Photography by Anne Gummerson
An interior designer puts a lifetime of inspiration into her new custom home.
To build something special, take your time. Janet Richardson-Pearson and William “Bill” Pearson were in no hurry when they designed and built their home on a creek near Annapolis. For Janet, an ASID-certified interior designer, and Bill, a trained engineer, this home would become an epic adventure that began with the purchase of several adjoining pieces of pristine farmland – nearly 150 acres total – in the late 1990s and ended with the construction of an incredibly personal home nearly a decade later.
Architect Bob Hammond of Hammond Wilson Architects, PC, leapt at the opportunity to bring the Pearson’s dream of a country manor home to fruition, a place where the couple could live with their collections, their two dogs and a host of visiting friends and family members. “I thought this was a great opportunity to do a project for someone who is design conscious on a fantastic piece of property,” he explains. “Janet really has excellent design taste.”
While Hammond may have landed the ideal client, the project was not without its challenges. In order to abide by the Chesapeake Bay critical area regulations, Hammond reused the footprint of a 1950s rancher that was razed. “The challenge was to design a new house using the existing footprint and yet triple the size of the home,” he states.
The project languished for several years as Hammond worked to obtain variances to allow for the property’s development. After he developed a plan to manage 100 percent of the runoff created by the new construction and to aggressively preserve trees and the shoreline, the design took off with gusto. Hammond recalls that Janet liked the look of stone homes in Homeland in Baltimore City, with their slate roofs, rambling footprints and dramatic roof lines. In addition, Bill wanted a smart house where highly advanced automatic systems could control lighting, temperature, multi-media systems, and security. There is also radiant heat, extra thick walls for improved insulation and large diameter pipes for increased volume and pressure.
The completed design sits low on the landscape and is broken into three volumes that embrace a driveway court. Coupled with substantial roof forms, this design keeps the house in moderate proportion to its setting, although it does open into several living levels on the shore side. Inside, the rooms are not overly numerous, but their scale is large and airy. The attention to detail is meticulous, the result of an intense partnership between the architect, builder, and the owners.
“As a professional designer, I’ve collected pictures and designs for the house I wanted for years,” says Janet, “and Bill is an engineer so he had his ideas as well. A lot of thought was put into this house, and a lot of detail.”
The home is constructed with a plan for a future and incorporates universal design principles – wide doorways to accommodate a wheelchair and grab bars in the bathrooms, for example and every bedroom has an en suite bathroom. The couple can now age in place, or even invite some friends to live with them in a nouveau twist on the retirement home model.
In her copious files of design dreams, Janet had a vision of rooms with unique ceilings, a passion she shares with Bob Hammond, who placed a truncated pyramid roof in the master bedroom, a coffered ceiling in the dining room and wood beams in the kitchen.
“I’ve had a picture for 20 years of an open raftered room with French doors,” states Janet.
That picture evolved into the living room, a voluminous space brought into focus by the beamed ceiling, which is lower than the actual roof line due to a false roof that keeps the space from soaring out of proportion.
Simple yet massive Neirmann Weeks Gothic lanterns add warmth and interest in the open air. Janet designed a large area rug and grounded the living room area with dual sofas and large coffee tables that were previously grain boxes from India. Janet, always a proponent of color, found inspiration on a boat in the Caribbean. “I stood on the bow of the boat and there was this beautiful blue color,” she recalls. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to have that color one day.'” Now it can be found in the living room sofas, on the island in the kitchen, and in the dramatic monochrome of the dining room.
“I like the idea of a multipurpose dining room,” says Janet, who wanted that room to also function as a library. The singular color scheme makes the room both formal and cozy, perfect for reading or entertaining. A sectional-style table from Brazil creates two eating areas, or the intimate round table can be broken into semi-circles, attached to the larger table and made into one enormous buffet for events with the Pearson’s large, blended family.
The country kitchen drew on two inspirational sources: the stone walls are reminiscent of a dining area in Baltimore’s Admiral Fell Inn; the pine custom cabinetry mirrors evoke the look and feel of a corner cupboard Janet owned for many years. While some popular design ploys are utilized (such as cloaking the refrigerator and dishwashers with cabinetry panels), there are truly clever ones as well, like the choice to hide the kitchen television behind iron baker’s oven doors adjacent to the fireplace.
The main floor’s three primary volumes – kitchen, dining room, and living room – are drawn together by a unique architectural detail. Each room features a pass-through cut into the wall so the house can be seen straight through from end to end. “We both wanted openness,” says Bill. “It’s not just about being open to the outdoors, but to have every room open to each other. For entertaining we liked the idea of openness, but we also have the ability to close off rooms in the winter or for formal parties.”
The home brims with unusual collectibles Janet and Bill gathered over the years, collections that span the globe from galleries in Rehoboth Beach and decor shops in San Francisco to vendor stalls in China. The couple is drawn to the colors and textures of ethnic primitives and items from the Far East. The living room, for example, is presided over by two almost life-sized wooden figures from a Thai temple and there are displays of ornate Chinese hats and ornamental breastplates. One hallway is lined with custom cabinets built to display collectibles picked up from Alaska to Mexico and other walls feature framed prints from cities the couple has visited. The main staircase was even designed to perfectly position the framed portraits of a Chinese man and woman and a full-size ceremonial kimono.
Perhaps it is Janet’s love of color or the personality imbued into each room by the couple’s collections, but for a large home, this is a comfortable home and a welcoming one. Although the process of being her own interior designer was “excruciating,” Janet is thrilled with the final project. “Good designers take into account the psychology of design – what the clients want to say and how they want a space to feel,” she explains. “I think we achieved a home that’s very personal with a welcoming spirit.”
Having exhausted her files of ideas, Janet has not picked up an interior design book since. “This was basically Janet’s magnum opus,” says Bill, “and we now have the pleasure to live in it.”
Christianna McCausland is a Contributing Editor for ChesapeakeHome.
- Downsview Kitchens: downsviewkitchens.com or 954-927-1100
- Graham Landscape Architecture: grahamlandarch.com or 410-269-5886
- Hammond Wilson Architects: hammondwilson.com or 410.267.6041
- West River Builders: westriverbuilders.com or 410-867-7494