A Canvas of White
Aug 01, 2013 11:15AM
● By Cate Reynolds
Starting Anew at Maiden Lot Farm
By Gail Greco // Photos by Steve Buchanan
White may seem like the very absence of color—shy and removed from the bold attention other colors draw. But at the old brick-and-slate farmhouse of Mary Anne Shea and Blyth Reynolds, white is so full of color, that it eclipses the more restrained darker shades left by Colonial traditions. In fact, white sheds a modernist milieu on the couple’s home, casting a light that is warm and inviting as it propels the couple’s new life together in directions they never planned or imagined.
So how can a color—or by suggestion, the omission of one—hold weight and affect such a delivery? Mary Anne and Blyth couldn’t answer that at first. But as they recall watching the Benjamin Moore White Water Bay being brushed onto plaster crown moldings, stippled into wood fluted trims, dabbed along classic window mullions, and rolled onto the 10-foot walls they accent, white seemed like a good place to start, and, Mary Anne muses, “we decided to just see where it would take us.”
Those were their first decorating thoughts four years ago, when they purchased and moved into a house in the midst of seven acres of Chestertown’s 17th-century Maiden Lot Farm on Morgan Creek and the north side of the Chester River. Blyth and Mary Anne were married on the grounds shortly after in apparel of white and under a shower of sweet rose petals— white, of course, by design—and what a way to thread the concept through their home, as well. The White Water Bay swaths a contemporary path across historic millwork and details in shades of brightness that define the main concept of their décor.
“We came here and did not know a soul,” Mary Anne says, remembering the day she suggested to Blyth that they leave home in Georgetown and take a ride to Chestertown, a ride that would be ever-transforming. They had been looking at homes all around the Eastern Shore, but when they turned down the driveway of Maiden Lot Farm (so stated on two brick entry columns and lined with more than 350 Leland Cypress), Blyth recalls knowing immediately that “this was the place.”
The estimated 3,800-square-foot neo-classic style home sitting at the end of the drive at water’s edge was not in bad shape as some old neglected homes can be in. But the kitchen needed total updating and everywhere begged for elbow grease and fresh coats of paint. A 90-degree staircase located at the northeast corner of the house (not in a center hall) needed refreshing. Turning on itself, reaching upwards three flights towards the sky with balusters and newels, the stairway is lit with natural light through a sunburst transom over the front door, reflecting onto the stairway from the foyer. A salt-water swimming pool was added and Blyth built a spring cutting garden. Mary Anne set about to appoint five bedrooms in colors that would accent the white—from browns to blues and oranges—and a wardrobe was built into the master bedroom looking as though it had always been there.
Blyth loves the historic four-square-style simplicity of the house and shows how his rare stand-up Eastern Shore basement exhibits the floor plan in its simplest form. The three-story house with sprawling columned porches on the upper levels was built circa 1911 to 1920 on the same spot where a farmhouse of the 1800s formerly existed. The home’s brick exterior is antiqued white with white trims as high as the gabled dormers. Black louvered shutters on six-over-six windows are the only treatments inside or outside the windows. Everchanging natural light affected by its passage under the porches offers the white-washed décor the effect of creams and grays in various rooms, depending on the time of day. The absence of curtains or drapes is Mary Anne’s choice and way of letting white transform the interiors naturally.
Mary Anne (67) knew Blyth (66) for many years when they both lived in Greenwich, Conn., as Mary Anne was the best friend of Blyth’s wife. The couple both lost their spouses and many years later, the two found a love for each other, and now a love for their very own homestead and “a special love for Chestertown, where we just keep getting more and more involved,” Mary Anne says. Reporting on her bid for admission into Chestertown’s gardening club, Mary Anne says it was not easy. “They were hesitant to take me on; after all, I have zero experience gardening. But once I proved I could bend and lift and work hard for the club, I got in, and in digging around now—the surface only,” she chuckles, “I am in such discovery mode.”
Only five feet tall, Mary Anne is a petite powerhouse of flexibility and energy, “in every way,” adds Blyth; “even when it comes to conversing.” Sporting a chic white button-down princess-line shirt of whispery sheer cotton, the white of Blyth’s peonies blooming behind her strawberry blonde hair, Mary Anne admits, “Still, he is the gardener, and he is good at it.” Turning up her pointy collar in the style of actress Kathryn Hepburn—whom she resembles in sleight and personality—Mary Anne’s gift of conversation is satin hammer, tapped with soft and firm, much like she has styled her home.
And indeed, appointing a house in white may seem simple and straightforward, but it is an exercise in editing and restraint. Carla Massoni, a local fine art dealer and one of the Reynolds’ first friends on the Eastern Shore, helped guide their journey into the world of white in art and décor, and later in friendship.
“Really, they guided themselves,” she says. “White is the blank slate that Mary Anne and Blyth sought to bring to their relationship in a way of building something and filling their space as individuals while embracing their new frontier together. The color became symbolic. Since they have come to Chestertown, they have sought out the fine artists and supported the community, painting their own elegant canvas in every way.”
Chestertown interior decorator Lauren Ames shared Mary Anne and Blyth's vision to make the house a reflection of the outside and the local community. “We even shied away from covering up the windows to bring the natural elements of light and texture from the farm and environs into the house,” she explains. “It was my most fun project seeing the house and their love come together as they got married on the banks of the very river that inspired the décor. It was just magical.”
Several large paintings hang against the walls in the couple’s home, allowing the white to step back and the paintings to pop forward. Hanging in the living room, Goddess is by local artist Marcy Dunne Ramsey, who lives across the water from Maiden Lot farm. The painting was the inspiration for Mary Anne’s choice of textiles in the room. In addition, four paintings around the home were done by Blyth’s daughter, Veronica—one hangs in the kitchen where the couple’s propensity for white dinner plates tinged with blue just fell into place, accenting the painting against bead-board white cabinetry.
Head gardener is a long way from Blyth’s financial career with J.P. Morgan, where he traveled the world collecting remembrances that adorn the only non-white room of the house. The library is layer-cake brown with one of the house’s two fi replaces. An antique wooden Barbary Coast rifle inlaid with ivory, accents the mantle and is a focus of the room filled with exotica from the Far East.
After working on the house for several months, they were ready to integrate into the town. That’s when their discoveries began to unfold. From art to music to lectures, Chestertown certainly seems to have it all—including a few things Mary Anne and Blyth didn’t realize they liked until moving here, such as model boats and local wine.
Falling in love with Chestertown and Kent County, its people, and its environs has opened the world to Mary Anne and Blyth, who you might think have already seen it all. But they are just beginning, so they repeat over and over again. “Not only does it have everything we need, but with all that there is to offer here, we see that there is even more here than expected.”
“It’s a magical place,” Mary Anne says. “We see the sun rise and set and the osprey return. Our life is a honeymoon,” and perhaps that comment builds the case for the modern-day fairy tale here.
The name of the farm—Maiden Lot, or The Maiden’s Lot, as records dating back to 1701 show— in some way complements the love story between Mary Anne Shea and Blyth Reynolds. They seemed destined to find this out-of-the- way place. In Mary Anne’s research of the origins of the farm, it appears the name must have something to do with a dowry, she says, and one that wasn’t fulfilled until the Shea- Reynolds arrived. Records show that other parts of the land were deeded as Partnership and Agreement, further deepening the mystery, as the original farm may have been 900 acres, not the more recent 304 before subdividing.
But there is no question about the partnership between Mary Anne and Blyth or their agreement to “… just see where it would take us,” referring to Mary Anne’s idea to let white lead the way. One thing is for sure, the canvas is still in progress at Maiden Lot Farm, and there is no black in sight!