Last year, I wrote a tribute to Peter Newlin, FAIA to celebrate his retirement by featuring several of his house designs that had been past Houses of the Week. At the end of my article, I mentioned how Peter’s legacy of his extraordinary work and his being a mentor to other architects lives on. One of them is architect John Hutchison, AIA, whose practice is located in Peter’s last project, Park Row, in Chestertown. When I was in Chestertown searching for Sears, Roebuck houses I called on John and I am delighted to feature his work today.
Being a native Tennessean, I am always interested in what drew other “transplants” to the Eastern Shore. John’s father worked for DuPont and John was born in Luxembourg. When John was a young child, his family moved back to the US and settled in Kennett Square, PA. A few years later John’s parents bought a 33 foot sailboat that they kept on Swann Creek in Rock Hall and soon fell under the spell of the Chesapeake and the Eastern Shore. When John was thirteen, the family moved to an 18th century house on the Wye River and attended Old Wye Church, whose round window on the front façade would later become John’s firm’s logo. John soon bought a boat of his own that he christened the “Wye Whaler”, purchased a commercial crabbing license and became a commercial “trotliner” under the tutelage of the local watermen who became his first mentors. These roots deep in the Eastern Shore, historic buildings, sailing and crabbing influenced John to become an architect and led to his design philosophy of “Elegant Simplicity”.
Like me, John graduated from college during a recession so he decided to remain on the Eastern Shore and sent his resume to Peter Newlin. Peter was intrigued about John’s waterman experience and his hiring John began a mentor/mentee collaboration that lasted until John returned to Philadelphia. Later John relocated to NJ and started his own firm in 2001. One of my favorite projects of his from that time is the stunning adaptive reuse of a barn.
Another recession occurred in 2010 but his first mentor came to the rescue. Peter contacted him about his Garfield Center for the Arts project and John rejoined Peter’s firm. Ironically, John moved to the second floor apartment of the Park Row building where his office is now located. When work slowed down, John moved to Baltimore and worked for several firms until once again in 2014 the Eastern Shore came back into his life with a call from the contractor for the Garfield Center for the Arts Project with new work for John to re-establish his firm, John Hutchison Architecture. His logo (which has an “H” in it), is the image of the beautiful circular window on the front gable facade of Old Wye Church that was one of the buildings that inspired him to be an architect and the place where his father is laid to rest.
It is no surprise that this exquisite project won an AIA award from the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the AIA. This barn began its life as a dairy and hay barn until the 1970’s. The new Owners saw the great potential of the soaring spaces and asked for a renovation that would respect the historic components of the building with a modernistic aesthetic, while reducing the utility costs. What they received from this gifted architect must have exceeded their expectations.
The five massive hay loft trusses acted as lateral bracing and within the space below were five separate living spaces for thermal isolation surrounding a three-story center core living area for sunlight to penetrate the spaces. The minimalist floating staircase and bridge access all levels. I especially admired the beautiful exterior wall with vertical bays defined by timber framing infilled with brick and the selected brick interior walls.
This barn was built in the 1800’s and had fallen into a state of disrepair when the Owners asked for a restoration of the barn to contain an event space on the main level. An addition that would telescope down from the original barn would be a workspace for the working farm’s sunflower business. The original exterior cladding was removed and replaced with new cladding with insulation and vertical cypress siding that has weathered to a beautiful patina. The main level is flooded with light from the new curtain wall with thin mullions that infills the space between the structural framing. New sliding barn doors on one side of the building were designed and fabricated to close on the exterior side of the new steel window system that maintained the original appearance of the historic barn.
It is difficult to match the original 1950s rancher with this imaginative transformation. A new post and beam structural system replaced the existing bearing walls and opened up the first floor plan with a new orientation toward the Chester River. A partial second floor was added within the original roof massing that respected the scale of the neighboring houses. The original house lacked outdoor spaces so a new terrace was added along the rear wall with steps down to the lawn. Existing windows were replaced with sliding doors flanked by full height side windows in all the rooms facing the terrace for indoor/outdoor access. At the second floor, windows and sliding doors to a balcony give bird’s eye views of the landscape and water.
This seamless addition to a historic house telescopes down to a one and a half story kitchen-breakfast area then to a shed roofed mud room/laundry. The short windows below the roof eave of the addition reflect the custom of placing low windows in attics instead of windows at standard mounting heights to avoid taxation of these spaces. The new kitchen with its wood slat ceiling, brick flooring, cabinetry in the historic olive green color and the farmhouse sink create a warm and inviting space that is the new hub of the house.
This design challenge was how to fit a new second floor, including two bedroom en-suites, a family room and a stair, within the constraints of the maximum width of 10 feet allowed by the roof trusses. John was inspired by childhood memories of sailing with his father and older brothers and spending weeks in the small area below deck inspired this creative design that makes use of every possible space. Many skylights were installed both for natural light and views of Swann Creek. The new stair became more than a link between floors by flooding the first floor below with sunlight throughout the day. Spaces under the roof rafters provided open shelves or access doors for storage.
The program for this project was a one and a half-story, Arts & Crafts home that would fit into the context of the Quaker Landing community and to include as many energy efficiency features as possible, within the confines of a narrow lot. The rectangular shaped footprint took advantage of the N-S orientation of the long side walls with wide and tall windows on the first floor below the windows in the shed dormer above that flood the interior with sunlight. The concrete floors and Trombe wall absorb the sunlight in the warm months for release in the cooler months. The deep roof overhangs work with the deciduous trees to provide shade during the summer months.
The front door is located at the side elevation and opens into an alcove opposite the stairs between the bedroom suite at the front of the house and the open plan kitchen-living dining next to the stairs. At the rear of the house are a mud room/laundry/powder room and screened porch. Both the screened porch and the open porch off the bedroom suite are outdoor rooms that both break up the massing of the house and catch the cooling breezes.
An exciting current project for John Hutchinson Architecture is the design for The Sultana Education Foundation’s new Wetlands Preserve Classroom Building. The program calls for a one-story building with two classrooms, similar in size; one ADA restroom, utility room, kitchenette, storage, and an ADA ramp. The “outdoor classroom” deck spans across the front of the building for views through Loblolly trees to a pond. To make the cost of the new building as economical as possible, the geometry is simple with the identical volumes offset from each other to increase the size of the exterior deck with its diagonal edge facing the pond. This also reduces the overall massing of the small rural structure. The interior will have a playful feel with vaulted ceilings, accent walls of colored mosaics and the tall and wide overhead doors at each classroom that will extend the teaching outdoors to the deck.
Construction of this project is projected to be completed by the end of this year. Other team members include Karlik Design, South Fork Studio Landscape Architects and Baker Ingram Structural Engineers.
John has given back so much to the community that has supported him. Currently, he is the Vice Chair of the Chestertown Planning Commission, Executive Board Member of Main Street Chestertown, Chair of the Main Street Chestertown Façade Committee and is a member of the American Institute of Architects, Chesapeake Bay Chapter, as well as his past service to being on the CBAIA Executive Board and CBAIA Design Awards Chairman. I look forward to keeping up with this talented architect’s future projects!
Spy House of the Week is an ongoing series that selects a different home each week. The Spy’s Habitat editor Jennifer Martella makes these selections based exclusively on her experience as a architect.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.