A Neoclassic Abode Blends East & West Coast Design


East is east and west is west,” but when an Annapolis real estate developer married a Manhattan Beach, California, stylist, their great conundrum was figuring out exactly how the “twain” should meet—at least aesthetically.

“He’s a traditionalist with East Coast taste, and she’s very California modern and glamorous,” says designer Robert Brown, who heads a namesake interiors firm with Todd Davis. For the home the couple planned to build on a prime lot overlooking the Severn River, “he was thinking timeless, stately and subdued, in keeping with the storied city’s neoclassic architecture, while she wanted an open layout, airy rooms and sleek pieces in bold hues,” Davis points out. Both wanted the house to play to the majestic riverside vistas and the way they live, which meant “no room should go unused, and there had to be lots of space for entertaining,” says the homeowner. That especially means shared meals, which is a weekly ritual for his large extended family.

To blend their different desires into a seamless design, they depended on their pros. “We’re firm believers that you shouldn’t try to impose your own bad design ability on the talent,” quips the homeowner, only half-joking. “We told them what we liked and they came up with all the concepts and executed them.” Indeed, using a charette, architect Michael Oxman designed the residence “literally right in front of them. It was a very interactive process,” he explains. “We sat there and discussed their wants and needs, and I drew as we talked.”

The plan features three octagonal forms, with the largest structure—a gathering room—overlooking the backyard and river. Flanking the area, wings spread out on either side to hold two large airy rooms that do double duty, one as a kitchen and family room and the other as an office and library. Both sport expansive windows and French doors to maximize water views and access the yard, where a deck, infinity pool and outdoor kitchen hold court.

To meet the challenge of dressing the spaces in a manner that would delight both husband and wife, Brown and Davis relied on a perceptively designed interior architecture program and a shrewdly chosen array of furnishings. “We realized that the most effective way to meet their needs was to make the shell neoclassic and patrician, and everything else a mix of vintage and new with a touch of moxie,” says Davis.

King-size rooms, from the octagonal gallery and gathering room beyond it to each spacious wing, were given a time-honored, elegant demeanor with exquisitely wrought Palladian architectural details such as walls encrusted with pilasters and moldings, and ceilings augmented with beams and coves. “The gallery was especially tricky, because we introduced eight massive, 24-foot-high Tuscan columns to it after the house was framed,” says builder Joseph DeCesaris. “Each one weighed over 700 pounds, which required us to add more steel and concrete to accommodate the increased load.”

Inside those hard-won spaces, an imaginative mix of furniture and textiles were used to transform the grand rooms into cozy intimate spaces rife with functional activity areas—down to the two-story gallery’s motorized chandelier that descends to hover over a dining set that comes out of storage for grand sit-down repasts.

For inspiration, “we channeled the 1960s and ’70s for a cheeky mix of streamlined pieces with dazzling detailing,” Brown explains. Spare yet muscular upholstered furnishings are invigorated by bold custom rugs that pay homage to the graphic designs of Gucci and Cartier during the ’70s, and by frothy Murano chandeliers from the same period.

Now ensconced in a home that “we both love,” the couple is “in awe of our designers,” marvels the husband. “My wife and I started out in such different places, but Rob and Todd were able to bring all of our wants, needs and dreams together under the same roof.”