Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

A Serene Sanctuary on the Wye River

Mar 11, 2014 12:02PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lurdes Abruscato // Photography by Stephen Buchanan

This is an unconventional love story. It’s about taking a home that was pretty special already, but having the passion to complete it. It’s about turning a property with a little bit of an identity crisis into a cohesive unit. And it’s about implementing a long-term plan for a place, ensuring it will stand the test of time.

Located on the Wye River in Queenstown, this 16-plus acre property already was spectacular, with expansive water views, deep-water access and a stunning contemporary structure of four buildings simulating a traditional Southern Maryland tobacco farm. But at almost 20 years of age, it struggled with space and scale issues, didn’t have many modern efficiencies, and floundered on the real market for years.

Its newest owners, residents of Washington, D.C., already had a second home in Chestertown, but were in search of a place with a little more land and closer proximity to their primary residence. They stumbled upon this Wye River abode and were enamored with the architecturally beautiful structure and setting, but less so with its “tired” elements and layout challenges. Settling on the home in March of last year, they immediately began a significant remodel, with the added challenge of completing everything in four months to use it for the summer.

It Really Does Take a Village

Image titleWith a 25- to 30-year vision for the home, the new owners envisioned specific changes: The main house would be gutted and function as the primary living space for their family of four; a two-car garage with loft would be converted into a cabana pool house, replete with a new pool, as well as a living space for guests; the residence would be modernized with sustainable materials and smart-home components; and a separate barn eventually would transition into additional living space as their children grew and added their own families to the mix.

To execute their goals, the family enlisted a massive team of experts—architect, general contractor, designer, landscape architect, landscape/irrigation contractor, pool contractor and AV/technology contractor, to list a few. They often selected service providers they had used in the past, while personally orchestrating the renovation down to the minutest of details.

Even before the contract was put in, the owners had Annapolis-based landscape architect Kevin Campion on the scene to help create the entire exterior design, pool layout, hardscape and plantings plans. They sought out the original Denton-based builder of the home as the general contractor to maintain the integrity of the original architecture while implementing new ideas.

Whirlwind activity began the day after settlement, with Second Chance, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that salvages reusable materials for resale as part of a job training program, repurposing 3,000 square feet of wood floors, windows, mechanical equipment, appliances, bath fixtures and more.

Obvious Overhauls

Some of the major improvements are immediately visible. “I think the biggest evolution to the house involved changing the windows,” says general contractor Keith Neal. Across the front of the home, for example, new window configurations and construction elements were plotted by Annapolis-based architect Chip Bohl. Small, square frames were replaced with elongated, 24-pane windows, which, paired with a striking red 48-pane door, create an appealing exterior elevation while enhancing interior natural lighting and views.

Similarly, the great room already housed a wall of glass across the back of the home, but the other spaces in the room, including the kitchen sink and fireplace walls, didn’t equal in impact. Adding more glass to those walls made it even more dramatic and panoramic.

Elsewhere, the master wing, which originally included “his and her” bathrooms on one side and closets separated by windows on the other side, was completely redesigned for a more efficient use of the space, says Potomac-based interior designer Jana Abel. An office/den area was added to the suite for the owner’s use, while the two bathrooms in one area—an impractical setup for the family—were melded into one grander bath, with a prominent back-to-back vanity floating in the middle of the room and streamlined closets surrounding it. A separate powder room was created and added to the other side of the foyer, along with a mudroom—a more family friendly conversion of space.

Areas Ideal for Entertainment

Just as dramatic was the addition of a cabana, outdoor kitchen, and pool, a wish-list item for the owner, who swims. The custom-fit pool, with its Midnight Blue/Maui Gem interior, is surrounded by Pennsylvania bluestone slate work. The cabana, previously a two-car garage and apartment, now houses a TV lounge area, a new upstairs bathroom, new flooring, and a guest suite with a wet bar and built-in beds for kids.
Image title
The entire area was designed to flow naturally from the main house with a continuous patio. Mirroring the outside, a slate-floored pool kitchen is located just off the main kitchen and allows easy access to snacks and beverages for anyone enjoying the outdoors.

Not to be overlooked, the main kitchen was completely remodeled. In addition to new windows, it incorporates updated appliances, cabinetry, surfaces, backsplash and flooring. Every detail was meticulously thought out: Drawers were custom designed to conceal kitchen items, and no upper cabinets exist so as not to impede the views. Narrow oak floors were replaced with wide, riff-cut oak, a lumber process that produces wood less likely to warp or shrink. The oak was custom-bleached and gray-stained “to tie in with the weathered dock and outbuildings in the distance,” Abel says.

The island, with its new manmade surface, is a whopping 18 feet in length and seats eight. Maintaining the room’s scale consistency, an equally long dining table was custom made by Stevensville furniture maker David Iatesta.

Inconspicuous Changes Abound

But for every visually appealing renovation, there were dozens of less obvious—but significantly impactful—alterations. The home’s HVAC was converted to geothermal power, a cost-effective and sustainable energy source, through the drilling of 12 wells. Crawl spaces were “reconditioned” and insulation was increased, “which really greatly influenced the efficiency of the home and makes it a green structure,” Neal says.

The entrance to the property, including the parking area, driveway, circulation, and landscaping, was restructured. “We removed a lot of asphalt and impervious surfaces,” says Church Hill-based landscaper Michael Jensen, while adding low-voltage lighting, irrigation, and new planting beds.

Though not apparent, the house was completely redone as a “smart home” with cameras, remote electronics, and alarm systems installed.

The color palette and design aesthetic were intentionally subtle and durable, yet sophisticated. “The goal for the finishes was to keep it light and neutral in order to appreciate the views,” Abel says. Warm whites, grays, and creams throughout complement the river scenery, while the fabrics, finishes, and surfaces are hardwearing, clean, crisp, and simple.

Truly a labor of love, the finished project was indeed ready for use by the summertime. It is now greatly enjoyed by the owners as both a family retreat and an entertainment hub for friends, and should maintain its appeal for years to come.