Arlingtonians Mary and Charlie Denney booked a weekend getaway at a bed-and-breakfast in Easton, Md. in late summer 2010. They were going to do some biking, relaxing and exploring on the picturesque Eastern Shore. As many vacationers do, they casually picked up a local real estate brochure.
But they were intrigued by a few properties. Before they knew it, they were at the end of a long gravel driveway where they discovered a stunning view of Glebe Creek off the Miles River. They envisioned a breezy weekend place there with lots of porches and reading nooks that they would share with twins Ellie and James and friends and family. Could they build their dream vacation home that would allow them to step off the urban treadmill?
It took three years, but they pulled it off.
They bought the property and assembled a design team that included Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey of SCW Interiors of Alexandria, who had worked with them on two previous projects, and Charles Moore and Jill Gilliand of Moore Architects of Falls Church. Together they created a spacious, white wood frame house with airy screened-in porches and wide-plank floors furnished with upholstered chaises and sofas long enough to nap on, all designed for family living.
The first floor’s main attraction is a large gathering space for living, cooking and dining. It stretches across the house and spills out onto a long screened-in porch, offering places to be together or just hunker down with a book. “We wanted it to be a house that a lot of people could use at one time, but with places everyone could escape to as well,” Mary Denney, 48, says. There is a kid-friendly family room on one side. On the other, a glassed-in walkway leads to a private guest suite with a bedroom, loft and bath, perfect for grandparents and other visitors.
The Eastern Shore house is not just a summer getaway but a place to escape the city any time of year. Whether ceiling fans are whirring or the fireplace is crackling, the house is designed to be a comfortable and relaxing escape.
The architects “made it look like a modern Maryland farmhouse that had an updated addition to it,” says Charlie Denney, 54, a transportation planner who specializes in bicycles and pedestrians at Alta Planning and Design. (He was one of the people who helped launch Capital Bikeshare.) “There are water views from every room.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Eastern Shore is known as a cyclist’s paradise, with flat roads and gorgeous views of water and woods. Charlie, by the way, has biked to Easton from their Arlington home, about 80 miles. But most weekends, the family cycles around the picturesque neighboring towns.
It was the natural beauty of the river setting and the towering old trees that got the Denneys to build here. Moore designed the house to be the reward at the end of the drive. “It’s all about the anticipation of going to a place to relax,” Moore says. “So it’s very cool when you make the turn to the house on the gravel driveway, you see the whole house at the end. And when you go in the front door, you immediately see the view of the water.”
The lush farmland and coastal landscape influenced Cavin-Winfrey’s color scheme. “On my many trips to the house I would drive through fields and fields of corn,” Cavin-Winfrey says. “Eventually the color scheme came to me: wheat yellow for the corn, the blue from the water and the pale green from the landscape. It’s often colors in the environment that shape the best design choices.” Cavin-Winfrey worked closely with Moore and Gilliand on the house’s interior spaces, including the kitchen, bathrooms, built-ins and finishes.
Says Cavin-Winfrey, “The house is understated and welcoming, like the Denneys. They are all about family.”
That comes across most in the gathering room, where the rustic wood dining table can seat 12 and withstand sticky lemonade glasses or messy watermelon slices. In the living room, two quilted chaises and lots of other comfortable seating create a nice spot for reading or chatting.
In the country kitchen, taupe linen gingham curtains on the cabinets and crackle porcelain cabinet pulls have a casual and cozy look. Gray soapstone counters, a beadboard island with stools and open shelving make it user-friendly for all ages. A family room sits behind the kitchen, a bit removed from the action. There, two nine-foot-long striped sofas sit back to back. One faces the view. The second sofa faces the TV.
Upstairs there are lots of private spaces to retreat to. The master bedroom has built-in shelves and storage and a charming sleeping porch. There are two additional guest rooms, and a large guest bath is decked out with comforts any visitor would appreciate: deep storage drawers to stash Dopp kits and cosmetics bags, a roomy tub and shower and lots of open shelving for stacks of fresh towels.
Cavin-Winfrey wanted to make the twins’ dormer bedrooms really fun. She was inspired by old-time vacation homes with bunk rooms that slept multiple kids. The sloped ceilings presented some challenges, so instead of bunk beds she designed each room to have two twin beds with trundles underneath. She used the same wallpaper and fabric — Quadrille China Seas Trilby — in both rooms, in pink and chocolate for Ellie and blue and chocolate for James. She installed lots of cubbies and hooks and benches. “I wanted lots of places a kid could throw a duffel bag or backpack down,” she says, adding, “It’s all about creating intimate spaces that are easy to maintain. Every kid dreams of having something like this for friends to stay over,” she says.
Since the place was ready in April 2013, the family has gotten to know the Eastern Shore and all the local events, such as the Chesapeake Film Festival, the St. Michaels Christmas Parade and the Easton Plein Air Art Festival.
But no festivals or parades are required for a fun weekend. “One of the best things to do is chase fireflies,” Mary says. “It’s really magical.”
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