The Women in Architecture Committee of AIA Baltimore in collaboration with the Baltimore Foundation sponsored an exhibit “Early Women of Architecture in Maryland-1920-1970 “ that traveled to sites within Maryland in 2018. The exhibit was curated by Jillian Storms, AIA, and highlighted the work of twelve architects from the first generation of women who were pioneers in my profession. I also knew of their work from the book “Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective” which was published in 1977 and was an inspiration to me as a young graduate since it was the first book to research and celebrate the work of women architects.
One of the architects was Chloethiel Woodard Smith, who famously remarked “I am an architect with a capital “A”, being a woman has nothing to do with it”, who established her own firm in Washington, DC, in 1963. She is best known for her extensive commercial and civic work including my personal favorite, the renovation of the Pension Building to house the National Building Museum.
Her distinctive body of work also includes a residence near St. Michaels for her client, Frank Washburn, Jr., of Rye, NY. He was the son of the founder of American Cyanamid Corporation, and head of the Agricultural Chemicals Division. As he neared retirement, he and his wife began to plan for their retirement home. Being a lover of all outdoor activity, he began his search for a location with access to world class hunting and fishing. His daughter had vacationed on the Eastern Shore with friends and returned with glowing descriptions of the area.
After a long search, the Washburns purchased an 8.85 waterfront site near St. Michaels. He then turned to his friend Hugh Curtis, editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, for advice on an architect. Curtis recommended Chloethiel Woodard Smith, with the caveat “she is a woman, and you may not be comfortable with that”‘.
The Washburns were comfortable and their congenial collaboration with their architect resulted in an iconic house in the contemporary style prevalent during the post WWII years. Many American architects abandoned historical precedents to embrace the Modern style that had just begun to flourish in the pre-war years. The one-story design with wide eaves, low pitched roof, gable end walls and exposed structural framing was completed in 1957 and the Washburn family moved in two years later. They christened their retirement property “Far Horizons” but sadly, Mr. Washburn only lived in the house for three and half years. His widow and daughter continued to live in the house until the early 1960’s.
The current owners had begun their search for a second home, discovered “Far Horizons” and purchased the property in early 2007. They were greatly relieved that the house was still in its original condition and they embarked upon a multi-year project of modernization without sacrificing the original design or materials. All thirty-eight eight foot tall sliding glass doors were replaced, a geothermal system and a new high density polyurethane roof were installed and the kitchen was upgraded with cabinetry, appliances and colors of the house’s period. They retained architect Charles Goebel to design a pool house to complement the house’s style. The large 65,000 gallon pool was unique for its state-of-the art sanitization systems of copper oxidation and ozonation to replace chlorine.
On the day I visited, I parked my car in the motor court created by the “U” shape part of the house that welcomes you with its embrace. The right side of the “U” contains a guest/office wing separated from the house by a glazed hallway and the left side of the “U” contains the two-car garage separated from the house by a covered breezeway with direct access to the laundry/bath and kitchen areas. The front door opens to the wide entrance hall that leads to the dining room, courtyard and living room and also to the cross hall leading to the bedroom wing.
I stopped to savor the beautiful vista of the corner of the courtyard surrounded by the glass walls of the dining room, entrance hall and living room that creates a clear vista to the landscape and water. The exposed roofing beams and decking creates a delightful rhythm of texture lit by the period pendant lighting above the wood parquet floors. I especially liked how the roof framing continues over the courtyard for a pergola effect that casts playful shadows. Varying geometric shapes of transoms infill the space between the window wall’s headers and the underside of the sloped ceiling. The stained wood frames of the window mullions and the wood accent wall of the dining room are a deep honey color that contrasts with the off-white color of the ceiling.
Walking through the rooms, I felt the power great architecture has to create a haven of tranquil peace. The views of the landscape and water are ever-present through the lens of the full height walls of glass. The outdoor rooms vary from the walled garden off the kitchen with its terrace surrounded by blooming flowers and shrubbery, another garden connecting the bedroom wing and the living room with paths leading to the landscape and to the pool, the garden off the guest wing and the outdoor firepit area for watching incredible sunsets. The waterside terrace off the living room offers front row seats to admire the line of colorful sculpture that dot the shoreline and the daily parade of nature from geese flying over the walkway to the living room to osprey fishing opposite the living room windows. At night, with the shades closed, the silhouettes of deer and an occasional fox making their nocturnal visits magically stream across the shades.
As I strolled around the house, I realized Chloethiel Woodard Smith had carefully sized the exterior walls of the rooms to allow the full height shutters to lay back against the walls when not in use to protect the wide full height sliding glass doors during inclement weather. This has the added benefit of providing strategically placed walls in the rooms’ interiors for art or furnishings.
I am sure Chloethiel Woodard Smith would have approved of architect Charles Goebel’s design of the exquisite pool house and pool. Its open plan living-dining-kitchen is the perfect spot for relaxing with family and friends and I loved the period colors, especially the bright red refrigerator appropriately named “The Big Chill”. The poolside roof overhang extends to offer respite from the sun and extends further to form a deep gable that covers the steps to the pool for introducing young children to the water without fear of their being sunburned. When I saw the pool footprint with is angular waterside pool edge, I realized that I was looking at the section through the living room laid on the ground that was Charles Goebel ‘s tribute to Chloethiel Woodard Smith’s vision. The added benefit of the angled walls is the diagonal views it provides to the landscape and water from each side-pure genius! The main house and pool house can’t be fully appreciated until you see the nocturnal views with both illuminated from within when the full transparency comes alive from the walls of glass and the “bubble” skylights that dot the roof.
A plaque in the main house commemorates the “Lady Betty” and I learned the U.S. Navy chartered the Washburn’s boat, the Lady Betty, for use as a section patrol boat during World War I as the USS Lady Betty (SP-661) on 25 June 1917 with Coxswain F. L. Washburn, USNRF on board. Kudos to the current owners whose diligent research and loving care maintained and preserved this house’s unique features. I hope the next owner will continue their stewardship by seeking National Register status to protect this site, its architecture and interiors.
For more information about this property, contact Chuck Mangold with Benson & Mangold Real Estate at 410-822-6665 (o), 410-924-8832 (c) or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more pictures and pricing, visit www.chuckmangold.com, “Equal Housing Opportunity”.
Photography by Jennifer Madino
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.