This Greenspring Valley home is brand new, but its design needed to incorporate a family’s decades-old tradition of entertaining. Peter Twohy of 2e Architects led a team effort to create a light-filled house that can seat 60 for dinner—where the kitchen is a family room, and a piano takes center stage.
Bob and Amy had been looking for a house for years when they saw the 1950s brick rancher in Stevenson. They loved that it was open in the front and backed up to the woods. They loved that Stevenson has no mail delivery and that everyone picks up their parcels at the quaint Stevenson Village post office. Yes, the rancher was dated, but they had a builder they trusted—Jack Horbey of Horbey Custom Builders in Freeland, Md.—and they were confident in his ability to do just about anything.
Horbey’s mission was to give Bob and Amy a house where they could continue to host the amazing parties for which they are known and loved. In 1992 the couple took over her grandmother’s famous Rosh Hashanah dinner-and-dessert party, as well as continuing to host their own enormous Passover supper each year. Amy cooks it all by hand (3,000 cookies at last Rosh Hashanah) and Bob, an amateur musician, works the crowd of more than 100 guests, happily taking requests on the piano. But to do it right, they needed a house with more room and fewer walls, where the kitchen could be part of the show.
For weeks they walked around the property in Stevenson with Horbey, initially hoping to stay within the footprint of the foundation. “We were ready to raise the roofline, maybe build an addition,” Bob says. But when Horbey diagnosed serious grading issues (the new house sits 20 inches higher than the old one), they realized the old place was a strict teardown. At that dramatic point, they reached for the phone.
According to architect Twohy, who came recommended by two different sets of friends, “as soon as you talk about a teardown, you know you need an architect.” The dream team now consisted of Bob and Amy, Jack Horbey, Twohy and decorator Michael Hall of Hall & Co., whose purview extended well beyond the choice of fabrics and colors.
With beautiful wooded views to the back, they voted unanimously for huge windows along the back of the house. An open kitchen with an island that can seat 10 was designed to overlook both the patio and the main living room. A second “staging” kitchen was sited behind the main kitchen. Big customized closets for baking and serving made sure that the hard prep work that goes into entertaining would be largely hidden from guests.
The marble-topped island is a particular point of pride for Hall.
“It’s a single 2,200-pound slab of Italian marble, Calacatta gold, which is extremely rare. Most of the thick stone counters you see now are built-up.”
Although the original plan involved cutting the marble in half, with one part of the island lower than the other (to make rolling and kneading pastry more comfortable for Amy, who is petite), the stone proved “too beautiful to cut,” Hall says.
Instead, Kenwood designed an ingenious pullout step at the end of the island to give Amy 6 inches of extra height when baking.
With the kitchen concept realized, the problem of walls remained. For large-scale entertaining, open sightlines would be essential, but intimacy was an important consideration, too.
“It was a huge challenge to get a house this open to feel cozy,” Twohy admits.
He suggested varying the ceiling heights and building corner columns, which would define the space but keep the vistas open. Initially, Amy was not optimistic. “I was afraid the columns would be bulky and traditional—I wanted them like toothpicks!”
To help convince her, Horbey built full-scale painted columns in three different sizes. The columns blend seamlessly into the design. Hall points out their detailing—the beveled edges at the corners and the layered planes where they meet the ceiling. “They catch the light, which creates subtle differences in the shades of white,” he explains.
A striking cupola in the center of the roof was the single most dramatic element of the challenging project. Early on, Twohy imagined it as the vital “third dimension” of the house—to create visual interest from the outside and flood the interiors with light from windows on all four sides. Later, when he saw Bob’s recently restored Knabe grand piano—made in Baltimore and owned originally by Amy’s grandmother—he realized that the high open space provided by the cupola would make a sensational showcase for the piano, both visually and acoustically.
Today the Knabe is the heart of the house. Daylight pours onto its gleaming surfaces through the cupola’s 25-foot ceiling. Carefully placed wooden beams crisscross the space, creating a play of shadows on the walls, as well as visually lowering the ceiling for a more intimate feeling.
At night, a sophisticated lighting design provided by Carol Crampton Lighting offers mood options ranging from cozy to theatrical.
From the outside the effect is warm and inviting. Bob says, “One neighbor told us she sometimes takes a drive down our street, just to see the light shining from the cupola.”
Architect: Peter Twohy, 2e Architects
General Contractor: Jack Horbey, Horbey Custom Builders, Inc.
Interior Decorating and Design: Michael Hall and John Andersson, Hall & Co., Inc.
Art: Renaissance Fine Arts, Baltimore, and personal collection of the owners
Custom Furniture: Dining table, foyer entry table and side table by Harris Rubin, Inc.
Lighting: Carol Crampton, Crampton Lighting Design