October 4, 2018

Bates Masi Dresses a Coastal House in Layers for Its Chesapeake Bay Setting

After designing houses in the Hamptons for decades, Bates Masi + Architects has built on waterfront properties many times over. In most cases, this has meant siting a residence a couple hundred feet from the ocean’s edge.

But when a prospective client called from Annapolis, Maryland, and told firm principal Paul Masi that he and his wife had recently purchased a house “on the water,” he really meant it: The residence’s second-floor deck literally hung right over a bustling cove on the Chesapeake Bay.

The second floor’s outdoor living area can become indoor space when glass panels are pulled out of wall pockets. Photography by Michael Moran.

The owners, boating enthusiasts with three grown children, loved their proximity to the water, but they knew they had to replace, rather than simply renovate, their home. Built in the 1970s, the structure was sorely outdated and, by the time Bates Masi entered the picture, located in the flood plain and therefore at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges. Not only did it flaunt flood regulations, it didn’t meet current energy codes, either.

Bates Masi’s flat-roofed, two-story house for the family, raised three feet higher than its predecessor, ticks all those boxes—plus it’s LEED-certified. And it does so much more.

The firm found inspiration for the materials palette in the architectural vocabulary of the coastal setting. The house was built with timbers evocative of dock pilings and bulkheads, which hold waterfront land in place. Reclaimed heart pine siding is fastened on with corrosion-resistant silicone-bronze screws borrowed from shipbuilding and left exposed. Weathered steel planters stepping down from the ground level of the house to its boardwalk evoke sheet pilings seen all along the waterfront.

The master bath’s glassed-in floating tub was designed by Piero Lissoni. Photography by Michael Moran.

The architects took pains to protect the interior from the sometimes-harsh coastal weather—as well as afford the owners privacy, despite neighbors on two sides and boats chugging in and out of the cove all day. An outermost screen is composed of fixed vertical ipe slats corresponding to rooms needing privacy. Inside that layer, curtains made of marine canvas hang on a continuous stainless-steel track that runs all around the perimeter of the second floor. Then come panels of glass (or screen) that pocket into walls. Linen curtains and shades comprise the innermost layer. The owners can open the house completely, reveling in the view of the bay and letting the breeze blow through, or they can close themselves off, partially or fully, so “they don’t feel like they’re on center stage,” says Masi. “You can really make this a cocoon.”

Inside, it’s an “upside-down house,” in the architect’s words. Rooms and baths for the children are on the first floor of the nearly 5,600-square-foot interior, with the master bedroom and main living spaces above—the owners wanted to capitalize on the bay view in the places where everyone spends the most time. This configuration called for a strategy to coax people up to the second floor: A broad cantilevered staircase that greets visitors at the entry does the trick. “You come into the house and see the wide stair and you pretty much end up upstairs,” Masi says.

The kitchen’s custom ceiling fixture illuminates a counter of honed Bianco Dolomite marble. Photography by Michael Moran.

There, living, dining, and kitchen areas flow into each other—and outside to the second-floor deck. The materials mix reinforces the seamlessness, with reclaimed French oak on floors and ceilings, white plaster walls, and honed Bianco Dolomite marble on the kitchen’s counter, backsplash, and stove hood.

The firm explored materials new to them as well. For the screen bordering the stair—comprised of taut lengths of rope, a reference to the local boating culture—the team plunged into research to find a type of cord that wouldn’t stretch over time. Everyone swooned over beautiful wool examples. . .until they learned that wool can expand 30 percent. In the end, they selected a variety with a braided wrapping over a low-stretch core.

Elevated up out of the flood plain, the house is three feet higher than the one it replaced. Photography by Michael Moran.

Local craftspeople—such as those at Gutierrez Studios in Baltimore—were another find. The shop engineered the staircase with robust stainless-steel stringers (so the cantilevered treads wouldn’t bounce), fabricated the rope screen, and created the stainless-steel components that support the ipe slats on the second floor. “We learned a lot from them,” says Masi. “It’s nice to expand your horizons. There’s an exciting world of craftsmanship all around the country.”

While Bates Masi took the lead on detailing the interior spaces, running ideas by the clients, the roles were reversed when it came to decorating the place. The clients selected furniture and sought feedback from their design team in what Masi describes as “a healthy dialogue.” The owner’s choices tend toward white and off-white fabrics and simple modern and contemporary furniture classics, all of which work perfectly here. After all, there’s no need to complicate matters when the views are dazzling, the architecture is richly textured—and there’s plenty of excitement to be had maneuvering kayaks or the family’s speedboat in the water just outside the door.

Project Team: Aaron Weil: Bates Masi + Architects. Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect: Landscape Consultant. 1200 Architectural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Premier Custom-Built Cabinetry: Woodwork. Pyramid Builders: General Contractor.

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