Bridge to Tranquility
A Custom Retreat Provides A Respite From Everyday Chaos.
Most bridges serve a very simple purpose: They connect one place to another. But for the owners of this vacation cottage in Sherwood Forest, Md., the footbridge leading from their driveway to their front door is more than just a means of entry. It symbolizes the mental separation the house gives them from their busy lives in the Washington, D.C., area, an hour to the west. “It's part of the idea of parting from the Washington way of life while they're out here,” says the home's architect, Donald Lococo. “I think [crossing the bridge] begins to calm you down.”
The same notion of peace and relaxation sets the tone for the house itself. Horizontal tongue-and-groove Douglas fir paneling lines the snug entry foyer. “The house hugs you when you come in,” says project manager Andrew Smith of Winchester Construction. “It's just so warm.” Beyond the foyer lies the home's most important feature: an open, timber-framed space containing the kitchen, dining area, and living room. “The entry is intentionally lower and tighter,” says Lococo. “Then, when you go into the main space, it feels even bigger.” Windows line the sides and rear of this main living area, drawing in views of the surrounding treetops and the Severn River tributary below. In warm weather, the bifold glass windows separating the kitchen from the screened porch can be pushed back, creating “almost a screened-in kitchen, in a way,” Lococo says. “You have the breezes and the sounds of the boatyard coming in.”
The home's serenity seems so effortless, but achieving it was no simple matter. “The logistics of the site were a big item,” says Smith. The property drops 40 feet down from the road at about a 25-degree angle. In order to keep the house from sliding off the slope and conform to county excavation limits, he and his boss, Bert Winchester, abandoned their original plan to build a concrete block foundation with extra-large footings and poured a formed-concrete one instead. “The whole foundation is one big, rigid structure that's holding the house on the hill,” explains Smith. Local officials permitted them to close off part of the road and use it as a staging area, since there was no space on the site to do so. Sherwood Forest is a gated community with a clubhouse and parking near the entrance, so most of the subs parked there and rode in carloads of four and six to the site. The Winchester Construction crew built a temporary ramp for traveling up and down the hill and did most of the framing and trimwork from scaffolding.
An unusually tight construction schedule also put pressure on the design and building team. Sherwood Forest functions predominantly as a summer community; construction is forbidden there from mid-June through Labor Day. The local design review board also exercises strong opinions on house size, proportion, materials, and color choices. This didn't bother Lococo, who hoped to emulate the simplicity of the neighboring houses anyway. Since the rules prohibited him from enlarging the footprint beyond that of the old teardown previously occupying the site, he simply burrowed down deeper into the property to find the square footage the clients wanted. The couple has three grown children and five toddler-age grandchildren, and they envisioned the house as a place where the entire family could come and stay. Lococo made sure each family member would have a quiet, private place to retreat to, as an alternative to the top floor's social gathering space. The second level down is devoted to a master suite complete with its own porch. Then two lower levels contain four guest bedrooms, each with its own bath. A guest kitchenette helps keep snacks and kids' meals organized.
Lococo's exacting design allowed little room for error. “One of the difficulties of the house was all the alignment issues,” Smith says. “The bands of trim that run around the outside, the muntins of the windows, and the paneling grooves continue on the same coursing all the way around. You had to pay much closer attention to things when you were putting them in and think about them a lot beforehand.” But this challenge played to the detail-oriented tendencies of Smith and Winchester, who abhor even the smallest imperfections. For example, they scoured the East Coast for a single piece of black granite big enough to top the hexagonal, 48-square-foot kitchen island. “Our main goal was to avoid having an oddball seam somewhere in the counter,” says Smith.
His and Winchester's high standards didn't go unappreciated. “This was definitely a more creative contractor, a perfectionist,” says Lococo. “That summons perfectionism in an architect. It created a simpatico relationship in getting the best features for the end product.”