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With eight roofs and over two dozen glass walls, the glass house in Pasadena, MD, remains one of the most celebrated homes in the region. Designed by architect Leo D’Aleo in 1986, the home was the vision of the late Leroy Merritt, a gregarious self-made millionaire with a touch of the Wild West to his personality. When building the modernist “glass house” that rises from a bluff overlooking Sillary Bay, he shocked the mostly traditional-minded Magothy River community, dotted with Cape Cods, shingle-style homes, and cottages.
I toured the glass house with Leroy in 2008 and featured it on Annapolis Home’s inaugural cover in 2010. I saw something I have never seen before nor since: an Italian hand-carved hot tub in the living room framed by marble columns. The hot tub is gone, but the home still retains Leroy’s innovative exuberance, thanks to his son Robb Merritt. Robb began dramatically remodeling the home in 2020, preserving his father’s legacy while forging his own.
Robb notes that his dad, who lived in Baltimore, built the house as a getaway with the primary purpose of entertaining. “The living room basically had a grand piano, a hot tub, a couple of chairs, and not much else,” he reminisces. Leroy left the house to Robb and his wife Sheila when he died in 2010. So, they decided to renovate, update, and call it home. However, changes were necessary. “There was so much marble everywhere. We wanted it to feel comfortable and homey, a place where our daughters could hang out, a place for grandchildren,” he says.
For assistance, Robb turned to designer Joe Karlik of Locust Grove Studios and custom builder Delbert Adams of Delbert Adams Construction Group and Sunnyfields Cabinetry. Karlik masterminded the 9,700 square-foot home’s grand transformation from pleasure palace to elegant family-friendly estate, designing many of its furnishings. Karlik notes that they preserved the glass and concrete structure but changed virtually everything else, knocking out all interior walls and reconfiguring the floor plan.
A significant modification began with the exterior entrance, which was nondescript. Now, there is a floating stairway with bluestone and Ipe siding and also an elevator that opens to the first floor, conceived by Locust Grove partner Brian Ghiloni. The exterior facade facing the river, once light grey, is now darker, clad with bluestone and Ipe siding. Replacing huge concrete blocks on the commercial-grade structure was a colossal task, note project managers Clay Coulstone, Kent Darrell, and Ken Zacheri. Significantly, they rebuilt much of the interior wood framing due to termites, which entered through a tiny hole near the corner of the pool. The team also installed a new, more powerful HVAC system that occupies the ground floor and now resembles, says Darrell, “the engine room of a large ship.” The house has 19 zones, with almost every room independently controlled, explains Coulstone.
When it came to the interior, Robb and Sheila expressed their preference for the same monochromatic and calm tones that appear in their Baltimore condominium. They desired a similar ambiance in the glass house. “You could call it ‘Industrial light,’” says Robb. Karlik followed through. The design palette from top to bottom is subdued in honey and amber hues to ensure the panoramic water views remain paramount and that the artwork stands out. Instead of color, materials captivate the eye and include glass, metal, wood, and leather, adding a tactile quality and becoming part of the home’s living texture.
To walk through this home is to stroll through the imagination of an artist. Indeed, many were hands-on and involved. Karlik notes his 5-member team has art, interior design, and sculpting skills. Also assisting were furniture maker Vicco von Voss, lighting designer Chad Shapiro, and glass artist Tim McFadden. A fixtures specialist, concrete artisan, and custom blacksmith added to the mix.
Once inside, there is something poetic about the 20-foot ceiling and the space it encloses. Stanza in Italian means ‘verse’ and ‘room’. One may experience the floors of this home as floating stanzas, each a small essential universe serving its inhabitants. On the first floor are three bedrooms for the Merritts’ three daughters. The sisters wanted them almost identical in size and comfort level, symbolizing the ease and equality among them. This floor has two kitchens. They remodeled the first kitchen, a small one original to the house. A second larger one is deep in the east interior of the home. The large chef’s kitchen is for Robb, who loves to cook. To add definition and a sense of intimacy, Karlik designed floating planes that hover overhead, echoing the exterior’s concrete floating roof planes and adding architectural interest.
In the open concept first floor, divided by levels, a visual harmony resounds. Colors never collide but rather elide, one into the other. The white oak wood floor is stained to complement the amber-honey tones of the table, explains Karlik. Von Voss carved some furnishings from a 200-year-old Sycamore. They include the kitchen’s wood bar, dining table, and vanity with a living edge in the powder room. On all his surfaces, he applies a custom varnish that amplifies the wood’s grains and beautiful flaws. There is also a custom whiskey bar fabricated by Blacksmith Sawyer: Steel and Custom Build. “The top slides back so the liquors are protected from the sun but also easily accessible,” says Karlik, who notes the constant sun streaming through the windows can warm the interior quickly.
A spiral stair winds to the second and third floors and is centered by an astonishing custom glass lighting fixture by McFadden. Hanging pendants are visible as one ascends each floor. They are suspended by thick ropes containing a 1/16-inch steel cable made by a company in Texas so they can’t fall down, explains Karlik. He views the lighting fixture as a stand-alone art installation. “As you go up the stairs, you can interact with them and be close to them, which is fun. There are little waves in the glass that show up on the walls in the evening that are just beautiful.”
The subdued hues and emphasis on materials continue upstairs. The primary bedroom has a custom-made bed of leather and wood crafted by von Voss, with an invisible giant flat screen that drops down from a canopy at the touch of a button. The master bath is not only well-appointed with multiple custom shower fixtures and fittings; it also features another flat-screen TV so Robb can keep up with sports and news.
French philosopher Gaston Bachelard reminds us that houses love to be inhabited and absorb the personalities of their owners, holding them close long after they have moved away. Leroy’s business card described him as “the last of the big spenders” whose skill set included “brawls organized, football games fixed, and dinosaurs neutered.” This home, with its courageous glass walls that have weathered over 17 hurricanes, retains vestiges of Leroy’s innovative spirit. A framed picture of Leroy smiling out at the world, the glint of mischief in his eyes, is displayed prominently on the kitchen wall, where Robb can easily see it while concocting his favorite dishes. “If you are at the whiskey bar, looking at the kitchen, it’s right there,” notes Robb.
Whiskey seems appropriate if only to raise a glass to the reimagined glass house, finished in 2022. Robb, who once tried to sell the home, reflects incredulously that some potential buyers wanted to tear it down. It is to his credit that he and his family moved down from Baltimore to breathe new life into this glass icon and to recreate, most importantly, a home “that I still call my Dad’s,”
Leo D’Aleo, 1986
Delbert Adams, Delbert Adams Construction Group, dacgllc.com; Sunnyfields Cabinetry, sunnyfieldscabinetry.com
Joe Karlik, Locust Grove Studios, locustgrovestudios.com
Blacksmith Sawyer Co., (@blacksmithsawyerco)
CUSTOM FURNITURE DESIGN:
Vicco von Voss, viccovonvoss.com
Tim McFadden, mcfaddenartglass.com
LIGHTING DESIGN & AV:
Chad Shapiro, sterlingsv.com
John Ramsey, Deep Landing Workshop, deeplandingworkshop.com
Carla Massoni, Massoni Gallery Chestertown, massoniart.com
Mat Warrington, Mackinaw Creations, mackinawcreations.com
© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 14, No. 5 2023