Why does a bird build a nest that is round? Why do our homes rely on rectangular forms? These questions arise when considering Dean and Cassidy Papadopoulos’ new home. Their story begins when they bought a thirty-five year-old house in an Annapolis neighborhood. Situated on a bluff overlooking a creek and forest, it needed an overhaul. Today, thanks to the homeowners, an architect, and builder, it is composed of modern angles and materials that complement the waterfront and natural world.
Dean and Cassidy were very deliberate in deciding on the type of contemporary home they wanted to build. Dean explains that they “wanted a home that fit in with the heavily wooded and waterfront lot. Because of that we wanted to use natural materials like clear finished wood, stucco, and rusted steel in order for it to fit well with the colors and feel of the environment. This consideration naturally led us to a more contemporary look.” He further adds, humorously, that they also “wanted something different than the traditional colonial (we are not George and Martha Washington), a style imported from other countries (we are not French, Spanish, or extras in Game of Thrones), or the Annapolis/coastal look (we were not building a beach house).”
A local architect provided structural and site plans and secured permits for the renovation. However, Dean and Cassidy had a clear vision for both the design and the mechanics of the house and reworked the architect’s basic plan, adapting it to their vision. It was a self-confident, almost audacious move, but it worked beautifully.
Matt Long of Gate One Builders, the Annapolis-based general contractor for the house, admits to some initial trepidation about the project. “It’s a relationship that on paper you’d be afraid of.” But he was quick to add, “it couldn’t have gone better.” Kevin Weston of
Gutierrez Studios, the Baltimore artisan workshop that provided numerous metal items for the home, had similar concerns. When clients without architects had tried to hire the studio before, he’d ask, “Wouldn’t you hire a dentist if you needed dental work?” However, like Long, Weston soon learned that he had no cause for concern. They both quickly came to appreciate the commitment of time, intellectual energy, and design vision that Dean and Cassidy brought to the project.
The single-family home, with a hyphen connecting two structures, contrasting roof heights, decks, and outbuilding, has the feel of an artful, intimate compound. The garage in front (a new addition to the property) is finished in a light-colored stucco-like material with a gable facing the street. It’s simple and straightforward, a farmhouse vernacular in the style of Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Rather than try to mimic the main house, it takes a more interesting tack, celebrating its visual independence. The front and rear of the house are sheathed in Cumaru, a sustainably grown Brazilian hardwood. Large metal cased windows provide a visual counterbalance to the deep rich tone of the wood.
There is a bit of suspense to the entry. The front door is off to the side and only comes into view as you walk past the garage. It’s punctuated with horizontal strips of glass and it is massive. Wide enough to march an army through, it cleverly pivots open. Perpendicular to the door, there is a simple, elegant reflecting pool complete with a fountain component under a wall of glass.
The foyer with its awkward dimensions would present a design challenge to the most seasoned professional. However, Cassidy and Dean found smart and elegant solutions. For example, a curved wall provides a visual counterpoint to the angular custom steel staircase. It might be a boring expanse of white if not for two large steel panels that Gutierrez Studios fabricated to perfectly follow the curve of the wall. They’ve been given a rusted patina and call to mind large abstract paintings. Cassidy conceived the forms and Dean designed them. The steel panels are impressive as is the third Gutierrez feature in the room, a large “skylight” that is actually a glass floor in the room above. It’s the Papadopoulos’ solution to the challenge of bringing light to the potentially dark foyer without sacrificing floor space above to create a two-story entryway.
In designing the interiors, Dean and Cassidy used steel, wood, and stone elements to unify the home. In the first floor den, Gutierrez fabricated a custom recessed rack for holding pool cues and a matching free standing bar top. Made from a single sheet of steel, the bar top bends at a sharp 90 degree angle to become the leg that supports itself. The visual simplicity belies the sophisticated craft that went into the top’s construction. The house’s flooring is a unifying material—the entire second floor uses the same Preverco prefinished hardwood by Beers Flooring in Annapolis, and the first floor is completely finished in a commercial grade stained concrete provided by Hyde Concrete of Pasadena. Absolute black granite is provided by Atlas Stone Fabricators in Odenton and used inside and out.
