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What's Up Magazine

Cliffside Manor a Personalized Paradise

Mar 14, 2013 04:16PM ● By Anonymous

When they started searching for their dream property, Jim Brantley and Annie Luchak had an affinity for the Annapolis area. Brantley’s hotel and development business is in northern Virginia and his father was a graduate of USNA, while Luchak is originally from Croatia, which sits on the Adriatic Sea and, like Annapolis, revels in a waterfront lifestyle. So they searched for a place close to the city, on the waterfront, with spectacular sunsets and the ability to incorporate one-of-a-kind details they both love. It took them four years to find this house in Arnold, and another two to remodel it completely. While their focus was on comfort and distinctive details, their results are magnificent.


The Spanish-style manor, with its distinctive yellow stucco façade and red-tile roof, sits prominently on a cliff overlooking the Severn River. Beautifully landscaped in front and back, the 4.5-acre property has several outdoor seating areas, a funicular that takes you down to the multi-slip dock, and, most importantly, a lot elevation that offers a spectacular vista. Here, the Severn looks its widest, yet downtown Annapolis is just around the bend via boat. “We wanted a river view, not a creek view,” Brantley says.

Sitting by the fire pit in the backyard—designed around the home’s western exposure for optimal sunsets—and admiring the local hummingbirds and blue heron, the land drops off and you’re rewarded with an infinity vision of water. “Between the view and the garden, you take in nature, the sunsets. We love how it’s so peaceful and quiet,” Luchak says.

When they gutted the home, the couple stayed true to the original architecture, keeping its exterior Mediterranean columns and archways, as well as the mammoth carved Spanish mahogany front door. Odd decks were replaced with private balconies and small rooms in the back of the house were extended to enhance views. Though they sought out uniqueness, they purposely eschewed excessive rooms or square footage—keeping it about 4,400 square feet—to ensure intimacy and a casual lifestyle. The bulk of the changes occurred indoors.


Seasoned global travelers with diverse interests, from flying to fishing, Brantley and Luchak are fascinating and unique individuals, and their home is a visible extension of their personalities. Having built other homes, restaurants, and businesses, they had clear visions of how they wanted to personalize the interior. “We wanted European and contemporary, something different from what everyone else has,” Brantley explains.

To that end, not only does each room provide a spectacular view of the gardens and water, it also incorporates finishes steering clear of the typical. One-of-a-kind chandeliers, for example, hang in the kitchen, dining room, breakfast area, entryway and library, each reflecting a distinct mood. Custom-made and exquisitely crafted wood built-ins balance a family room lined with a curved wall of windows, as well as a game-filled library toward the front of the home. Five fireplaces, each with different mantels or surrounds, are incorporated throughout the home. All five and a half bathrooms (several of which incorporate cleverly designed windows for great views), contain masterful tile and stone work, from an alabaster-focused powder room to a retro-inspired black-and-white tiled guest bathroom, where even the white marble is perfectly veined with black streaks.

Yet, despite many grand features, the couple incorporated countless simple and personal touches, favoring comfort and family. The guest bedroom, for example, where Brantley’s mother regularly stays, features a classic cream-colored en suite bathroom, with a tiny bumble bee tile in the middle of the floor in homage to “Mrs. B.” Less can indeed be more, notes Luchak, who prefers “nothing too frou frou.”


A scrolled wrought iron staircase leads to bedrooms and a top- floor office, with more amazing views and its own sitting area in front of a marble fireplace. But if they had to pick a favorite room, besides the outside, the couple concur it’s the kitchen, which beautifully blends mixed-wood cabinetry, a custom- tiled hood, granite, and stainless steel elements.

Luchak loves to cook for their many gatherings of family and friends, and makes use of the multiple sinks, Wolf range, three ovens, and two dishwashers. The kitchen is open and flows into a breakfast area, with a working wood-burning fireplace, more curved walls of windows, and ample window seating. But certainly, what makes the kitchen so original is the latilla and vigas ceiling. From the Spanish word “Lata,” meaning stick, latilla ceilings use peeled branches of wood painstakingly laid in a pattern between larger wood beams or vigas.

In fact, Brantley and Luchak embrace the “fifth wall” design aesthetic, believing that a ceiling’s look is just as important as the walls. Accordingly, most of their other ceilings are equally impressive, from an olive-hued coffered ceiling high above the dining room to a round-domed entrance hall ceiling to the elliptical-domed ceiling in the master suite.

But it’s not just the ceiling that’s unique in the master. With a fireplace on one side and a bay of windows on another, the couple chose to anchor their room with the bed in the center. At the head of the bed sits a custom-built, lighted, and curved headboard; at the foot is a handcrafted automated TV lift cabinet. Each morning, the couple remotely engages the motorized shades on the windows (also installed in other rooms) to reveal the Severn River 100 feet below. No matter the weather, Brantley and Luchak are certain to relish the day in their exceptional haven.