Bay Watch

Bay Watch

Bethesda architect Mark McInturff designs a weekend retreat with a modern, quirky sensibility

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A vacation home should be different from a primary residence, and this cedar-clad, modernist confection on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay takes the concept of different to a new level.

Located in Neavitt, Md., about 10 miles southwest of St. Michaels, the jewel box of a house spirals upward, with a series of cubes arranged to create more decks, porches and terraces than a home twice its size. Floor-to-ceiling doors permit copious amounts of light to permeate the sparse, yet warm interiors. But it’s the swimming pool on top of the roof that makes the home truly unique.

The house is the work of longtime Bethesda architect Mark McInturff, who happens to be its owner. After years of designing award-winning custom homes for the well-heeled and the not-so-well-heeled, McInturff decided it was time to create his own weekend retreat.

“I knew I wanted a summer house since I was 11,” McInturff says.

It’s early on a Saturday afternoon, and the blond, bespectacled 64-year-old is sitting in his sun-soaked office in a two-story building at his Bethesda compound. “When I was a kid, we spent a couple of summers on the bay near the Severn River,” he says. “…It was that age when being around water and little boats was absolutely incredible.”

McInturff stumbled upon the tiny lot in Neavitt almost 10 years ago while visiting his sister, Joan Wetmore, who has a house in the town but spends weekdays in Washington, D.C., where she is the director of development for the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.

“One day after Christmas dinner we went for a walk,” he says. “The location is in a village and it goes: house, house, house, gap, house, house, house. I said to her, ‘What’s up with this gap?’ She said, ‘It may be a lot and it may come on the market.’ A week or two later I bought it.”

McInturff took about eight years to complete the home because of permitting struggles and design changes. The location of the property was part of the issue. In order to protect the Chesapeake Bay’s sensitive ecosystem, Maryland stipulates that waterside property owners must provide a 100-foot buffer. But there had been a house on the lot at one point, so the property was exempt from the code.

“To be able to determine my footprint, I had to be like an archaeologist and excavate the foundation of the ruins of that house,” he says. “I had it measured by surveyors, and they determined the footprint. So I asked them about porches and decks, and they said, ‘No, you’re done.’ ”

Because the buildable footprint was a mere 40 feet by 25 feet, McInturff made the house vertical. He also scaled back on the size and number of bathrooms: The lot is small, so the septic system had to be small, too.

Whether you approach the house from land or from water, the home’s uniqueness is immediately apparent. The front door opens to a large main living area, with a small galley kitchen to the left and a wall of sliding glass doors straight ahead that permits views of the water and access to the backyard. A network of steel columns and cross-bracing dominates the space.

“The pool water weighs as much as six or seven Prius automobiles,” McInturff says, “so the structure that comes through the house is not there just for fun—it’s there to hold up the house and the pool.”

The second level features a modest master bedroom suite and an adjacent office that overlooks the two-story living area below. A third-level bedroom and bath are reserved for guests. Each level is smaller than the one below, like the layers of a wedding cake, with porches and decks on every level. An outdoor staircase leads up to a 3½-foot-deep resistance pool measuring 7 feet by 14 feet.

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