To reach the main living space, you climb the stairs—they function like a tree that hosts a nest. The second floor is loft-like with floor-to-ceiling metal cased windows that wrap around the far corner to capture the view of a bend in the creek. The storefront style windows, supplied by Western Window Systems and installed by Loewen Window Center of Annapolis, are elegant and integrate the home with nature while still providing safe shelter. Cassidy says that the second floor “townhouse” style design was conceived to “maximize the light exposure as the sun tracks across the sky during the day.”
Both the dining room and kitchen are open to the living room and the water view beyond. A handsome waterfall center island anchors the kitchen. The glass backsplash gets a jolt of bright color behind the cooktop. Gutierrez Studios was hard at work here too. They fabricated the large zinc countertop, which also provides an informal eating space for family or guests. On the living room side of the counter there are five custom guest stools, also fabricated by Gutierrez Studios. The open flow continues into the master bedroom where a pair of modern barn doors slides into place for privacy. The master bathroom, with LG Porcelain White Quartz by Atlas Stone, has a glass walled two-person shower and a bathtub that’s organic and sinuous. It’s set on a bed of river rocks in an alcove with a tall wood wall that seems to rise forever behind it.
A glass door off a breakfast area at the far end of the kitchen opens to a terrace on top of the single-story hyphen connecting the house to the garage. The terrace, which provides access to an office on the second floor of the garage, is representative of the attention to every detail that went into the design and build of the house. This may be because the project’s principal players are kindred spirits. Gate One’s Matt Long says that he and his partner John Pilli, who are Naval Academy graduates, had military careers which taught them to be process oriented. In Long’s words they “see the goal and work our way backwards.” Kevin Weston talks about “working backwards to get to an end product.” This might not be the way all house builders or metal fabricators approach their work, but if you wanted to identify a common thread in the overall design, this approach would be it. And it was no surprise to learn that Dean’s professional background is in software where success relies on the same approach—an abstract concept is transformed into code that in turn becomes a physical, useful product.
To the non-technical person, there is a good bit of mystery involved in technology’s creation and function. And, there is a mystery to every space. Why does every shelter, no matter what its form, have a center? With its visionary beginnings and skilled interpreters, the Papadopoulos’ home is special—perhaps its center existed before the first shovel broke ground.
Tom Levine writes about architecture, design, and culture. A resident of Annapolis, he holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Boston University.
General Contractor: Matt Long, Gate One Builders, gateonebuilders.com
Site Plans: Reithlingshoefer Design Studio, rdsdesignstudio.com
Kitchen Concept: Michelle Miller Interiors LLC, michellemillerinteriors.com
Barn Door Sliders: Rustica Hardware, rusticahardware.com
Bluestone Patio: Homestead Gardens, homesteadgardens.com
Cabinets: Home Depot, homedepot.com
Concrete Floor Finish: Hyde Concrete, hydeconcrete.com
Countertops: Atlas Stone Fabricators, atlasstonefabricators.com
Electronic Systems: Electronic Home Environments, ehenvironments.com
Exterior Railings: Carter Fabrications, carterfabricationsinc.com
Front Entry Door: Pivot Door Company, pivotdoorcompany.com
LEED Certification: Jay Hall and Associates, jayhall.com
Metal Work: Gutierrez Studios, gutierrezstudios.com
Window Manufacturer: Western Window Systems, westernwindowsystems.com
Window Distributor and Installer: Loewen Window Center, loewenwindowsofmidatlantic.com
Wood Floors: Beers Hardwood Floors, beershardwoodfloors.com
From Vol.7, No. 3 2016
Annapolis Home Magazine