The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A mid-century modern masterpiece in St. Michaels, Md., lists for $3 million

The nearly 40 eight-foot-tall sliding glass doors provide unobstructed views of Broad Creek and the area’s wildlife. (Jennifer Madino)

Patience and persistence led Bill and Nancy Burton to Far Horizons, the mid-century masterpiece in St. Michaels, Md.

The couple, who had moved to the Eastern Shore from Texas to be near their two adult daughters, were renting a house across the street from Far Horizons. They could see that no one was living in the house, but the caretakers would not allow them inside. They eventually bought another house down the street and began remodeling it.

“But that was my dream to live in that house,” Nancy said of Far Horizons.

One day a dumpster appeared in front of Far Horizons.

“And so, I proceeded to immediately go down, and that’s how it began,” she said.

Distinguished homes for sale in the D.C. region

St. Michaels property | Far Horizons is an 8.85-acre estate in St. Michaels, Md. It is listed at just under $3 million. (Agent Aerials)

The Burtons knew nothing about Far Horizons except that they loved its mid-century modern lines and its large lot with spectacular views of the water.

“The setting was so beautiful, but the house was extremely interesting to me as well,” Nancy said.

“We’ve always been architectural buffs,” Bill added. “Properties are interesting for their uniqueness. This one certainly qualified.”

It wasn’t until they bought Far Horizons that they learned the house’s history. The sellers had found a treasure trove of information about the house when they were getting it ready to sell, and they shared the information with the Burtons.

“They had all the correspondence on onion skin paper between [architect] Chloethiel [Woodard Smith], who was there in D.C., and Frank Washburn, the fellow who commissioned the house,” Bill said.

Washburn was the son of the founder of American Cyanamid, once one of the nation’s top manufacturing companies. The bulk of the company is now part of Pfizer. He worked at American Cyanamid for 40 years.

Washburn and his wife decided to retire to the Eastern Shore and build a house there. Chloethiel Woodard Smith was recommended to them by an editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

In her obituary in The Washington Post, Woodard Smith was described as “an architect and urban planner whose designs and ideas helped shape contemporary Washington.” Woodard Smith, who opened her firm, Chloethiel Woodard Smith and Associates in 1963, practiced architecture in the District for almost 50 years.

“In the nation’s capital, her architectural impact was immense,” Bart Barnes wrote in the obituary. “It came from her work and also from her influence on the work of other architects during her service on the Fine Arts Commission from 1967 to 1976. She also wrote extensively about architecture and planning, and she was an eloquent spokeswoman for the profession.”

The New Yorker magazine described her as “quite simply one of the best architects, planners and thinkers about cities now working anywhere” in a 1967 profile. Yet, Woodard Smith never read the article. She was miffed that the writer had called her a “lady architect.”

Woodard Smith, who loathed having her gender attached to her description, once said, “I am an architect with a capital ‘A.’ Being a woman has nothing to do with it.”

The one-story house was completed in 1959 and named Far Horizons by the Washburns. Frank Washburn did not live there long. He died of a heart attack four years later. His widow continued to live in the house, and then their daughter lived there until 2006. The Burtons bought the house in 2007.

“The bones of the house were pretty livable,” Bill said. “It was just a superb design. Obviously, the mechanical systems were completely outdated.”

The Burtons added a geothermal heating and cooling system but were careful to preserve the house’s architecture. To install new ducts, they brought in commercial concrete cutters from Baltimore to cut through the 13-inch slab and expose the old fiberboard ducts. Because the company that made the original parquet squares for the floors had gone out of business, they found a company to replicate them by gluing strips of black walnut together and cutting them to size. Nancy tried valiantly to save what had been one of the first Thermador ovens, sending it to Georgia for repairs.

“But the doors still wouldn’t close properly, we had to give it up, but I sure hated to,” Nancy said.

They kept the house’s original toilets and sinks.

“I think some people do stuff just because it’s old and they think they want new stuff,” Bill said. The sinks and toilets “are better than you can find. … We really went to a lot of trouble to preserve the original characteristics of the house.”

When they decided to add a swimming pool and pool house in 2011, the Burtons made sure to stay true to the architecture of the main house. Architect Charles Goebel’s design is a fitting homage to Woodard Smith’s creation. The swimming pool has a pentagon shape that mimics a cross section of the great room in the main house. Instead of treating the water with chlorine, the Burtons have a state-of-the-art sanitation system that uses copper oxidation and ozonation. Nancy sourced cabinetry for the pool house from Community Forklift, a store for salvaged building materials, furniture and appliances in Edmonston, Md.

The house’s architecture is timeless, and its views are priceless. The nearly 40 eight-foot-tall sliding glass doors provide unobstructed views of Broad Creek and the area’s wildlife. Many a night the Burtons watched from the comfort of their home as deer and foxes paraded across the grounds and geese flew past the moon.

“That’s the way she designed it, the art and the beauty that only nature could provide,” Nancy said.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 5,900-square-foot house, on 8.85 acres, is listed at just under $3 million.

Listing: 7238 Drum Point Rd., St. Michaels, Md.

Listing agent: Chuck Mangold Jr., Benson & Mangold Real Estate.

Previous House of the Week: ‘All kinds of wonder and surprises’ set D.C. Colonial apart

More Real Estate:

Do you have questions about home improvement or home ownership? Ask us.

How the D.C.-area housing market fared in 2020 by Zip code

The 10 most expensive homes sold in the D.C. area in 2020