The guardhouse at the entrance to verdant Gibson Island, a private, gated archipelago off a tip of Pasadena, is serviced 24 hours a day to accommodate its residents and guests. The waves washing up on the western shores of the island are of the Magothy River. On the eastern side, Chesapeake Bay waves lap the isle's waterfront.
The Great Depression in 1929 halted ambitious plans to develop Gibson Island as a resort.
It stalled proposals for it to be mirrored by the Cape St. Claire community across the Magothy River. There are 200 houses on the island, a marina, the private country club Gibson Island Club, a boat house and a nine-hole golf course. Once a farm, its namesake was John Gibson who owned the island from 1793 to 1819.
There is another body of water at Gibson Island: the 44 acre Otter Lake on the western side of the causeway.
Pennsylvania native R. Kent Schwab and Nicola "Nicki" Schwab have lived in the area since 1970. Several years after their arrival, he established Kent Schwab & Associates, an Allstate insurance agency. Last year, Kent became chairman of the Board of Directors of University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.
Nicki, a longtime flower show judge, is the chairman of the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, an organization with 95 clubs representing 3,700 members. For her years of service, a new breed of daffodil was recently named in her honor. It's called Nicki's Smile.
The Schwabs settled in a new waterfront home near the island and, in 2001, joined the Gibson Island Country Club. Kent enjoyed playing golf on the island and, together, the Schwabs came to know many of the residents.
Ten years ago, they decided they wanted a change.
"We wanted an older home," said Nicki.
They found the house on the Otter Lake waterfront which features a panoramic view of the causeway and the Chesapeake Bay beyond.
However, it needed a lot of TLC and elbow grease. The previous owner lived overseas and used the house only six weeks a year in two shifts of three weeks. It was worn and showing its age.
The house was one of two built in the area in the 1920s as recreational residences by Baltimore industrialist J. Rulon Miller. Near the entrance to the causeway, on Mountain Road, he oversaw the construction of Gayfields, a fishing and hunting lodge with handsome knotty pine paneling in several of its large public rooms on the ground floor, and small bedrooms on the second floor to accommodate his many guests. On the Otter Lake waterfront, it is now a horse farm, and, since 1937, has been owned by three generations of the Waltjen family. The Schwabs can see Gayfields from their home.
A major redo
The Schwabs had a major project on their hands. The renovation and modernization of the charming residence took five years to complete following their 2006 purchase.
"We'd do a big project and then take a rest," Nicki said.
The house was outfitted with new plumbing, electricity and bathrooms – five of them. New insulation was installed and the foundation was redone.
"This was designed as a summer home," Kent said. "We had to winterize it."
The wide, screened porch facing the water was turned into a casual all-season room. The porch is now the "Harbor Bar" area. Another smaller porch was converted into the duo's office, outfitted with plump white leather swivel chairs.
In designing the Harbor Bar area, outfitted with a sleek, cherry wood bar, Kent requested the bar area be designed to showcase an antique hand-painted wooden sign, about 150-years-old, depicting a large red crab enjoying a glass of Guinness stout. Mission accomplished.
The verbiage on the sign is French, but the image couldn't be more Maryland.
Adding to the fun theme is a set of two liquor taps, set into a wall across from the bar. Each tap holds a liquor bottle. A cup is slung beneath each tap, just in case.
In keeping with the season, the bar is decorated with a wreath – made of wine corks.
Integral to the room's design, the beadboard ceiling, floors, walls and mouldings are original to the house. The bar's cabinetry have been crafted and finished to blend in seamlessly.
The dining room has the same hefty, classic knotty pine paneling that J. Rulon Miller relished.
"We enjoy having family dinners here with our son Alexander, his wife and daughter," Nicki said. Their son is a broker at Kent Schwab & Associates and lives in Pasadena's Farmington Village community.
"We also enjoy being on the water and looking out at the bay with the big ships going by," Nicki said.
Interior design duties were deftly handled by Erin Pitts and the late Jean McHale. Pitts also designed the kitchen and its surrounding pantry and storage areas.
The kitchen is a cook's delight with a large, brushed steel industrial stove, gold-veined white stone countertops, and snow-white cabinetry accented with brushed steel knobs or pulls. A nearby mudroom sports an antique set of heavy duty coat hooks made of cast iron and attached to a panel. It was originally used by a fire department.
There were six bedrooms, now there are four. To get from the far bedroom to the living room, one had to traipse through the other five bedrooms – there was no hallway. A hall, lined with bookshelves and cabinets, was built along an outside wall by slightly reducing the size of each bedroom. One bedroom was converted into a full bathroom for Kent, an adjacent room is his sitting room.
In the master bedroom, the mattress of four poster bed is so high off the ground, there are two need wooden steps to climb into bed. A highlight of the room is a photo portrait of Nicki, dressed for their wedding.
In doing the renovations, the couple insisted on retaining the home's wooden or wood beamed ceilings, old heavy wooden doors and iron hardware, and the stone and wooden floors. The vaulted ceiling in the living room was restored and is now a stunning feature a visitor notices immediately when entering the home.
Though technically a one-story residence, there is a studio suite up a flight of stairs. That was refurbished too, for visiting guests and storage.
They turned the area outside the front door on the land side into a flagstone courtyard, bordered by a free standing stone wall, and added hardscaping around the property.
Another flagstone patio is on the waterfront side of the home.
Utilizing her gardening skills, Nicki went to work. The inventory of carefully cultivated and landscaped trees, shrubs and flowering plants includes 150 different varieties of daffodils including a swath of Nicki's Smiles. The first weeks of spring, the one-acre property is gilded with almost 1,000 blooming daffodils.
One unusual feature of the Harbor Bar room is what looks like a heavy, intricately carved wooden wheeled cart decorated with a row of duck decoys. There appears to be a headrest attached.
Kent explained it was a Balinese rice cart that doubled as a bed. The Bali rice was valued. So, its owner, a rice merchant, needed to sleep with his inventory. Kent lifted a tab, raising a wood panel and reached in. A second panel upon which the decoys were perched suddenly, silently rose up … revealing a TV.
"We wanted to enjoy the view and not have a TV set interfere with it all the time," he said. "This was the solution."
Kent is also an collector of the antique stoneware found around the house, including one display in the Harbor Bar room. The pieces have been found in antique shops during the couple's travels to New York, Massachusetts, throughout Maryland and in Connecticut. Many of the antique furniture and accents displayed are family heirlooms from both sides of the family tree.
Another intriguing piece, an old wooden spool chest, Kent received from his mother. Used as an end table, the cabinet has several drawers, each high enough to display several dozen spools of cotton or silk thread.
"This is a great place to live," Nicki said. "There is boating, golf, playgrounds for children and security. It is a restful, peaceful environment in which to be. We love the diverse wildlife and bird sanctuary here with the nesting eagles."
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