Sometimes an easement, even one placed on a home by a historic trust, doesn't have to be so daunting. That's what Washington-based architect Stephen Muse discovered when he began the process of renovating and adding to an early 18th-century manor house in St. Mary's County, Md.

On the surface, things looked complicated. The current owners bought the property back in the late 1970s, after the previous resident had threatened to subdivide the 412-acre parcel into buildable lots. The Maryland Historic Trust had stepped in and purchased an easement from the previous owner, disallowing subdivision and stating the terms for future additions. Those terms had the current owners a little spooked. The aging couple wanted more space and the ability to live on one floor, but they were stymied by that thorny easement. Enter Muse.

"We met with the Trust and tried to understand what they were aiming for," says Muse. "Primarily, they wanted any additions to defer to the existing house, with the existing house being the largest in scale."

What Muse worked out was a one-story addition that's divided into two distinct parts connected by hyphens. The historic house, a small structure with all its bedrooms on the second floor, now stands as the tallest building on the property. The first hyphen connects the original house to a new great room, which stands as the second tallest structure. A second hyphen connects the great room to the new master bedroom suite.

Muse used forms that were consistent with the local vernacular to execute his scale-sensitive plan. The family room is a simple gable box with a lean-to porch. The master bedroom and bath are each housed under a pyramid roof, called an ordinary, which is a form that's found throughout St. Mary's County. Historically appropriate materials, including whitewashed brick, painted clapboard siding, and a cedar shingle roof, help make the additions seamless.

Throw in a vanishing-edge pool by the river and a pretty little pool house and you've got one dynamite--but historically appropriate--compound.

Category: Whole house makeover or significant addition; Entrant/Architect: Muse Architects, Washington; Builder: Horizon Builders, Crofton, Md.; Landscape Architect: Landscapes, Westport, Conn.

Lautman Photography

The Right Connections

The hyphens that architect Stephen Muse used to connect structures in St. Mary's County, Md., were more than just a way to satisfy the easement requirements. He made sure they did double-duty inside. The hyphen connecting the original house with the great room (shown here) now works as the entry foyer and contains a powder room; the hyphen connecting the great room with the master suite is roomy enough to accommodate a bed for visiting grandchildren. "I really wanted to make things have dual uses," says Muse.