where the kitchen is located. The entire kitchen was remodeled with new, rich, natural cherry cabinetry which complements the overall design of the home. New appliances and two different granite countertops were incorporated. An island is the centerpiece of the room, which was also expanded over what was the deck. A gas fi replace with a mantel, designed and built by Allen, completes the kitchen-family room. “The kitchen/sitting area is truly the heart of the home and where everyone hangs out,” says Janet.

A lovely screened-in porch overlooks the creek and a bubbling fountain was also added. A second story was built over the extension for a nice “bonus room” upstairs that has windows that allow for a panoramic view of the trees and creek.

“We enjoy watching native birds, including eagles, herons, ducks, and cranes, as well as occasional kayakers from our porch. It is our little oasis of peace and tranquility,” says Janet.

When decorating for the holidays, Janet says she usually waits until a week after Thanksgiving before considering Christmas. “Usually we set up our tree a week before Christmas. While I decorate I always take into consideration the nutcracker, silver bell, and White House ornament collections that my mother-in- law has provided for me over the years.”

Because the couple loves winter—and the leafless views of Mill Creek that the cold season affords them—they have collected ornaments that have crystal or silver elements to them. “I also cherish ornaments from my son’s developing years, from my students, friends, and our parents,” adds Janet.

The Alexopulos property was featured during last December’s METAvivor Holiday Home Tour. They connected with the metastatic breast cancer research and support organization via their neighbor Avis Halberstadt— treasure of METAvivor—who was aware of the dramatic change the couple’s house had undergone and asked if they wished to feature it on the tour. “We were very fortunate to have had the experience [of the tour],” says Janet, “Since I have had personal experience with breast cancer (my mother and maternal aunt both had breast cancer), this is a cause that is of great importance to me.”

Traditional Charm

Dating back to about 1860, the home of Rachel and Hans Gruenberg is a St. Michaels relic. Originally built on an 18,500 square foot parcel overlooking the Miles River, the actual enclosed structure—2,800-plus square feet—sits on one corner of the property, opposite the river. The Gruenbergs, who’ve lived in the traditional home since inheriting it from Rachel’s mother in 1989, thought it was an odd feature of the property. “All this waterfront land, and yet the home is in the far corner,” says Rachel. “I always thought that was so unique, but then Hurricane Isabel struck, and we quickly learned why.” During the historic hurricane of 2003, the storm surge pushed the waterline far higher than ever seen before by living eyes. “They were smart back then. Our home stayed dry, just above that water,” recalls Rachel. Thankfully so, and for more reasons than one.

The Gruenbergs’ home has been featured three times in the 25 years that “Christmas in St. Michaels” has conducted its holiday home tour. Last season, more than 700 visitors passed through their house. Rachel’s mother (who herself inherited the property from her father, the original owner) was on the committee of Christmas in St. Michaels—an annual, all-volunteer, three-day charity event throughout the town—when the holiday tour first featured their home, in 1987. Since then, the Gruenberg’s have completed renovations and expansions to the original structure, most notably in 1997, when the kitchen and back half of the house were removed. The house was expanded outward with a new kitchen, family room, and master suite (bedroom and bath) and upward, with 10-foot high ceilings. “We probably enjoy the family room and kitchen the most, especially when we host family,” says Rachel.

Last year, the Gruenbergs teamed with Terry Effinger, a longtime volunteer with Christmas in St. Michaels, who planned the interior décor while including many of the Gruenbergs most treasured decorations. Keeping in mind the historical significance of the property, the overall look was decidedly “a Williamsburg-type fashion,” says Rachel. The antique dining table, for example, was bedecked with fresh greenery complemented with carved wooden lemons painted bright yellow—together, they create popping primary colors that play with the room’s deep red walls.

In the family room, the color tones are softer—whites, pinks, and browns—allowing for Rachel’s collection of Santa Clause figures to take center stage on the coffee table with magnolia greens. “I really like the simplicity of this décor,” says Rachel, who also notes that last season’s holiday home tour, “was the most satisfying we’ve participated in.”

 Photos by Tony Lewis, Jr.