Winding along the densely forested drive, you sense you’re approaching something sacred; a natural sanctuary far from the madding world. There’s a gentle calmness to this land, filled with tupelo, oak and maple trees embracing five pavilions and a tower, which appear very gradually through the woods. Camouflaged by brown wood cladding, myriad glass windows and copper roofs, these impressive structures nestle discreetly alongside the woods and seem to peer pensively down the colorful sloped gardens leading to a peaceful creek below.
The couple who inhabit this special place are native Californians, influenced by their love of the outdoors and sailing when deciding to build in a wood’s clearing on a bend of a secluded creek that winds around their property, hence the name of their home.
Winding Creek is a strikingly singular creation, a thoughtfully designed living space by Chestertown architect Peter Newlin and completed by an impressive team of artisans and builders.
Newlin describes this house as: “a string of places staged along a gentle rise for the vistas of the creek they afford, and as a winding path from place to place to make our experience of where we are in the landscape more intimate.” For example, he says “the stair to the master suite is a climb into the dappled sunlight of the woods to the south, and from the second floor it is a descent into the foliage of the understory and forest floor. There are other paths and places looking into these woods.”
Five pavilions of graduated size in volume and height comprise the living space, along with a complementary garage. Viewing from the creek, the master pavilion is the largest, containing core family activity spaces: living, kitchen and dining, along with the second-floor master suite.
One must “take a walk through the woods” to approach the entry pavilion, and views from this greeting space are equally scenic.
Newlin’s love of nature – especially the Eastern Shore woods and waterways – is evident in many of his designs. His signature style typically features abundant light through numerous skylights and windows, organic elements such as natural wood siding, masonry and metal roofs, enhanced by exceptional interior woodworking.
Newlin obtained a degree in history and spent several years as a carpenter working on restorations for an architectural historian. Discovering a love of historic craftsmanship, he then earned a masters in architecture; his love of historic elements is still evident. He also has a mindful approach to design; quoting philosophers about the need for creating joy and connection to the natural world in his spaces.
“We have paths through our houses and places inside and out where we dwell. Our paths and places can offer us every day joy if the places are where we can enjoy a natural vista, and the paths treat us to glimpses of the ever-changing beauty of where we live.
“ The covered wood walkways along the creekside of the home have a delicate simplicity; together with the high slanted copper roofs, they evoke a subtle Japanese appearance to the exteriors. The owners’ collection of large metal sculptures of beetles, birds and other creatures along the walkways enhances this Zen-like element.
“When I was working as a carpenter, I fell in love with the Eastern Shore’s landscape: the subtlety of its terrain, its woodlands, fields and hedgerows, the openness of its shorelines. At some point I realized the most important thing a house can do for those of us so lucky to live here is, create an intimacy of access to that beauty. In my view, it is best if our houses are not self-important in this subtle landscape. I like it when they quietly open themselves up to the wonders outside.
Newlin explains his concept for the muntin-enhanced windows, rather than an open picture-window style. “The muntins parcel the views to bring the scale down to become more intimate.” This also gives the outdoor views the look of individual framed paintings or photographs, which change with one’s vantage point.The living area is a dramatic and breathtaking introduction to the space, with light pouring in from vaulted ceilings bursting skyward surrounded by eight-foot-high outer walkways, giving the subtle impression of a Moorish courtyard. This open living area fills with light from countless large windows oriented to capture the sweep of the creek as it bends around the landscape.
The wood trim around the windows and doors has a delicate offset to cast a slight shadow, which softens them. This same profile also appears in the wood cabinetry that abounds throughout the house. High criss-crossed Beams in the vaulted ceiling mirror the window designs and add dimensional form as well as function as tie joists, upon which dangles an enormous carved folk art angel peering out the window. High above her is a unique ceiling fan with elements of bicycle gears and boat sails, a nod to the owners’ favored activities.
Newlin oversees every design detail, including the layout of the wood floors and tiles in wonderfully geometric patterns. Colored porcelain tile along the interior walkways gives the appearance of natural stone with copper dripping through the robin’s egg blue, exquisitely highlighted by rich two-toned wood work along the outer edges.
