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What’s Up? Annapolis - January 2011
By Renee Houston Zemanski

Taylor Buckley is living his retirement dream. After all, who else can say they wake up every morning in their very own serene, waterfront village?

“Fish Camp at Cooper’s Wharf,” a name dreamed up by former USA Today journalist Taylor Buckley, is located along the East Fork of Langford Creek in Kent County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This retreat is comprised of several buildings, including the Depot, which houses the main living space, kitchen, dining area, and a sleeping loft, and the Basket Factory – actually, a woodworking shop, storage area, and garage. The Bunk House, as its name implies, serves as Buckley’s sleeping quarters as well as his office. Not yet constructed, but also part of the master plan, are the Cook Shack (a covered, outdoor cooking area) and Oar Shed (for storing boating equipment and fishing gear).

Inspired by Buckley’s vision of a grouping of buildings reflecting a “turn-of-the-century wharf community thrown together with flotsam and jetsam and things found in the woods,” architect Robert Hammond, of Hammond Wilson Architects in Annapolis, says the building crew began construction on this unconventional project with great enthusiasm. Buckley, who is determined to write his “great American novel” at this Thoreau-inspired place, jokes: “I just wanted to build a cabin, but then I hired an architect.”

To allow the encampment’s construction to evolve, Hammond first developed a model of the design’s basic structural components. As ideas, materials, and details emerged, they were incorporated to look “un-designed,” and the manner of construction reflected that of a bygone era. Hammond chose not to be consulted on nonstructural aspects as he didn’t want to interfere with the “catawampus” – or disorganized-design concept. As a result, the buildings look as if additions were done piecemeal over many years, creating an effect that is at once rustic and natural, yet surprisingly sophisticated.

The loft area of the Depot is home to a handcrafted boat built by Master Shipwright John Swain and a crew of Sultana volunteers. It was purchased at a charity auction and is now used as a swinging “bed.” The innovative stick railings serve as a physical and visual barrier to the sleeping loft. Notice the spectacular ceilings constructed of paneling found at an architectural salvage yard. An elevated boardwalk connects the bunkhouse to the Depot, the main living quarters. Enter the Depot, and you’ll be tempted to take off your shoes and stay awhile. The railings, constructed of found tree limbs, and the grillwork that was part of an emu corral at Stillwater Farm, hint to what type of whimsical decor visitors can expect when they enter the structure.

“Finding materials that look like trash, but meet building codes, is not easy,” Buckley says. “Neither is getting skilled craftsmen to embrace the ‘catawampus’ concept. The carpenters once asked me how I came up with such ideas as a swinging boat and a firewood wall. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘each evening after you go home, I come over with my dog and sit down with a big vodka and these things just pop into my head.’ They looked at me as though they had suspected as much all along.”

“I’ve never worked on a project like this in my 35 years,” adds Hammond, whose firm won the AIA Baltimore chapter’s prestigious 2010 Residential Design Award for the project. “It was one of the most fun challenges I’ve ever had because I just designed the building forms and let it go. It was random and natural; decisions were made as it was built.”

Hammond also says that sustainable design principles were incorporated from the project’s inception. The master plan was specifically developed to ensure trees were preserved and to have as little impact on the site as possible. “Prior to design, every tree in the area was surveyed, located, and a determination made as to its health,” he notes. “Vegetation on the forest floor was preserved and excavation minimized by elevating the buildings on piers and connecting them by a slightly elevated, wood boardwalk. There is no site landscaping other than the natural forest floor.”

According to Hammond, a state-of-the-art, nitrogen reducing septic system serves all of the buildings, as does a geothermal heating/cooling system. Open-cell foam insulation was used throughout each structure to obtain maximum R-values (measurements of thermal resistance) for floors, walls, and roofs.

Buckley has continuously been hands-on, providing many of the finishing touches himself. He has a way of looking at ordinary objects and turning them into works of art. Felled or dead trees are used in making countertops and railings; old ceiling beams become window casings; and aged floorboards and fire logs panel the walls.

Much of the structural lumber, siding, porch, and entryway flooring was milled from on-site pine and oak trees. The rest, says Buckley, was plucked from a farmhouse, a sawmill, and various salvage enterprises. Plumbing fixtures, paneling, and flooring came from a nonprofit building salvage enterprise in Baltimore. Exterior materials are a hodgepodge of rescued horizontal siding, wood shingles, corrugated metal, brick, and wood logs.

A serene view of the East Langford Creek provides homeowner Taylor Buckley with inspiration every morning. A stable in Baltimore once housed these great green doors, flanked by corrugated metal, in the bunkhouse. Rustic beams that once bedecked the ceiling of the White Swan Tavern now serve as window and door casings. The carpenters, “who really got into it,” surprised the homeowner one day with these little wood shelves created from tree scraps. Homeowner Taylor Buckley created this incredible mosaic wall of firewood next to the fireplace, using slices of fire logs and paneling glue. The small door above the log bin serves as a place to bring in wood from the outside without tracking debris through the house.

Other building elements have a history all their own. Hand-hewn beams once held up the White Swan Tavern in Chestertown; and the charred, corrugated metal used on ceilings and on an exterior wall was all that remained of an old farmhouse once known as the “No Hit Gun Club.” A black walnut countertop was discovered in a pile of lumber at an Amish sawmill near Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and a chandelier was fashioned from a galvanized washtub riddled with target-practice bullet holes (also, no doubt, a product of the “No Hit Gun Club”).

This fascinating retreat, dubbed by many as “a whimsical fish camp,” looks as if it has seen some history – and, considering its various ingredients, it certainly has. However, Buckley is writing a new chapter that promises to be an eclectic and remarkable blend of Maryland’s land and buildings, all finally and comfortably home at the Fish Camp at Cooper’s Wharf.

Home and Garden Editor Renee Houston Zemanski is now gathering fallen tree limbs to construct a writer’s retreat of her own. She expects to be finished by the time her youngest son reaches retirement age.

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