Collaborative approach yields a Md. waterfront home that blends with its environment

May 29

With a little help from their friends, District lighting designer Cheryl Flota and architect Rick Lincicome got by the challenges of building a home next to a Chesapeake Bay tributary. The one-level, cedar-clad home in the tiny town of Rock Hall, Md., is raised on concrete piers to allow water to flow under the structure, should the nearby Grays Inn Creek overflow its banks.

“We wanted to be as close to the water as possible,” says Lincicome. “But in this area, you have to be very careful where you put the house.”

The married couple had built a modest weekend house in Rock Hall during the mid-1990s. Seeking larger living quarters, they bought 15 acres in 2010 with the idea of tearing down the flood-damaged dwelling on the property and building a larger, contemporary house for retirement.

To help them design the Rock Hall homes, as well as their apartment in the Watergate condominium, the two tapped their friends Jane Treacy and Phillip Eagleburger, District architects who specialize in residential design.

“Rick did the schematics on both houses, but he didn’t have the time to develop the designs,” says Flota. “Jane and Phil are fun to work with and challenge our thinking. They took us to places we’d never go on our own.”

Lincicome, 63, who was busy overseeing international building projects at the time, has since retired. Flota, 58, is still engaged in her lighting design business. Her past work includes illuminating the Smithsonian’s Hope diamond exhibit and canopies over Metrorail stations.

The pair’s first house in Rock Hall, a shingled, two-bedroom cottage, set the design direction for the newer house in its arrangement of elevated, L-shaped wings. That structure, completed in 1995, cost $177,000 to build, according to the homeowners. Construction of the new waterfront house, which is twice the size of the previous home, ran about $1 million, not including design fees.

“Our experience with the first house made us realize that we needed someone on board who understood the entitlement issues involved in building on the Chesapeake Bay,” says Lincicome.

So he and Flota hired landscape architect Miles Barnard of South Fork Studio in Chestertown, Md., to help site the house and ensure that its location conformed to a state law that designated the bay’s Critical Area — the 1,000-foot buffer around the Maryland shore of the bay and its tidal tributaries.

When building a house in this environmentally sensitive area, says Barnard, “you have to look at the planning and zoning office as part of the design team.” He and Lincicome met with Kent County officials over nearly a year, “as we hit certain design milestones along the way,” says Barnard, before submitting the plans in 2011 for a building permit.

The process led to an L-shaped house set back about 120 feet from the creek and configured around mature trees on the property. An old willow oak now forms the centerpiece of a courtyard between the home’s two wings.

The grassy space and parts of the yard are defined by low concrete walls, meant to symbolize the foundations of a peach basket factory that once stood on the property.

Clad in cedar, the home’s exterior similarly relates to the site. “Rick really wanted to use natural wood in sympathy with the natural setting,” says Eagleburger. “Cedar is a traditional siding material that’s durable, sustainable and naturally resistant to bugs and decay.”

Once the basic scheme of the house was set, he refined the design so the wing closest to the water incorporated the spaces used on a daily basis — living and dining rooms, kitchen and master suite. A spacious screened porch extends from this main block of rooms to provide another living area.

The more private side of the house incorporates two guest suites, a home office and utility and laundry rooms.

Both wings are only one room deep to maximize daylight and views of the creek and courtyard. The entrance, reached from an elevated walkway, is located at the intersection of the two wings.

Once construction of the house was underway, Lincicome and Flota turned to another colleague, District architect Ernesto Santalla, to design the interiors. Santalla had already collaborated with Treacy and Eagleburger on the renovation of the homeowners’ Watergate condominium.

“Cheryl reminded me that this house isn’t the Watergate,” says Santalla. “So I made sure the spaces are soothing and more casual.”

But La-Z-Boy recliners and duck decoys are nowhere in sight.

The decor is sophisticatedly contemporary, with a few family heirlooms and classic modern pieces thrown into the mix. In the living room, Italian-made swivel chairs are pulled up to a large sectional sofa upholstered in an eco-friendly fabric.

Santalla designed custom pieces to save space in some rooms, including a walnut headboard with built-in nightstands and shelving in the master suite.

Sandstone-covered walls anchoring the ends of the main wing and strategically applied paint colors relate to the home’s surroundings.

“I asked Cheryl and Rick to pick up stones, leaves and pieces of bark around the site to help us determine the color scheme that would blend with the outdoors,” says Santalla. “They thought I was insane, but they did it.”

In setting up the guest suites for long visits, Flota and Lincicome decided to hold a competition among eight of their pals, including Treacy and Eagleburger, for the design of the spaces.

“No one really won,” says Flota, “but we incorporated some of the elements from all of the schemes.”

The proposals led to a cantilevered desk and an electronic-device charging station in each room. “We also took a great idea to configure the closets for suitcases and duffel bag storage with counter-level shelves, as most people live out of their bags,” says Lincicome.

The homeowners and their architect friends agree that the collaborative design process worked because everyone shared the same aesthetic sensibility and a sense of camaraderie.

“Generally, there was the feeling of an atelier,” Eagleburger says, “architects and designers were hashing out serious ideas, sometimes over a drink or a meal, arguing, bantering, laughing and generally having a very good time along the way.”

Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer.

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