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Geoff Kirbyson:

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Renovation & Design

A waterfront escape

There are two equally stunning sides to Richard and Amy Zantzinger’s modern waterfront farmhouse in Anne Arundel County, Md.

When you round the bend in their gravel driveway, you’ll see a pastoral still life: a striking 21st-century version of a Shaker-style house, a simple white barn and a tiny outbuilding, all connected by crunchy oyster shell paths. As you approach the house from the water, you’ll take in the graceful porch with a deep overhang and an accordion door that opens up the living/dining room to breezes.

The weekend getaway, designed by Jones & Boer Architects, sits on 68 acres of farmland on the West River, south of Annapolis, a spot well-known to the family.

"I have raced sailboats on this river all my life," says Richard, who grew up 100 kilometres south of here. "I knew this property and I had sailed by it." The Zantzingers were drawn here so they could escape the Washington area on weekends with their two children, Audrey, 16, and Richard, 15, and invite family and friends. They built a pool and planted a garden.

The 4,000-square-foot house was designed for comfortable family living: upstairs there are three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Visitors can stay in a guest room on the lower level or in the charming 19th-century two-room cottage, steps from the main house.

Amy, 50, is an interior designer from Chevy Chase, Md., who was a special assistant to the president and White House social secretary under George W. Bush. Richard, 53, is a principal at Mauck Zantzinger & Associates, a Washington custom builder. They bought the property in 2010, started building the house in 2012 and moved in the following year.

The design came pretty quickly. "When a builder and a designer are married, decisions don’t hold up the process. We can make them fast and we defer to each other’s strengths," Amy says.

The architects, David Jones and Wouter Boer, had worked with both Zantzingers on many projects. Their design was inspired by Middleburg Plantation, a 1690s wooden house with a graceful porch outside Charleston, S.C. "Its sense of proportion is very special," Richard says of the historic house, where he and Amy travelled to take photos and measurements. "It has almost no detail on it. It relies on the proportion of the windows and chimneys."

"It was very important to Richard that the house was the appropriate scale for the site, whether seen from the land or water. We agreed with David that a house in a similar style to Middleburg would do just that," Amy says.

The Zantzinger house has simple elegance with a modern edge. "We all wanted something pure and simple and focused on proportions," Boer says. The house is built of traditional wood clapboard with a cedar shingled roof; the window and door placement was carefully planned, so anyone coming to the front door immediately sees the river. There is little trim. The chimneys, foundation and mud room floor all use 100-year-old reclaimed brick. The wide plank floors are fumed oak, treated to give them the appearance of an old barn floor.

"We never thought about it that way when we started, but the final design is a modern Shaker farmhouse," Boer says.

Inside, the main floor has a large living/dining room with a fireplace at either end, a kitchen, office, two bathrooms and a mudroom, where the Zantzingers’ German shorthaired pointer, Bella, can get cleaned off. Upstairs, a bright hallway connects the three bedrooms and baths. The lower level has a bedroom and bath and family room.

Amy wrestled a bit as to how modern or how traditional to make the rooms. "I didn’t want it to feel like Washington, as with a typical centre-hall Colonial," she says. "I wanted something more simple, but not too casual." She used mostly shades of blue and beige, calming colours. She added nautical references that relate to Richard’s sailing roots. His father was also an avid sailor and circumnavigated the globe twice.

"The architecture is very simple, so it was natural to have the interior furnishings be more simple — solid fabrics, natural materials, clean lines." When she began decorating, she brought fabric swatches to the house that were too "strong." "They competed with the outdoors," Amy says. "I ultimately selected fabrics that have calm colours, little pattern and are made from natural materials."

For Amy, casual still means elegant. As White House social secretary from 2007 to 2009, she organized a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and a coffee with the Dalai Lama. She collaborated with Laura Bush in creating the Bush state china service by Lenox, and the Magnolia Residence china by Anna Weatherley.

She made sure her kitchen was a great place to cook as well as hang out. It has a rustic, farmhouse feel mixed with touches of luxury, with the antique pine farm table at the centre, simple Windsor-style chairs and Calacatta gold marble counters. There’s a La Cornue stainless range and a custom hood, plus zinc lanterns. The cabinetry includes flat-front doors and drawers and painted wooden knobs.

The large living/dining room is a place they use most often in fall and winter. They love lighting both fireplaces at once. There are two model ships on display, one that belonged to her father-in-law and one an antique they bought. There is lots of comfortable seating on one side; on the other, a walnut table custom-made in Baltimore and taupe wicker dining chairs from Williams Sonoma Home. "I felt the wicker had a more casual feel and was comfortable for people to linger on," Amy says.

Upstairs, the bedrooms have views of the water; the kids’ rooms were designed to sleep as many people as possible. Audrey’s aqua bedroom has a pair of laser-cut West Elm Morocco full-size beds and a watery aqua tile bath. Richard’s room has bunk beds from Pottery Barn Kids that have a trundle.

In the master bedroom, Amy used neutral tones taken from nature. The upholstered bed frame is lightly stained oak, a similar material as the floors. It’s flanked by two David Iatesta Weems tables of rough-sawn wood and metal. The artifact over the bed is a part of a 19th-century copper and zinc weather vane, bought in Nantucket, Mass.

In the summer, life takes place mostly on the porch. Amy cooks using lots of local ingredients, many from their own garden. "I serve orzo with homemade pesto from basil I just picked, topped with grilled steak. My husband loves to grow tomatoes, so I always have a platter of home-grown sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil."

Two years ago, they hosted a group of former White House social secretaries for crab cakes and fried chicken on the porch. They have had Thanksgiving dinner for 65 people and a family wedding for 250.

Sailing, swimming, skeet shooting and just looking at the water are the main events. "We do nautical jigsaw puzzles here or go crabbing, things we don’t do at home," Amy says.

They relish the serenity as well as the proximity to Washington of their weekend retreat, less than an hour and a world away. Says Richard, "I wanted my children to know that there is something different in Maryland than what they experience in Bethesda."

— The Washington Post

Jura Koncius
May 27

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