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What's Up Magazine

Country Meets Coastal at Langdon Point

Apr 15, 2014 09:52AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Gail Greco //Photography by Stephen Buchanan

We are the heart of our homes, holding the keys to their treasures and secrets. We maintain them; pay the bills, prop, primp, sweep, tidy, share, and love them. “We shape our buildings,” wrote Winston Churchill, “thereafter our buildings shape us.”

Our homes are so a part of who we are and yet they are never entirely ours. Although they house our essence and spirit for a time, we are really only their caretakers until the process of interpreting, living in, and nurturing repeats itself someday with another, who will phase into that space -- our space. That changing of the guard – the safe passage from former owner to new – can be, however, a time of rejoicing, challenge, hope, excitement, and growth, the kinds of emotions the Groupe family from Virginia felt when they recently became Eastern Shore residents.

After a three-year search to find a family home away from home, Terre and Skip (John S.) Groupe found Langdon Point Farm in the Chesapeake hamlet of Sherwood. Enter, the Groupes, the third owners (of a house only 12 years new) where the youngest generation of Groupes -- who may even someday join the line of caretakers – has already heavily influenced its short history.

On a house-hunting visit to Langdon Point, Grandparents Terre and Skip were with five-year-old grandson Jack (aka John S. Groupe the VI), checking out the property again, when little Jack became enthralled by blue crabs climbing along the dock pilings. Later that day, the family returned to the western shore, but Jack could not get the curiosities of those sea creatures out of his mind. “When are we going back to the crabby house?,” he queried his grandparents.

“It was out of the blue,” recalls Terre. “So from then on, we all referred to the property as The Crabby House.” Little Jack’s observation and emotional connection is often how a property appeals to a buyer. Grandfather Skip admits that Jack’s sensibilities confirmed, “this was indeed a special place.” His imagery, took the Groupes over the top and they traded the papers for the 13.5-acre property on Dun Cove shortly after.

Enter the new owners of Langdon Point, aka “the caretakers” of what was now being officially referred to by the Groupes as The Crabby House. Situated on what was part of a 400-acre farm that stretched past Harris Creek and Dun Cove across Rt. 33 (St. Michael’s Road) to the Chesapeake Bay, the farm had been subdivided into several properties with new owners exchanging hands many times. The main farmhouse, some outbuildings, and 145 acres were kept as a working farm. The Groupe property is one of six separate lots, two of which are in Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.

The driveway to Crabby House takes a few minutes as it takes a desultory wind through charming, centuries-old farm houses and outbuildings, passing along American holly and locust trees and loblolly pines. One quickly sees why it is defined as an example of an Eastern Shore architectural vernacular that fits comfortably and meaningfully within the historical and physical heritage of its site. The house itself bends easily with the angle of the shoreline, boasting trim details from 8-inch beaded board horizontal siding and shingled 14 and 4½ pitch roofs.

The house was originally 4,300 square feet built by the Clarke family who designed it in 2000 under the auspices of renowned Washington area architect Merle Thorpe. In 2007, the Liuzzi family added to the main part of the house with a connecting space or “gallery” done in a brick floor and highlighted by an angled rooftop window. A new bedroom wing is on the other side of the gallery, so that the house now has an east and west wing, bringing the house’s Georgia heart pine and travertine-topped floors to 7,100 square feet.

Crabby House is a part-time home for Terre and Skip, with most family members still working over the bridge at the family’s civil engineering business in Alexandria, making their way to the Eastern Shore often.

Now that the Groupes are here, the home will remain as is with a few possible changes to modernize the kitchen. That might allow chief family cook Skip, to have some company and make it easier for him to cook for a crowd of even 23 on any given weekend. His specialty is seafood, sourcing all of his ingredients as much as possible locally because he says, “the vegetables and fish we find here are unequalled.”

The sea theme extends beyond the kitchen to the family room whose ceiling is in the shape of an inverted boat’s hull to complement the local traditions here of wooden boat construction. And the room’s focal point is a dramatic pond sailboat yacht that sits on a large oak-washed meeting table. Red, yellow, and blue colors accent the nautical theme in bedrooms and some common rooms. Leading to creative little Jack’s room are crabby mementos under another seafaring ceiling done as the bow of a boat.

“Coastal style was the look Terre and daughter-in-law Katie were after,” recalls Renae Purchase, interior designer for the project from Higgins & Spencer, Inc. Fine Furniture in St. Michaels. “They gravitated towards nautical colors with Terre adding in the more subtle shore seaside tones of easy blues and greens,” says Renae, who also steered the décor to include washed oak and other painted furniture. “We wanted to bring in the property’s surroundings and farming past with a bright country coastal feel,” explains Terre. “Terre and Katie wanted to use a lot of cotton prints,” says Renae. “My challenge included creating the cottage feel in a sprawling home.”

In addition to Higgins & Spencer, the Groupe’s appointed the home with decorative accents from other local shops including The Bountiful and Trade Whims in Easton, and several smaller shops in St. Michael’s.

Local also shows its face on labels in the friendly, but worldly wine cellar, and in all of the sporting goods in the Groupe’s home. A so-called “hobby room” supports and supplements the family’s local fishing and hunting activities. The narrow room, although tucked away and more like a hallway, is broad in purpose. It captures the essence of the eastern shore with it fly tying and ammunition equipage, and plenty of countertop for as Skip tells What’s Up, “decoy repair.” The delightful space with large double-hung windows, allows Chesapeake light to wash over a workbench overlooking the waterside. The bark-grained natural flooring, built-in storage spaces painted in forest green, “provide this retreat with such a welcome and natural-feeling,” he adds.

The cycle of nature and that caretaking continues out of doors as well at Crabby House. Several screened porches that flank both wings of the house help coax the Eastern Shore character. Skip delivers a little personal porch poetry from his writing (at right).

The porches are shore-lounging friendly with plump cushions for endless hours observing other natural experiences. Besides those blue crabs, Skip points out, “the daily routine of osprey and eagles jousting for food and lodging…geese and duck arriving in fall, the constant foraging of the fox and raccoon, the ever present deer and an occasional turkey.”

The Groupe family extends to Jack’s baby sister Ellie and brother Freddie who bring black lab Tilghy when they jaunt over to the Eastern Shore with Dad or John S. Groupe the V. Their portraits are hanging on the gallery wall as big as life nearby two Victorian parlor chairs from Skip’s parents. The chairs’ velvet upholstery is a vintage contrast to the modern cottons in other areas of the house, but the chairs are at home there. We like them so much as a reminder and a connector to the past,” says Terre.

A life preserver outside the boat house boasts the property’s name, Crabby House. Even Jack, at his young age, could not help but be so affected by the Eastern Shore’s most prominent symbol – the crab. Just as naturally, the Groupes may have decided to hang the name of the house, not on a post or a dangling shingle but on a life preserver, the perfect complement to the Groupe family afloat at the Langdon Point house for a very long time into the future.