Striking structure on the Magothy mirrors the scenery surrounding it


February 02, 1997|By JoAnne C. Broadwater

It has spectacular vistas of the Magothy River, and yet it is much more than a house with a view.

It is the view.

Made of glass and concrete, this striking, contemporary house in Anne Arundel County is a nautical landmark for boaters -- a distinctive indicator to lookouts of their position at Broad Creek on the Magothy.

Visitors to the site will also get an awe-inspiring view but this is one house that is best seen from the water.

Set on a bluff at the point of a peninsula, the "glass house" is one with the landscape. Rippling waters, colorful sunsets, bobbing sailboats and soaring waterfowl surround it and also come inside it through seemingly endless walls of towering glass.

The house was designed to blend with the natural setting, to become a part of the scenery rather than to compete with it.

"When I first saw the site I told the owner that we shouldn't do a house here," says Leo D'Aleo, managing principal of D'Aleo & Associates, an architectural and planning firm in Baltimore. "I said that we should do a piece of sculpture that's a museum and the exhibit is the site."

The owner, 66-year-old Baltimore businessman Leroy Merritt, agreed. The result is a structure that in many ways is as much a work of art as a residence.

"It's a unique house. I like its functional starkness," says Merritt, who owns four athletic clubs and Merritt, a company that specializes in the construction and leasing of commercial buildings.

D'Aleo calls it a glass sculpture and indeed it is. It was designed in the International Style of modern architecture, which is characterized by boxlike structures, little or no decoration, and smooth, flat surfaces of stone, concrete and glass.

Abundance of angles

This is also a house of angles, with about a dozen overlapping rectilinear roofs that are cantilevered out as much as 12 feet in multiple levels over walls of glass. Under these projecting roofs, the house stacks back and up the hill from the water.

Although it may appear complex, the house's design is in fact a simple one that emphasizes the view. "You want the minimum ... between you and the water and the site," D'Aleo says. "Ideally, you would have no roofs and no glass. The least elements that make up a house are here."

The concrete roofs are flat -- designed that way so attention would not be drawn away from the site by roof pitches. The exterior walls are primarily lightly tinted green glass with only white aluminum mullions interrupting the view. Structural support is provided by discreetly placed circular concrete columns.

The 8,000-square-foot home on 3 1/2 acres was completed five years ago as a retreat for Merritt, who now lives here year-round.

"I don't think you can find a better view," Merritt says. "I like to sit in the dining area and watch the boats. Sometimes in the summer, 35 or 40 sailboats are anchored offshore. And when the sun goes down across the river it's absolutely beautiful. It makes me feel good."

Visitors get fleeting glimpses of the water as they drive past a boat dock and a restored gatehouse that is now a caretaker's residence. As they arrive at a simple plaza at the rear of the house, the river is completely hidden from view.

A concrete trellis marks the entrance at the lowest level. Glass doors lead into a businesslike foyer. Also on this level are a catering kitchen; computer controls for heating, lighting, air conditioning and security; and a laundry room.

A stainless-steel circular staircase rises through the three main levels at the center of the house. At the top of the staircase, a clear skylight dome -- 8 feet in diameter -- draws the eye upward to faux clouds that give an illusion of an open roof.

Sweeping views

But the true drama of the surroundings is only revealed when a visitor reaches the first level up the stairs and looks across an elegantly terraced open space through towering glass walls and beyond to sweeping views of the water.

"When you get up to the top of the step, it just explodes on you," says D'Aleo. "You turn and you look and boom. It's very dramatic."

This open space that fills the front of the first floor has several levels that step down gradually toward the water from the highest point at the staircase. Each level is an area for a specific activity -- conversation, music, entertainment or recreation.

A glass-enclosed room containing a whirlpool bath is at one corner of the open space. A formal dining area and spacious kitchen with island and bar for casual meals are at the other.

"This home was designed to entertain a lot of people," D'Aleo says. "You could have 200 people on this floor and it wouldn't seem like anyone was here."

The interior design is by Rita St. Clair and Ted Pearson, president and vice president, respectively, of Rita St. Clair Associates.

"What I wanted to achieve was a serenity in the home," St. Clair says. "I wanted a timeless look and a coloring that would not interfere with the panorama of the river year-round."

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