Sometimes a destination sticks with you long after other memories of a trip have faded. Such was the case when a father bound for the beach with his three kids stopped for lunch in Easton, Maryland. “I fell in love with the town,” he reflects. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
Little did he know that decades later this pristine Eastern Shore spot would lure him back. Now based in Florida, the businessman was searching for a site where he and his wife could build a vacation home and rendezvous with their grown kids, who live in New York. As he explains, “I love boating and wanted to have a place on the Chesapeake.”
When he and a real estate broker landed by boat on an abandoned two-acre property overlooking the Tred Avon River, the stars aligned. “It’s on a point so it has 180-degree visibility,” the buyer marvels. “And the water was deep enough for a dock.”
He acquired the land, then tapped his son, Daniel Grehl, and Erika Martins of Brooklyn-based Martins Grehl Architects to design his retreat. Though a home previously built on-site was destroyed by fire 15 years ago, the architects were able to salvage the driveway and some mature trees that dotted the property. They positioned the dwelling to optimize views of the river and an untamed parcel to the north. “Reaching out to the landscape and bringing the landscape in was a driving factor,” notes Grehl.
The client gave the architects a wide berth, making a few modest requests: a fireplace, a dining table that would seat a dozen and hardwood floors for warmth. “I wanted high ceilings but not giant, cavernous spaces,” he observes.
Though modern, his aesthetic leans more Frank Lloyd Wright than Frank Gehry, says Martins. “Daniel’s father was drawn to natural materials and the horizontality of Wright’s work so we tried to emphasize horizontal lines in our plan.”
The duo designed a 3,750-square-foot, L-shaped home consisting of intersecting rectangular forms. The main volume parallel to the river houses the living area, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor and the owners’ suite above. A perpendicular wing contains two en-suite guest rooms on the main floor and another upstairs. A primary axis travels along the entry path through the front door, revealing views of a greenery-filled courtyard and the river beyond.
Modern in spirit, the retreat pays homage to local vernacular with cedar siding, white oak floors and a gabled roof reminiscent of historic tobacco barns. “We gravitated toward contemporary design but with cues we picked up along the way,” remarks Grehl. “Researching the Eastern Shore, you come to understand the heritage and building archetypes.”
Accustomed to designing row houses and apartments in their New York City practice, the architects welcomed the chance to think outside the box in detailing this freestanding dwelling. A vertical element to the left of the front entry is swathed in off-white Nichiha fiber-cement panels; it anchors the main staircase inside. Weathered Corten steel panels that frame the front courtyard and entrance accentuate the passage of time. “We liked the poetics of that,” Grehl adds, “especially because it’s a multi-generational family’s house.”
Interior selections, from the RH living room and dining furniture to the Mod kitchen cabinets, echo the organic color palette of the exterior materials. “We wanted soft, neutral colors that would let the views be dominant,” says Martins. “We didn’t want to distract from nature.”
Early in the process, Annapolis landscape architect Jordan Loch Crabtree was hired to transform the overgrown property into one that embraces sustainability and laid-back living. “Our studio believes in creating intentional spaces for people to connect with one another and with nature,” says Crabtree. His plan included a great lawn, an arrival courtyard and a bluestone pool terrace complete with a fire pit and dining area. He also converted an acre of lawn into a meandering meadow, which now envelops the wedge-shaped site.
“The meadow provides a dynamic habitat that brings benefits on multiple fronts, from filtration and runoff to creating a habitat for pollinators,” Grehl asserts.
The meadow performed another special function in October 2019, shortly after the residence was completed. Erika Martins and Daniel Grehl, who are not only partners in business but also in life, got married on-site with the meadow, the Tred Avon and the house they designed together forming an idyllic backdrop.
Since then, Martins Grehl Architects and Loch Collective have won prestigious design awards for the project. And the owners and their family have made many more memories at the Maryland refuge, especially during the pandemic. Martins and Grehl enjoy relaxing in the pool and the indoor sauna (which they built themselves under the TV loft in the main wing) and on the home’s many terraces and decks.
As for Daniel’s father, he reports, “I love taking a glass of wine to the tip of the dock and watching the sun go down.” His 29-foot motorboat is moored on-site and he enjoys surveying yachts as they sail by. “Somebody’s cooking, somebody’s playing with the dog and I think, ‘This is what we wanted,’” he reflects. “A place for the family to go for many years—hopefully a couple of generations.”
Architecture & Interior Design: Erika Martins, RA, and Daniel Grehl, RA, LEED AP, Martins Grehl Architects PLLC, Brooklyn, New York. Builder: Darren Kornas, ThinkMakeBuild, Easton, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Jordan Loch Crabtree, ASLA, Loch Collective, Annapolis, Maryland. Landscape Contractor: Solidago Landscapes, LLC, Church Hill, Maryland. Planting: Rigo Lawn Care + Landscaping; 443-856-9218.