Marshland Modernity


By Renee Houston Zemanski | Photography by Julia Heine


A marsh location isn’t usually one’s first thought when envisioning a waterfront home. However, the panorama of tall, moving grasses and boundless still water provides a tranquil ambiance like no other. So, when it came time for builder Patty McDaniel to construct her dream home, a marsh location proved perfect.

“I dreamt for decades about having a house on the water,” said the founder and owner of Rehoboth Beach-based Boardwalk Builders. “We were doing a job for one of my clients on this street near my office and I was always driving by this ‘For Sale’ sign on this postage size piece of land.”

McDaniel finally brought her architect friend, Mark McInturff, of Bethesda-based McInturff Architects, to see the lot. After discussions on how to build on such a small lot while taking advantage of the views, McDaniel bought it. The two have collaborated on many homes, but this one was special. It was McDaniel’s forever home.

Since it had to follow the environmental boundaries, the house was built as a broad L shape, but not a 90-degree angle, explained McInturff. There are two wings in the approximately 3,400 square foot home—downstairs, the living, dining, kitchen wing and the master bedroom and ensuite wing. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a spacious living space that separates them. In between the wings sits an awe-inspiring, two-story screened porch.

“I liken it to opening up a book where you have two sides that splay out and the screen porch is like the pages in the book. No angle in the house is a direct 90-degree angle”, McInturff said.

The contemporary home’s exterior boasts treated cedar siding, reminiscent of its beach location. The home, which is supported on treated wood pilings, has a retaining wall that retains the dirt and allows the lower floor to be higher than the flood plain. While purposeful, the wall also creates a unified look.

Once inside, walls of windows and glass doors draw the eye directly to the serene vista of the marsh. “The view changes all the time,” said McDaniel.

“All you see is water,” added McInturff. “It’s unbelievably beautiful. You’ve got these grasses, tall and always moving, and there’s the long view out to the bay. The more time I spent there, the more I thought, ‘this is one of the most beautiful spots I ever worked on.’”

The 440-square-foot screened porch, McDaniel’s favorite room, takes full advantage of the view. All the geometry of the porch radiates from a two-story galvanized steel column. Gazing upward, a myriad of angles and geometric shapes are created out of steel beams, wood, cedar and glass skylights. Extending out into the porch are little balconies from each of the second-floor bedrooms. Another small balcony jets out over the marsh.

“There’s no outdoor space on this site, except out front, so it was important for me to include that little balcony”, said McInturff. “It’s literally on the water. You feel like you’re on a boat because there’s no land between you and the marsh.”

This seafaring theme is incorporated throughout by the choice of materials, nautical railings and lighting. The contemporary home doesn’t lack the warmth of a more traditional home precisely because of how the materials are used.

McInturff explained that ordinarily, the steel frame and beams would be hidden from view, but they decided to keep the materials in their original state to create continuity between the home’s exterior and interior and add warmth. “There’s an authenticity to this house—all of the materials are used in their natural states,” he said. “It makes sense since the house is immersed in nature.”

All the wood used in the home is Douglas Fir. The floor is cork and reflects the color of the dark water in the marsh, said McInturff. “It’s almost like you’re on the water, on the water.”

The interior design throughout is sleek with modern, clean interconnecting lines. “A lot of what makes the house beautiful is the way details line up with other details—the alignment of one material to the next,” said McDaniel.

The kitchen offers up a simple elegance with its Silestone countertops and handcrafted wood cabinets. In place of a backsplash behind the stove, shelves were incorporated for extra storage and three brushed stainless, accordion doors hide the contents while continuing the streamlined look and color palette of the space. McDaniel and McInturff designed the dining table and had it crafted locally from reclaimed Douglas Fir, giving McDaniel the character and warmth that she wanted.

While the floor to ceiling windows and doors offer a dramatic backdrop of the marsh in every room, they still need to be structurally stable and able to withstand coastal winds. To achieve that goal, McInturff incorporated metal crossbars or tension ties that expand across some of the larger windows. They serve as braces between the steel columns, eliminating any motion during high winds or settlement while adding to the home’s nautical character.

The window tension ties aren’t the only instance when aesthetics and practicality are intermingled in the home. The metal grid between the staircases serves as both a safety barrier as well as a design element.

“The grid is effectively the railing. It’s a whimsical way to deal with safety,” said McInturff, adding that the small metal rod beneath each open riser step also provides added safety. “Everything you see is holding it together. It’s a work of art.”

Indeed, the entire home is a splendid retreat and at the end of a long day, McDaniel savors the tranquility and the view she can come home to.  She describes her marsh home as “a pinch myself every day kind of awesome.”


ARCHITECT: Mark McInturff, McInturff Architects,, Bethesda, Maryland | CUSTOM BUILDER: Boardwalk Builders,, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware | CABINETRY: Oceanic Ventures,, Lewes, Delaware | TABLE: Paul Incognito, Paul’s Woodshop,,  Wilmington, Delaware; Designed by Mark McInturff


Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 10, No. 3 2019