The architect Cheryl Mohr craves natural light so much that even when the sun is bouncing off the nearby South River and streaming through the 22-foot-tall wall of windows that surrounds her living room, Mohr can't bring herself to lower the blinds.
Instead, she puts on a pair of sunglasses.
"I grew up in the tropics," she said during a recent tour of her waterfront Edgewater home, "and I think it would be very bad for me to live anyplace without a lot of natural light. Light isn't just something we see. We also can feel it on our skin. It's the photosensitive part of ourselves coming out."
Mohr's design for her six-bedroom home with four full and two half bathrooms is notable for the innovative ways in which it revels in not just the sun, but also the wind, rain and plant life, and the steps that she has taken to preserve these natural resources.
Here's just one small example: her outdoor landscaping includes a 210-foot "living shoreline." Once the marsh grasses take root and grow, it will help prevent erosion while also providing a habitat for fish, waterfowl and other aquatic creatures.
The 55-year-old Mohr is one of the two founders of Gardner Mohr Architects, a Silver Spring firm that specializes in sustainable residential design. So the 7,000-square-foot house that she rebuilt on the site of the original 1988 structure is more than just a haven for Mohr and her three daughters, or even a showcase of what she does best.
It's also a statement of the principles on which she and her business partner, Amy Gardner, started their firm in 2003. Every aspect of the home, from the lighting (LED bulbs) to the countertops (made from an engineered quartz composite; no natural stone is used anywhere in the home) to the watering system (collected rainwater) to the roof (which incorporates solar panels) — is designed to minimize the home's environmental impact.
"I've been a tree-hugger since I was a little girl," Mohr said.
"One of the core values that Amy and I both have is to use up as little energy and natural resources as we can. When we started, there weren't many firms who were as interested as we were in sustainable design. Now, it's becoming more common."
The years of hard work since the house was purchased in 2004 have paid off in impressive ways. The home earned a coveted gold LEED rating (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition, the house has a home energy rating score of just 39, as determined by the U.S. Department of Energy. That means that it uses 61 percent less energy than an identical structure built to current energy codes.
But what visitors to Mohr's three-story home notice first aren't the energy conservation statistics. What they notice is the beauty.
The showstopper is the view of the South River, with the Chesapeake Bay, Kent Island and the Eastern Shore visible — and it can be seen from not just the living room, dining room and kitchen, but also from each bedroom.
The house itself is elegant and serene, with its butterfly roof, its cypress timbers stained blue-gray, its sharp angles and its multiple pine decks. Instead of interrupting the centuries-old conversation taking place between the river and shore and wildlife, the house enters into that discourse.
The home manages to be both cozy and expansive (it accommodated 75 people during an overnight visit by Mohr's daughter's Frisbee team).
"This home uplifts my spirit," Mohr said, "every single day."
She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the natural world is rampant, with houseplants that grow as large as trees and bugs the size of a child's fist.
"Our lives were all about the water," Mohr said. "I was a swimmer, and we boated, fished and water-skied."
She moved away from the waterfront to attend school in Texas, earning her bachelor's from Baylor University in Waco in psychology and business in 1979, and a graduate degree in architecture from the University of Texas in Austin in 1985.
After relocating to the East Coast, she and her family spent several years in Chevy Chase.
"But, it's always been a huge instinct of mine to go back to the water," she said. "As soon as we saw this site, we fell in love with it."
At the time, a nondescript, 5,000-square-foot, two-story brown brick home occupied the site. Mohr took it apart.
"We either donated or recycled approximately 95 percent of the materials, fixtures, equipment, etc.," she said. "Only the carpet and roof shingles went to the landfill."
Mohr designed the home herself but hired the Berliner Construction Company of Annapolis to put her ideas into practice.
Adhering to building-covenant restrictions, the team expanded upward, not outward, by adding a story on top of the first floor and walk-out basement.