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What's Up Magazine

Cozy on the Cove

Aug 09, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By James Houck • Photography by Rob Davenport

Ameander into the peninsulas of Pasadena can turn into a navigation exercise, which could lead to discovery. Riddled among the many creeks and coves between two rivers—the Patapsco and Magothy—are a myriad of developments, some old, some new, that feature all manners of property styles. Small beach cottages were a popular choice built along the waterfront during the 1950s through ’70s, and for anyone in the market for Anne Arundel County waterfront today, Pasadena can still produce a great find. 

Such was the case for a Silver Spring-based couple, Eileen and Allen Straughan, who made their discovery about five years ago on a tucked away tributary, Whites Cove. Originally, the couple intended to have a fun spot—a small getaway from the D.C. suburbs to keep Allen’s boat and fishing gear. The cottage they bought fit the bill; waterfront, pier, good mean water depth, and just enough amenities indoors for a comfortable retreat, which they enjoyed for a short spell. Family circumstances soon changed, however, and the couple decided to sell their Silver Spring home to move to Pasadena permanently. But…

There was a big but—the home they purchased wasn’t intended for full-time living, nor was it large enough to meet their wants and needs. “We lived in the house for a couple of years while we decided what to do,” Eileen says. 

“It was obvious the existing house on the property wouldn’t work for us over the long term.” Enter Spire Architecture of Annapolis, who would work with the Straughans to design an entirely new home—a modern craftsman—over the footprint of the old. 

“The first time we talked, they asked me about what I absolutely had to have in the house,” Eileen says. “I said three things: a front door (the previous house had no front door), a foyer closet for coats, and two sinks in the master bath. Allen was all about the kitchen. He loves to cook and the old kitchen was a shoe box.”

“Honestly, we had a few other requirements,” Allen says with a laugh. “We wanted a house that was visually appealing from all four sides with an interesting roof line. We wanted tall ceilings and tall windows to exploit the water view. We wanted to raise the first floor from six-foot ceilings to a full eight feet. Finally, we wanted three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.

He adds: “I was also pretty adamant that we design with sustainability in mind, following green building standards; with attention to energy and water efficiency, and specifying natural materials wherever possible.”

Craig Martin, principal of Spire, says the design process with the Straughans was very collaborative. “They both work for environmental consulting firms and wanted to take advantage of the natural assets of their site, such as sun angles, wind direction, and the technological options (cisterns for water, solar panels, house integration),” he recalls. “To start the project, we had two all hands on deck meetings with all the contractors and subcontractors to discuss green technologies and considerations. Our design process was very collaborative, and a didactic, back and forth, growing process.”

After properly permitting their build with Anne Arundel County (“We did not try to push the envelope with permitting, so we sailed through permitting without issue,” Allen says), construction began and was not without unique challenges. For starters, the site was very tight, in Martin’s words, which greatly limited permeable and impermeable space. A new stormwater management system was crucial, which included septic upgrades and cisterns. One positive is that the house was rebuilt on the existing footprint, so the ground and grading around the existing structure was not negatively affected. Secondly, the site has steep slopes, which requires special considerations, and because of its waterfront proximity, the structure “essentially has two front facades,” Martin says. Third, the circulation, or floor plan, was a challenge because “the natural entry to the house was the right upon approach, but the space for living and views was the back left,” Martin explains. “The diagonal entry and procession through the spaces was a great solution to provide the needed spaces (dining, living, kitchen, bath, and bedroom/office) on the main floor.” 

Lastly, the Straughans were adamant about following green building standards; with attention to energy efficiency and specifying natural materials wherever possible. These ideas played out in the design, incorporating natural light using lots of energy-efficient windows and insulation and a minimum 13 SEER rating for the HVAC system. “We ended up installing 16 SEER, LED light fixtures, low flow water fixtures, energy star-rated appliances, forest stewardship council (FSC) labeled hardwood flooring, Hardy Plank siding, and other sustainable features like cisterns for watering and irrigation,” Allen explains.

Nevertheless, each challenge was met with precision planning. Inside, the architectural vision of Eileen and Allen also came to fruition. The most exciting details, to them, include the “open riser” staircase (technically closed glass risers) with a wall made of windows. “This decision was huge for lighting, views, and visual appeal,” Allen notes. Eileen agrees: “All the natural light means we don’t have to turn on lights unless it is truly dark outside.”

Ten-foot ceilings and oversized doors help complete the larger-than-life spatial feeling. And each bedroom has its own bathroom. The kitchen was also a focal point; as such, the design includes an oversized pantry with countertops to place all smaller appliances within, so as not to clutter the open kitchen. And though the Straughans first considered a peninsula-shaped kitchen layout, they ultimately went with an island. “Shifting to an island was an awesome design change,” Allen says. 

“I love the main living floor kitchen/family room,” Eileen says. “We spend most of our awake time there and it’s where we entertain guests. I’m also partial to my nook at the top of the stairs on the second floor; it’s my little retreat space!”

“I love it all,” Allen says, which is fitting, since this one-time retreat became the couple’s full-time waterfront dream come true.