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A Weekend Retreat is Built Upon 70 Years of Memories

Apr 24, 2015 01:45PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Carol Sorgen // Photography by Stephen Buchanan

The small—just 50' x 100'—Shoreham Beach property was once the site of a summer cottage “no bigger than a dollhouse,” says Susie McSweeny of the land that has been in her family for more than 70 years. Today, though, the narrow waterfront location is home to a spacious, light-filled weekend getaway for Susie and her husband Tom, who reside full-time in Northern Virginia.

“I’ve been coming here my entire life,” Susie says, and at some point, she and Tom plan to move to the area permanently.

In fact, working with Annapolis architect Cathy Purple Cherry, the couple came up with a wish list of features that will not only serve them now but well into the future, including an elevator (already useful for helping their aging dog navigate the home’s three levels), wide hallways and shower entries, a level entrance from the garage into the home should a walker or wheelchair be needed at some point, reinforced walls if grab bars in the bathroom are required, even lever doorway handles that are easier to manipulate than traditional doorknobs.
For now, though, the house is all about relaxation and entertainment. The 4,600-square-foot home with three bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths welcomes friends and family, who enjoy the beachfront location, water view deck off the living room (an ideal spot for a nightly cocktail), spacious media room, and proximity to Annapolis with its many restaurants and activities.

The McSweenys wanted their weekend retreat to have a more relaxed aesthetic than their Virginia home, which they say is more traditional and formal. “Casual elegance is the look we were going for,” says Susie, a retired nurse manager; Tom had a long career in the aviation industry and currently serves as a consultant.

Throughout the home, soft “beachy” colors on the walls (with the exception of the dining room with its warm red hue) contrast with the dark hand-scraped maple floors that are both “casual and forgiving,” Susie says, which comes in handy with a dog and four grandchildren.

Because of the configuration of the lot, the McSweenys knew that it might be a challenge to achieve the open floor plan they desired. But, thanks to Purple Cherry’s design, overhangs outside minimize the “boxy” exterior by breaking up the visual space, and inside, arches, instead of solid walls, divide the kitchen, dining room, and living room to maximize the space and capitalize on the light pouring in from all the windows.
“During the day, there’s never any need to turn on a light,” Tom says.

Come evening, however, the house sparkles, in large part due to the elegant but whimsical chandeliers found in every room (even the laundry room), a favorite feature of Susie’s in particular. “Chandeliers are like jewelry for a room,” she explains.

With the help of Annapolis-based Apter Remodeling/Craftsman, the couple navigated an “arduous” year-and-a-half during which many permits had to be acquired. “When you build on the water,” says Tom, “you have to meet stricter codes.”

Since the couple’s Northern Virginia home was also custom built, the McSweenys were familiar with both the pros and cons of starting from scratch. On the plus side, “you get to do what you want to do,” they say. The downside? “You have to choose every little thing, down to the hinges,” Tom says laughing, adding that finding said hinges in the polished nickel Susie had chosen for kitchen fixtures, for example, was no easy feat.
Still, when all is said and done, the couple now has the home that they not only plan to make their permanent residence one day, but that they also hope will last for generations to come, much as Susie’s grandfather’s cottage did.

“Day by day and season by season, there is always something to see here,” Susie says. “The view is constantly changing, whether we’re looking at the different birds flying by, the cruise ships rounding Thomas Point, the sun coming up, or the moon shining across the Bay. It’s instantly therapeutic.”