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Summer Ensemble

The restoration and renovation of a Talbot County, MD, property creates a family-oriented 21st-century retreat.

Project: Residence, Talbot County, MD

Architect: Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects, Washington, DC; David E. Neumann, AIA, principal in charge; Mehrdad K. Rahbar, AIA, project architect; Cory R. Roffelsen, AIA, project architect

Contractors: Winchester Construction Company, Millersville, MD; Frank E. Daffin, Inc., Talbot County, MD

By Lynne Lavelle

In 1929, a clapboard two-and-a-half-story, five-bay Colonial Revival house was built along the Miles River in Talbot Country, MD. It was joined by a curving breezeway to an existing late-18th century one-and-a-half-story, three-bay brick house, set upon 200 acres with views of the river in several directions. Eighty years later, Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects (NLB) of Washington, DC, has restored and renovated the buildings, reversing years of weathering and minimal maintenance and updating the property for use as a weekend and holiday retreat for a couple with three young children.

The clients’ principal goals were to make the house more family-friendly, to open up its riverfront façade to take advantage of the views, and to renovate the earlier structure for use as a guesthouse. The two buildings each posed specific challenges for the firm; while the later structure remained sound, a host of drainage problems had made the earlier house uninhabitable. “The main house was well built to begin with, with fine materials and high quality construction,” says David Neumann, AIA, principal at NLB. “It was absolutely rock solid, but it was also designed for a different era. The guesthouse was probably built by amateurs. It was cobbled together, and had been altered at some point. Structurally, it was in dubious condition. It was really a slightly built structure, and couldn’t tolerate the neglect that it had gotten.”

The main house was originally configured to accommodate live-in staff, with bedrooms for two servants and a kitchen set at the rear, away from the river. To accommodate more open spaces, the firm added approximately 150 sq.ft. in total, at each end of the five-part house. In the east wing, interior partition walls that once formed part of the servants’ staircase, butler’s pantry and other small rooms were removed on both levels. The revised plan allowed for a generous kitchen, breakfast room and family room, all of which are loosely connected for panoramic views of the river. “Life is quite different to how it was then,” says Neumann. “The owner’s primary use of this house is now taking place in a family room/breakfast room/kitchen. These are defined rooms, but sufficiently open to each other that family life – which is no longer separated from function – can be accommodated.” On the second level, the new east wing houses a children’s playroom, bedroom suite and laundry room.

Though the central section, west wing and connecting hyphen remain largely as originally laid out, the firm made several discreet modifications to bring them up to date. The master bath and dressing areas were rearranged, and a new door connects the library to an adjacent office to the north and a new sitting room bay to the south. Much of the noticeable work in these areas was decorative – secured and skimmed plaster ceilings, stripped and repainted woodwork and refinished floors. Millwork, moldings and wood grilles were manufactured by Ivan C. Dutterer of Hanover, PA, while Wood Floor Specialist of Felton, DE, refinished the floors. “The house had some truly wonderful elements,” says Neumann. “At one level it was simply decorative – this quality of space existed in the house, to a degree, to begin with. It was the repair of plaster, integrating systems and lighting, making the house comfortable and functional. But some of it entailed certainly more than that, and required an ability to see what it could become.”

The house had undergone some unfortunate alterations since 1929, most notably the enclosure of its grand riverfront veranda. Additionally, a wood stove and brick chimney had been added to the breakfast room, and a Chippendale railing had been removed from the veranda roof edge. Fortunately, these were easily reversed, to great aesthetic benefit. “This monumental porch serves a very lovely purpose – it’s the big front of the house that one sees from a distance when traveling on the river,” says Neumann. “When it was screened in, all of this shadow and detail were greatly diminished and the impression was of a small modern building, with glass panels and skinny columns. It was one of the most obvious changes to reverse.”

While the potential of the main house was clear from the beginning, the guesthouse provided far less to work with and was structurally perilous. Poor drainage and grading had allowed water to penetrate the brickwork, causing the foundation to fail and the bearing ends of the joists to rot, with the floor sagging as much as one foot in places. Water had also penetrated the deteriorated mortar joints, causing the original jack arch lintels to fail. They had been inappropriately replaced with steel angles and running-bond joinery.

Owing to the guesthouse’s poor condition, much of the renovation focused on securing the envelope, with only minor changes made to the interior to accommodate the guesthouse program. The structure was underpinned, and its floor framing members were replaced or sistered where required. On the exterior, new jack arches were fabricated for the masonry openings and the entire house was re-pointed (brick was supplied by The Redland Brick Company of Williamsport, MD). New custom wood windows by Marvin Windows and Doors replaced all existing metal storms, mid-20th-century windows and formerly bricked-up openings. Chimney flues were lined and made operational. “While the guesthouse is approximately 1,500 sq.ft., on a per-sq.ft. basis it was a bigger, more time-consuming project,” says Neumann. “There was nothing salvageable – no plumbing, heating, wiring – just a tiny bit of flooring. As is frequently the case in an urban context, but less usual in the country, the building was carefully braced while virtually everything within the shell was rebuilt.”

Despite appearances, the guesthouse was not the first building to be constructed on the site. The grant for the farmland dates from the late-17th century, predating the guesthouse by at least a century, and the firm found remnants of old driveways on the grounds and evidence that the grading had been altered over time. Following the latest revisions, the firm relocated the driveway from the north façade and created a guest parking area adjacent to the guesthouse. In keeping with the main house’s family-oriented theme, the pool was moved closer to the kitchen, and supported by a new pool house, as well as nearby basketball and volleyball areas. “The pool was in an odd position on the site,” says Neumann. “It was at the formal end of the house, near the library, and not supported by any of the internal activities in the house. When the kitchen, breakfast and family areas in the east wing were complete, we immediately lobbied for repositioning the pool and joining some of the outdoor and family activities together.”

The renovated buildings, an ensemble of sympathetically designed outbuildings, and the site improvements all serve to give Lombardy the appearance of a cherished property that has been refreshed. With subtlety, Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects has brought the property into the 21st century and ensured its survival and relevance for years to come.  

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