A couple revives a century-old compound perched above Maryland’s Severn River
Baltimore residents knew they were onto something sublime when they built a weekend getaway on a bluff overlooking the Severn River near Annapolis more than 100 years ago. The simple cottage was perched high enough to enjoy dramatic views, yet situated only a stone’s throw down to the shore.
Over the years, multiple owners altered and ex- panded the home and its outbuildings; a stable evolved into a guest house and a brick carriage house into a garage. When the current owners spotted the property for sale online, they also knew they’d found a gem. The retired Navy officer and his wife, then living in a San Diego high-rise, wanted to move back to their old stomping grounds near Annapolis. “I went to the Naval Academy and my wife went to Towson, so we’re both attracted to the area,” says the husband. “We wanted to be on the Severn and we wanted a family compound that would attract our three grown kids and grand-kids for visits.”
After seeing the property in person, the couple purchased it and moved East to begin a new chapter in this pristine setting. “It’s the bluff that gets you,” says the homeowner. “You look out over a wid- ening in the river—it’s almost like a private lake right there. That’s what won us over.”
Knowing their minimal apartment furniture would be lost in the three-bedroom main home, the owners hired designer Gina Fitzsim- mons to furnish the interiors in a casual coastal style. “The first time I walked the property, I fell in love with it,” says Fitzsimmons. “It’s so charming; it has a Nantucket feeling.”
The designer set out to create a “cottagey” look, employing a neu- tral palette enlivened with waves of blue. She freshened up the kitch- en, installing a new backsplash. And in the adjacent breakfast/sitting room, she replaced a Victorian fireplace with a new one surrounded by crisp paneling aligned with the windows above. Subtle cues, from driftwood sconces to a Sam Moore chair with a “porthole” back, pay homage to the shore. “I used a lot of bold, nautical-looking stripes without going overboard,” Fitzsimmons explains.
She created a tranquil refuge in the sunroom overlooking the river. Rattan chairs and sisal rugs lend an organic note. And Fitzsimmons expertly scaled the furniture to fit the more formal living and din- ing rooms. For example, a pair of petite loveseats in the living room leaves plenty of space for the couple’s baby grand piano.
Once the main home was complete, the owners set their sights on upgrading the run-down guest house. For help, they called on local architect Scott Rand, who renovated the main house in 1996 for the previous owners. When Rand and builder Pat Mona inspected the former stable, they uncovered how rudimentary its construction was. “There was very little in the way of foundation and it was just not salvageable,” the homeowner recalls. “So we essentially tore it down and Scott designed a new guest house in the same footprint.”
Rand fashioned the two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath structure to mimic the lines of the main cottage. “I used the same windows and trim and the same roof pitches,” says the architect. “There’s a commonality.”
After the dust settled in the guest house, Fitzsimmons returned to work her magic on its interiors, creating inviting spaces that echo her work in the main home. “I tried to use similar elements, but intro- duced teal instead of blue to give it a different twist,” she recounts.
Winding brick-and-stone pathways swathed in greenery and hydrangea lead to a terrace overlooking the water. Rustic stairs made of concrete and oyster shells descend to the Severn, where the owners are building a new sea wall that will contain a sandy area for their grandchildren to play.
The entire property has become a true family refuge. “There is the waterfront for sports, Annapolis is a great town and having Wash- ington, DC, close by also makes it an attraction,” says the husband. “I have a motorboat, but to tell you the truth we mostly use it to go to restaurants.”
Whether they’re entertaining the troops or enjoying their aerie alone, the owners never tire of gazing at the Severn, with the boats streaming by. “You get to know the people who are using the river and what it does in certain kinds of wind,” the homeowner reflects. “The river has a personality.”