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What's Up Magazine

Windows to the World Outside

Jun 06, 2014 12:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Carol Sorgen // Photography by Stephen Buchanan

Were it not for an inattentive Canadian realtor, David and Ellen Ponder may well be enjoying the charms of French Canadian ski country. Instead, the one-time high school sweethearts from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who have long made their home in the Annapolis area, bid farewell to their five-bedroom house in Poplar Point and downsized to a custom home designed by architect Marta Hansen located on the Rhode River.

After a fruitless experience perusing properties north of the border, followed by a long search for waterfront property in Annapolis itself—“All the best waterfront properties were already built on,” the couple says—the Ponders bought the 3/4-acre homesite (which had been subdivided from a larger parcel) in 2006 and then spent a year working through a very complicated permit process. “It was an ordeal,” they recall, but in the end, well worth it. So taken were both they and Hansen with the site, that Hansen told them, “If you don’t buy it, I will.”

The property had an old farmhouse on it, which sat 20 feet from the water’s edge, in a flood zone. They had the old house torn down and set the new home just a few feet further back for safety’s sake. The contemporary farmhouse, a blend of the couple’s eclectic tastes, gives a nod to Chesapeake, Southern (Ellen’s mother is from Kentucky), and Tuscan design.
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To bring ever-present daylight into the home, a central atrium was designed, as well as two stacking oculi under a clerestory atrium. In addition to that striking architectural feature, the circular theme of the oculi is mirrored throughout the home in its many barrel-vaulted ceilings, arches, and curved walls. Further brightening the space are two three-sided glassy appendages for the dining room and master bedroom, the latter of which is attached to the house via a window-lined “hyphen” which is used as Ellen’s galley-style office. A cupola on the main house references the glass cupola on the property’s existing carriage house, which has now been converted into a roomy but cozy guest house over a garage.

The abundant use of two-story Palladian windows throughout the 3,500-square-foot house and egress to the outdoors from virtually every corner of the house allows the Ponders to see the water “from as many places as possible,” they say.

In the days before air conditioning (let’s shudder to think of those!), multiple windows and doors served to let in both light and ventilation, and this traditional design accomplishes the same purpose.

The streaming natural light—even on a gloomy day—serves yet another purpose by making the house seem larger than it is. “We’re paying for a smaller house, but it actually seems larger,” say the Ponders, who not only enjoy the views from inside the home, but also the many ways they have to access the outdoors. “We really feel like we’re part of nature,” they say. “We’re visually borrowing the space that’s right in front of our eyes.”

Though the decorating process is still a work in progress, the Ponders have added their own personal touches throughout the house, from the antique billiards table (a twin can be found in the Hearst mansion at San Simeon) that required a steel beam-reinforced floor to bear its weight to the loblolly pine floors and cedar closet that made use of trees on the property that needed to be cut down. Mementos including a wall hanging from the couple’s hometown and art objects from some of their favorite travels, such as a tile from the magical French Riviera town of Eze where the couple vacationed, also adorn the home.

In the end, it was a stroke of luck that the Canadian realtor never got back to them. Now the Ponders are settled in and have no desire to leave. “I feel so connected to the outdoors here,” Ellen says. Adds David, “We don’t even need to go out to dinner anymore. A carry-out meal on the porch watching the water is the best seat in town.”