In Perfect Harmony
May 13, 2013 10:54PM
● By Anonymous
Wally Ganzi will tell you he's never built a house.
He's renovated a ranch in Colorado, restored a Pennsylvania horse farm, and, while overseeing the expansion of the Palm—the famed Manhattan eatery founded by his grandfather—he's built 28 high-end restaurants in the U.S. and abroad.
His career and life have been marked by a sense of grand design, by the ability to take a given parcel of property or business venture to its full potential.
So it's no surprise that when Wally and his wife, Sandy, were looking to purchase property on the Eastern Shore in early 2011, they wanted no part in an architect's proposal to build them a house from the ground up—especially after hearing horror stories from friends who had undertaken the task.
Instead, they had their eye on a promising eight-acre parcel on Broad Creek with a unique existing house. What would come next is only fitting for this forward-looking couple with
an eye for improvement.
Despite living and working for years in and around D.C.— where growth of the Palm brand began, starting with a location on Dupont Circle—Wally and Sandy had never spent
time on the Eastern Shore. Their first visit was a revelation, Wally says.
"We came out here the first time and drove around," he says. "I was dumbfounded. I thought I was 300 hundred miles upstate in New York, but instead of mountains, it was just
beautiful, beautiful farmland."
They were taken by the grand gray stone structure on the Broad Creek property outside St. Michaels. Sitting near a point and conjuring a Norman manor, the house wasn't for everyone, says Jeff Knapp, the Ganzis' architect/builder. "With something that's this unique, some people will 'oooh and aaah' and some people won't."
Wally and Sandy fell into the former category, charmed by 30-foot ceilings with exposed beams salvaged from an old Singer sewing machine factory, window seats, five fireplaces, a curved stairway, arched mahogany doors with etched glass details, and Brazilian cherry hardwood floors.
Though certainly grand, the house was rebuilt 13 years ago within the footprint of the original structure—as mandated by Maryland's Critical Areas laws—and, as such, only had
three bedrooms. Wouldn't the Ganzis, social beings with children and grandchildren, want more room? It turns out Wally had already thought that through.
"When I bought (the property), I knew what I was going to do. I wanted to build what I termed not an estate but a compound," he says. "I wanted a separate carriage house, a
separate guest house. We like our privacy."
A blueprint for his vision already existed, as Knapp had begun similar plans for a previous owner. "We wanted to build something special, and Jeff (Knapp) had that same intention. That's why we hooked up," Wally says.
Two years later, the unique main house has been supplemented with meticulously planned, finely crafted guest and carriage houses, each with a distinct interior ethos ranging from French chateau to waterfront resort to mountain hunting lodge.
Together with the main building, the new carriage and guest houses form an unquestionable, structural whole, as if they were always meant to occupy that land. Getting to that point, however, wasn't the easiest task.
With Ganzi adamant about the new structures being in accord with the old, Knapp got to work locating the brick and stone materials needed to replicate the main house's look.
"Every single one of the bricks you see in the house has been cut down to the same thickness," Knapp says. Meanwhile, the dove gray stone that makes up a majority of the main house's exterior was an even bigger challenge.
"I didn't realize how much work was involved in getting that rock," Wally says. Knapp found the stone in Connecticut but, unlike the brick, which could be cut with a saw, every piece had to be cut by hand. "These guys are out there like you'd see in the salt mines of King Solomon. It's pretty warm here in the summer, right?" Wally says, "but every piece they're chiseling and I'm going...'Let's see, that's six pieces in a day, six times 30 is...,' and I said to Jeff, 'So this summer we write off,'" he says laughing.
Carrying on that same attention to detail, Knapp custom built a Juliet balcony with a 100-year-old French railing on the second floor of the carriage house to match the one off the master bedroom in the main house. In the guest house, he mimicked the main house's pagoda-like curve at the corner of the roof and mirrored the main house's front entrance. "We handmade the door here on site," Knapp adds.
The Ganzis loved the results. "It looks like it was all done at the same time," Wally says, even though there's a 12-year gap between construction dates.
While the exteriors are parts of a whole, inside, different spaces were created for different needs, each special and distinct, all the while making the most of the waterfront location and maximizing privacy.
With the help of Knapp and his wife, Melissa, and Gloria Schilling of Higgins & Spencer, Sandy furnished the entire main house retaining the French country theme with opulent details, including a huge handmade Italian tapestry.
The interior of the guest house, by contrast, has an airy lightness one would find in a Mediterranean resort. Knapp repeated main house details here, including a window seat and exposed beams, and installed stainless-steel appliances in a fully serviceable European-style kitchen.
Out in the carriage house, Wally's "man cave" on the second floor evokes a northern hunting lodge, complete with antique toboggans and mementos from the Colorado ranch he owned—including the skin of a mountain lion he helped tag for the state's wildlife division. When wardens found the lion had been shot by an unscrupulous hunter, they made the gift to Wally.
All in all, the project turned out exactly as Knapp had envisioned it—and even better than Wally had imagined. Now all that's left to do is enjoy. And with summer rapidly approaching, the Ganzis say they plan to take full advantage of the fruits of their labor, which, more than a mere house, is a multi-building, multifaceted home.