Two waterfront homes joined to create a family retreat

Two houses were joined to create Steve and Judy Goozh’s family retreat on Breton Bay in Leonardtown...
(Washington Post photo by John McDonnell)
Story by Nancy McKeon
(The Washington Post)
Fri, Sep 14, 2012
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It was a sunny afternoon in the late spring of 2003 when Adam Goozh, then 30, knocked on the kitchen door of an old house in St. Mary’s County. The bright light reflected off the water of Southern Maryland’s Breton Bay, right behind the house; there were herbs growing by the kitchen door and daffodils in the yard. He had heard that the house and the large working farm surrounding it might be for sale, he explained to the woman who answered the door.

“I stayed in the car, with Jackson.” That’s Judy Goozh, Adam’s mother, explaining with a laugh how she huddled with Adam’s Labrador retriever while her son did the talking.

Adam, his mother says, had been looking for a place on the water, whereas Judy and her husband, Steve, “always had this vision of having a family compound,” a place where everyone could gather for weekends and holidays. Knocking on that kitchen door was the first step in the family’s nine-year odyssey, which involved buying 68 of the farm’s 250 acres with an investment partner for $1.2 million, then dividing the land and selling off some of it, with the Goozh clan eventually winding up with the house and outbuildings on six acres.

Actually, it was two houses, sitting side by side. One was built around 1907. Then, in 1910, Judy and Steve Goozh explain, a second, very similar house - same slate-covered gambrel roof, same white clapboard cladding - was built about 12 feet away, to accommodate the family’s relatives. With a white clapboard facade joining them, the houses presented a united front to visitors. But behind the facade the houses were stitched together by nothing more than a screened-in area, connecting them only on the ground floor.

The Goozhes - he’s a 67-year-old orthodontist, she’s a 65-year-old former clinical social worker - bought the place from the Greenwells, one of the families that trace their Maryland roots back to the mid-17th century. And although the Goozhes might not know St. Mary’s County as well as those early settlers did, they know this house intimately, having taken it down to the studs and rebuilt it piece by piece over the course of two years and $400,000.

Sitting on a spit of land jutting out into the bay, the house is now an improved version of its historical self. The most obvious addition is the very simple but graceful columned veranda that now encircles most of the house, allowing for endless water-gazing. (The house had to be raised to insert steel beams to support the veranda. As the jacks began lifting the house, Leonardtown builder Mike Mummaugh of Paragon Properties phoned Steve Goozh so he could listen in: “Your house is groaning,” Mummaugh told him.)

The front door now leads into a real foyer, replacing that screened-in area. To the right is the “family side” of the house, as the Goozhes call it. Walls were torn out here to open up a cramped kitchen and dining room and connect them to the living room to create a spacious, open family room, complete with an enormous flat-panel TV. There’s a long farm table adjacent, surrounded by a dozen chairs. “We bought the table before the house was ready,” says Judy Goozh, “because it had enough chairs” to seat three generations of Goozhes, 11 in all: Steve and Judy; Adam and his wife and two children; and daughter Devon, with her husband and three offspring.

“One change we made,” Steve Goozh says, pointing toward the kitchen dining area, “was to open up this wall so we could see out to the water.” The wall had had a couple of small kitchen windows, but now it’s a yards-long stretch of glass doors, energy-efficient, of course.

The family side of the house needed that wall-ectomy to enable modern, open-plan living. The other side needed no such surgery: If you turn left at the front door, you go down a few steps and see a large, open “great room” in front of you. Once dark paneling, the wood walls are now a toasty taupe. The only thing the Goozhes removed from this area was a kind of “hunting closet” that held shotguns, rods and reels, replacing it with a sink and icemaker for drink service. The south wall also opens onto the veranda, with a view of the water and the family’s outdoor pursuits - crabbing, kayaking and swimming in the sandy-bottomed bay.

Steve Goozh worked closely with Washington area architect Paul Maarec on the bones of the house, guiding the overall plan, specifying molding and glass transoms over new doors in keeping with the old ones, and turning windows into French doors to enhance views. “My grandfather was a builder in New York,” he says. “Maybe I inherited some of his genes.” He pulled out two giant boilers from the basement and invested in geothermal heating and a forced-air system. Woodlike HardiePlank fiber-cement strips replaced the clapboard exterior.

The lavender-lined path to the house and other plantings are also Steve’s passion. But inside, things fell largely to Judy. She turned to Rachelle Roth of Bethesda’s Urban Country, who basically filled the house with furniture and accessories ordered through the store.

Judy wanted the colors in the rooms to be “like sea glass,” and Roth’s designer, Amy Gudelsky, came up with fabrics in aquas and sea greens to fill the bill. The great room has broad upholstered chairs, some that swivel to accommodate water-gazing as well as conversation. “The family room has a little more color,” but the overall feeling is light and airy, says Roth, who helped decorate Judy and Steve’s Bethesda home as well as daughter Devon’s. The St. Mary’s County house “has nooks and crannies,” she adds, “but it feels open.”

Urban Country also provided two square dining tables and a straight-back settee for the dining room. The tables can be joined: “We can seat 30 in that room,” says Judy.

Touches of painted whimsy - a squirrel at the bottom of the stairs, a dragonfly on the wall of what became the “dragonfly bedroom” - were added by local painter Mary Beth Griffin.

In keeping the original shape of the two houses, the bedrooms upstairs on both sides are configured much the way they have always been - four bedrooms on the family side (with three baths), in a tight traditional pinwheel of rooms around the stairwell (“we like that it’s cozy up here,” says Judy), and two bedrooms on the great-room side, one carved out of a former cedar closet to house two built-in single beds. The upstairs parts of the house have been connected, somewhat, by doors in two bedrooms that lead out onto the flat roof, now topped by a pergola. Two laundry rooms (one upstairs, the other adjacent to the kitchen), two ground-floor half-baths and a sunroom complete the picture.

With the great room and the lawns that sweep down to the water past a gazebo and the romantic ruin of a cottage (“If I could paint, it would be an artist’s studio,” Judy says with a grin), the Goozhes are hoping to rent the house and grounds out from time to time for weddings, “to help the house pay for itself,” Judy explains. But they’ve already had a big payoff: A couple of years ago, they allowed the house to be on the local holiday home tour. “People told us they used to play in this room,” Judy says, glancing around the great room. “Or they just remembered coming here. It was so wonderful to hear their memories.”

Now the Goozhes get to make memories of their own.

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