A Country Berlin Retreat with East Coast Charm


Standing against a forested backdrop on a 50-acre estate, the serene Berlin, Maryland, retreat that designer Arlene Critzos was given the task of creating a home that has all the exterior characteristics of a charming coastal New England house: gray stone walls, dark cedar shingles, gabled detailing and a steeply pitched roof. But first impressions can be deceiving, as is evident with a single step inside the door. “The owners wanted to walk in and say ‘wow,’ ” Critzos says of the warm, inviting interior with eye-catching details. “The entry, kitchen, living room and bar are all one large area with monumental ceiling heights and a strong architectural fireplace. The owners use this space to live and entertain, and its overall scale alone makes a statement.”

“It was very well-thought-out,” says Keith Iott, whose dual expertise as both architect and structural engineer shows in many of the home’s aspects—including the main level’s vast interior space. “Builder Robert Purcell and I worked together to establish the big picture of spatial relationships and take advantage of the views. There’s tons of structural steel in the house, but we were able to conceal the very large structural elements, and the open space is uninterrupted by columns.”

Filling the space was inspired by another mandate from the owners: to design, not decorate. “The owners are well-traveled and worldly,” says Critzos. “They’d spent years gathering ideas from around the world. We shifted, sorted and edited to get a direction going.” Pulling from their surroundings, Critzos, along with Catherine Belkov, senior director of design, and Joyce Pearl, senior residential manager, established a neutral color palette of amber, taupe, gray and clay for finishes and flooring, such as the variegated limestone that flows throughout much of the house. Against that, each room was assigned what Critzos calls a statement concept.

In the two-story living room, for example, the statement piece is a dramatic stone wall that encompasses a sculptural steel, cherrywood and etched-bronze fireplace with an integrated stand-up bar. “The stone was a guiding light, because you can see it from every vantage point,” says Critzos. “We balanced the material with comfortable, contemporary seating in livable fabrics that are easy to care for.” Case in point: A pair of warm amber sofas by Henredon and an ebony-and-walnut console are welcoming yet durable pieces.

Apart from the living room, but in full view, is the kitchen, for which Critzos collaborated with kitchen designer Joni Zimmerman of Design Solutions. “The owners entertain a lot,” says Critzos. “We wanted it to be a social place where people could gather to cook and be together.” To that end, cherrywood and bamboo-toned cabinetry was designed to look like furniture, accentuated with glass tile backsplashes and black lumiere granite countertops. Set slightly apart, a dining room features a glass-topped table and unobstructed views to the outdoors.

Other rooms in the home were designed with a bit more privacy in mind yet still possess their own statement-making qualities. The two-story library, for instance, features a custom cherrywood bookcase with ebonized panels and a rail system to allow access to upper-level shelves via a sliding ladder. A loft with glass rails overlooks the space. In the master suite, a freestanding custom headboard wall was designed and built to add architectural impact and separate the sleeping space from a private sitting area.

Each statement-making piece creates the perfect focal point for every room and truly reinforces the home’s overall pack-a-punch theme. “The height of the walls and ceilings, and details like a floating walnut staircase that runs from the basement to the second floor, were all major challenges, but generate dramatic impact,” says Purcell. And, as Critzos concludes, “The end result came together with no surprises and a happy client.”