Inside a Gibson Island getaway

See photos of the Gibson Island home

The Savage family has an unspoken tradition. Every time their car crunches onto the causeway leading to their weekend house on Gibson Island, Md., they all lower their windows and inhale the fresh air.

“We do it no matter what the weather is or what time of year,” says Tige Savage.

“There’s a harbor on one side and the bay on the other, with the Bay Bridge off in the distance. Arriving here is like leaving the world behind.”

For Tige and Elizabeth Savage, the simple rituals that come with family time away from work and school are an important part of why they bought a house near the water. The 60-mile trip from their Arlington home takes them to a quieter, less complicated life. As they drive across the small island, they pass ospreys, kids crabbing and canoes in candy colors lined up by Otter Pond. In the winter, there’s skating and sledding and the scent of wood burning in fireplaces.“We view it as much more than just a summer house,” Tige says.

Tige Savage, 45, is co-founder of Revolution, an investment firm based in Washington. His wife, Elizabeth, 44, runs the household and shepherds their three children, Jack, 12, Nick, 10, and Molly, 8, through their maze of schools and sports.


The Savage family, from left: Molly, Tige, Nick, Elizabeth and Jack. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

It was four years ago that they bought a 1940s white clapboard house with green shutters, hoping it could be a getaway for all seasons. After owning it for a year, they realized the four-bedroom place had plenty of charm, but could use updating and organizing to make it work better for the family of five. “We wanted to be respectful of what the house was,” Tige says. “The new look would be a balance that reflected the island and the bay, sort of a modern interpretation of the same house.” They wanted to stay within the current footprint. And it had to be easy to keep up — floors that could be swept clean and rugs that could be shaken out after a small army of sandy bare feet had marched across them.

By then, they had met the perfect person for the job, and she lived down the street: Erin Paige Pitts, known for her stylish, coastal interiors. Pitts, who has design studios in Gibson Island and Delray Beach, Fla., worked with the Savages to came up with a creative renovating and decorating plan. “The house was missing oomph,” says Pitts, 42. “I wanted it to realize its potential and add more interest to their cute cottage, keeping it nautical yet clean and not fussy.”

Tige had envisioned carving out more living space from the walk-out basement and the two-car garage. Pitts worked closely with him on the renovation plans that created two additional bedrooms. One, formerly an unfinished storage loft above the garage, is now a private guest retreat with a rustic plank floor painted white.

“There’s a harbor on one side and the bay on the other, with the Bay Bridge off in the distance. Arriving here is like leaving the world behind.”

Tige Savage

The reconfiguring of the garage also allowed for what was probably the most practical new space: a mudroom with a drip-friendly flagstone floor, where storage lockers and coiled-rope iron hooks gently encourage everyone to stay organized.

In the basement, a jumble of sump pumps, pipes and utilities were reordered and upgraded to create a full floor of functional living space. This allowed for another room that has become the kids’ favorite sleepover spot: a color-splashed hideaway with rope bunks. For the new family room (the only place with a TV in the house), Pitts hired Twin Diamond Studios to paint a wall mural of Gibson Island based on a map she found in island archives. A cozy kitchenette is stocked so beachgoers headed in or out can grab a beverage and eye the candy selection in the large apothecary jars that Tige keeps filled.

For the decorating scheme, Pitts used lots of blues, yellows and a sand color. “I didn’t want the house to be too beachy,” Elizabeth says. “I wanted a nautical look, with not too many shells. Erin used color so beautifully. While the walls are mainly neutral, she came up with ways to bring in color like the stairs to the guest room.” Here, Pitts elevated the simple wooden stairs by painting the risers in alternating shades of blue. The five hues reflect colors used throughout the house. “Painting these risers was an easy, inexpensive way to add a lot of pop,” Pitts says.


An attic bedroom. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

A wall mural of Gibson Island. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

Nautical elements are a subtle theme throughout the home. Dated lighting was replaced with stylish polished-nickel fixtures, several inspired by ships’ lighting. A new laundry room, a place that inevitably gets heavy use in a house by the water, was outfitted with storage and a drying rack and lined with watery blue glass tiles. Pitts even found a master knotter from the local boatyard to weave the rope that attaches the playroom bunk beds to the ceiling. In the front hall, boat cleats are a convenient place to hang hats. The thick rope banister on the stairs to the lower level was ordered from England at www.stairropes.com.

