Before I moved to this area, I first learned about the Eastern Shore when Gourmet Magazine featured the Inn at Perry Cabin in the 1990’s. Savvy Washingtonians, however, have long discovered the lure of our area for weekend getaways, vacations and destination weddings less than a two hour drive from the Beltway. The steady increase of visitors has resulted in upgrades to existing accommodations to satisfy the most discriminating traveler, whether they may be a weekender or a vacationer for an extended stay. Recently I wrote about the transformation of the former Five Gables Inn into the Wildset luxury hotel in St. Michaels. Another such transformation is underway at The Oaks in the heart of Royal Oak.
The property began its life in the late 19th century during the heyday of the ferries that brought vacationers from the Western Shore across the Chesapeake Bay to the Pasadena Inn. The Inn’s earlier frame structure is now surrounded by several renovations and alterations dating from the early 20th century. The main façade became a three and a half story building with a two-bay gable end façade that marked the main entrance, enhanced by a two-story Doric portico. A one-story portion of the building originally housed offices, restrooms and a utility room. Additions included a ballroom overlooking Oak Creek, a kitchen, and other areas to support weddings and other special events. The large waterfront deck over the ballroom is the perfect spot for dancing under the stars.
A member of the development team, Tracy Higgs Wagner, is well known to Spy readers for my featuring two of her projects, The Snuggery and the office of Meredith Fine Properties, both of which are located in St. Michaels. The transformation of The Oaks is her most ambitious project to date. On the day of my visit, the site was a beehive of activity that was no surprise when I later learned about the extensive scope of work for the project. Exterior upgrades included revamping all landscaping including a new allee of trees along the new paved driveway and parking lot, lined with granite cobble stones; new living riprapped shoreline; new facades with Hardie plank siding, new windows and new roof. The interior upgrades were extensive as well since the entire interior spaces were gutted to the studs to accommodate new plumbing, electrical and HVAC.
Before we went into the main building, Tracy showed me the former garage whose lower floor will now house site maintenance equipment and the upper floor will become offices and an open plan area for event planning. Windows around the walls offer a panoramic view of the facility’s amenities.
The existing cottage at the rear corner of the site was demolished and a new, larger cottage is being built across the street for workers. This portion of the site now has three charming one-story cottages designed for wedding parties, including a honeymoon cottage; family reunions, or other celebrations. The white board and batten siding enlivens the facades with shadows as the sun moves across the sky and three-bay front porches have water views.
As Tracy and I were walking back toward the main building, I observed how the lobby entrance to the banquet area is being modified with a wider sidewalk to better accommodate large events. The banquet wing interlocks with the form of the main entry wing via a long corridor connecting the two areas and between the long corridor and the banquet room was a dining area. The kitchen and waterside banquet room remain the same but the wayfinding and vistas are greatly improved by converting the dining area to a bar with space for both high-top and table seating. Glazed openings at the wall to the banquet hall extend the views through the banquet hall to views of the water and another pair of entry doors facilitates access more easily.
The long hall blends into the wing containing the main entry reception, stair hall and sitting area with a focal point of a wide fireplace at the rear wall.
The developers selected Jamie Merida Interiors for the selection of finishes, furnishings and accessories based upon the firm’s work for the Talbot Country Club and other hospitality projects on the Eastern Shore. The goal of Merida’s team of designers was to capture the rich history and original elements of the inn, while bringing it up to date as a five-star property in a traditional-made-modern way. The inn will feature a fresh and light color palette in well-appointed guest room suites and brand new cottages. All of the public spaces have been completely re-imagined with soft colors, new furnishings and an elegant, yet comfortable transitional style.
The second floor plan contains seven guest ensuites and one “Presidential Suite” at the rear corner of the floor. The sitting area for the latter opens onto a private deck with bird’s eye views of Oak Creek. Five of the seven guest suites overlook the spacious “Ceremony Balcony” that is a true outdoor room, complete with a covered bar area.
The third floor contains four guest suites, one of which has its own balcony overlooking Oak Creek. My favorite space was the fourth floor managers’ suite with a full kitchen including an undercounter washer/dryer, open plan living and dining area and a bedroom ensuite. Both the living area and the bedroom have long views of Oak Creek. What a great reward this quiet suite will be after a long day of hard work!
Bravo to the design and construction team for upgrading this gem in the heart of Royal Oak so this property’s history of welcoming travelers can begin anew.
Development Group– Tracy and Scott Wagner and Andy and Quin Warner. Main Building Architect: Christine Dayton, www.cdaytonarchitect.com, 410-822-3130 Cottages Architect: Jonathan Rivera, www.jonathanrivera.com, 443-226-5745 Main Building GM’s: Shore Projects, Kurt Hermann, shore-projects.net, 410-690-4832 Monroy Contracting, Jimy Monroy, monroycontracting.com ,410-946-7451 GM for the Guest Cottages: Focus Construction, Robert Gearhart, focus-construction.net ,410-690-4900 Interior Design/Furnishings, Décor: Jamie Merida Interiors/Bountiful Home, Designers- Jamie Merida, Carol Wheeler, Leigh Mayhew; CAD renderings by Oras Albakry www.jamiemerida.com, 410-819-8666 Kitchen Design-Doug Stewart Droneography- David Sotiros, David@flyaerialproduction.com
Jennifer Martella is an architect with Bohl Architects’ Annapolis office and a referral agent for Meredith Fine Properties. Jennifer is an integral part of Bohl Architects’ design team for projects she brings to the firm. She is also the writer of Bohl’s website’s bi-monthly blog “Tango Funhouse” where she highlights the firm’s vision and other fun aspects of life by design. Her Italian heritage led her to Piazza Italian Market, where she hosts wine tastings every Friday and Saturday.
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