His design of a towering brick, plaster and bluestone hearth gives another folk art touch, while moving the eyes upward to the extensive exposed chimney. The impressive structure is steel reinforced, and one of many masonry creations designed by Newlin and executed by master mason Jonas Miller.
The entire Winding Creek home feels like an art gallery, with endless views of the natural surroundings, simply another element of the abundant artwork filling the home, along with an eclectic collection of pottery, glass and large-scale paintings. Even the laundry room features two large paintings and colored glass vases in its windows.
The open floor plan guides you effortlessly through the dining room with its brilliant Vicco von Voss table into the equally light filled kitchen, with views of the forest, the summer house, the gardens and the water.
The screened summerhouse is the fifth pavilion, and freestanding for outdoor entertaining, dining, meditating or even sleeping in the warmer months, giving the owners even more of a natural connection unencumbered by walls.
The absolute zenith of the house is the ample tower, and the master bedroom to which it leads. A wide circular staircase winds around on narrow rises of elegant hand crafted wood; a rise so subtle you feel as though you’re gliding as you caress the delicately carved hand rails created by noted wood artisan Vicco Von Voss. Inside the center of the winding staircase is a lift for bringing laundry to the basement, heavy items above or whenever heavy lifting is needed.
When asked what one word would describe the feeling of living in this home, the owners each replied, “alive” and “relaxed.” Their senses are awakened by the man-made art and beauty of the home, as well as the constant visual connection to the natural world surrounding them. “There’s the geese talking, the foxes scampering through the woods, all the other birds singing.”
No where in the house might they feel more in touch with nature than their master suite, with elements of a tree house and a cruise ship’s cabin. Perched high in the air, it features a minimalist look of bare white walls and built-in European birch furniture, with an enormous picture window overlooking forest, water and sky. Bereft of window coverings, one is most certainly awakened by the dawn and the symphony of birds and other creatures, and feeling quite alive and relaxed.
Befitting its numerous nods to nature, Winding Creek is designed for passive solar heat gain in the winter and chimney-effect natural ventilation in the summer, and offers radiant heated floors. High tech lighting design features controls that allow one to monitor ten areas from one small light switch. Newlin and his Chesapeake Architects firm are experts at designing energy-conserving buildings, with a track record dating back to the 80’s, when Newlin won the “Most Innovative Design Award” from Delmarva Power for the “Quality and Energy-Efficient Design” of the passive-solar Galena Bank.
Something this detailed and intricate is not built in a day, indeed it was three years of design, consultation and building until final completion. Says Newlin, “It typically takes a year to design a custom house, and many meetings with the owners to be sure at every step that what we are proposing will be a good match for their needs and how they want to live.
“The owners had no concept in mind at the outset except that they wanted a modest house. Our design comes from our perceptions of how to make the most of the natural assets of the landscape, the water views, the terrain and the beauty of the woods. “ They admit that they only had one requirement– a copper roof, more for sustainability than beauty; they now have both. Now they also have a lifelong dream fulfilled…. of living in a home as serene as its setting.
Where Credit Is Due, Newlin recommends:
The General Contractor, Patrick Jones, who is a fine craftsman himself, as well as a master builder. Peter says: ”You’ll get your money’s worth from his attention to detail, commitment to craftsmanship and honest business practices.” 410-708-0648
John Ramsey – Custom Lighting Fixture Designer & Manufacturer. “If you want true craftsmanship and/or historical authenticity, see John (www.deeplandingworkshop.com). Jonas Miller, Preservation Mason – “Whether for restoration or contemporary design, if you want every brick in its proper place, the perfect mortar mix, and every joint struck artfully, Jonas is your man.” 302-382-4648
Vicco von Voss “A master furniture designer, who has worked with us to create especially artful handrails, curved and furniture. He designed and built the Living Room’s coffee table and the dining table to complement the interiors of the Winding Creek.” http://www.viccovonvoss.com/
Woody Labat, Cabinetmaker – Juniper Cabinet & Millwork – “A craftsman who brings to the table skills that were honed when he was a yacht builder.” 410-924-4502
Peyton Bradley—“A master at staining and varnishing who brings out the deep, natural beauty and character of woods,” Peter suggests, “if you love wood, don’t go varnishing without her.” 410 507-0667
Photographs by Ched Bradley, unless otherwise noted.