The transformation focused on keeping things casual and comfortable and reflecting the small-town feel of the island, which was what attracted the Savages there.

Tige first visited Gibson Island when a friend invited him and his sons to come for a swim. “I didn’t realize when he said swimming he meant a pond,” Tige recalls. “We drove to this place on this side of the [Bay] Bridge, less than an hour and a half away. It was heaven on Earth. I kept seeing kids on bikes with fishing poles over their shoulders. At the end of the day I told my wife: One day, we will own a home in this place called Gibson Island.”

Originally the wooded, private enclave in Anne Arundel County was mostly a summer community for Baltimoreans. Today, there are also families from Washington, Virginia and elsewhere in the 200 homes, some now full-time residences. The island is off the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore at the mouth of the Magothy River and is connected to the mainland by a causeway with a gatehouse at the end.


The weekend getaway for the Savage family. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

“We had talked about second houses, and we are both skiers, so we thought maybe a mountain place,” Elizabeth says. “But then we realized that something drivable was the way to go. Gibson Island is a great location for us as Tige can work from out there and it’s close to BWI.”

The family recently bought a restored 1969 Volkswagen camper bus that can take them on overnight expeditions to the wooded far side of the island. They also drove it in the island’s recent Fourth of July parade.

But some of their favorite times on the island are in the fall and winter, Elizabeth says. “Our house has a nice view of the Magothy River when there are no leaves, and there are beautiful sunsets from the two chairs in the living room window. We love Thanksgiving here. We are always looking forward to coming back.”

Both Elizabeth and Tige say one of their favorite features of the property is the front lawn, with its hammock and rope swing. “The house has a nice expanse of grass, and most summer afternoons about a dozen kids will just show up on their bikes and they will stake out a Wiffle ball game,” Tige says. “When I see that happening, I know that buying this house is the best thing we ever did.”

Design ideas from a Gibson Island Getaway:

Tige and Elizabeth Savage wanted a getaway free of clutter and wasted space; Erin Paige Pitts loves solving design dilemmas. So in creating the Savage family weekend home on Gibson Island, they made the most of every room and focused on keeping everything in its place.

● Establish a tote bag corral. Bags are part of beach houses. There’s a lot of stuff involved in having fun by the water: bathing suits, sporting equipment, boating gear. Pitts was able to carve out more living space at the back of the two-car garage to fashion a mudroom with a wall of hooks to hold totes and backpacks of all sizes. She found the perfect nautical ones for the job: sturdy white cast-iron hooks by HomArt in the shape of a coiled rope.


Tote bag storage. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

Laundry room storage. (April Greer/For The Washington Post)

● Give everything a home: In addition to the bag hooks, storage for games and toys was built in. In the construction of the laundry room, there was extra space that could be accessed from the kids’ bunk bedroom next to it. “I hate wasted space,” Tige Savage says. So an access door was cut into the bedroom’s tongue-and-groove paneling. Behind the panel is a large plastic container for Playmobil and other building toys.

● Invent new ways to deal with trash: In the small downstairs kitchen, there was no room for either a built-in trash drawer or a free-standing can. A round hole was cut into a dead corner in the quartz countertop and fitted with an oversize grommet so it looked like a porthole. Everything can be swept or tossed into the porthole, right into a hidden trash can below.

● Use multitasking furniture: Always looking to add storage, Pitts found some attractive oversize lidded straw baskets at Made Goods for the guest room. Because this room doesn’t have any closets, the baskets serve as both bedside tables and hiding places for extra sheets or blankets, or for guests’ clothing.

● Accessorize the laundry room: Damp bathing suits and towels are part of daily life by the water. Pitts found a beadboard drying rack from Ballard Designs. It attaches to a wall and provides lots of space to hang wet things, yet can be folded away when not in use.

● Be creative about firewood storage: The Savages love having fires on fall and winter weekends. But they didn’t have enough space to store logs on their hearth and didn’t want the mess of carrying in wet wood from outside. A carpenter built a metal-lined pull-out bin in one of the wall units next to the fireplace. You’d never know what was inside.

The home and design coverage of Jura Koncius has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny studios in Penn Quarter to country castles in Warrenton. Jura also hosts the Home Front live chat, Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET.
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