What does it take to win the National Association of Home Builders' 2010 Best in American Living Awards?

In the case of one particular winning home — a coastal Maryland mansion — it takes an owner with a vision and an equally qualified design visionary to make the dream a reality.

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Off a narrow lane on Ocean City's Assawoman Bay, Bill and Shelby Allen's three-story home sits regally at the water's edge in defiance of all elements, both natural and architectural.

"I wanted a Northern Atlantic, Nantucket-style cottage — coastal [and] on a grander scale than your typical beach house," Bill Allen explains.

To design his dream home, he hired Christopher L. Pattey, senior associate with Becker Morgan Group, an architecture and engineering firm out of Salisbury. As a residential design specialist, he has worked on countless homes over the course of his 20 years with the firm.

Small site, large wish list
The project began in July 2007, on a mere third of an acre that Bill Allen, a securities trader, had been holding onto for 15 years. With one of the largest water frontages in Ocean City, he knew first and foremost that he wanted 10,000 square feet of interior living space for casual entertaining and overnight guests. This was the greatest challenge for Pattey — a small site, yet a large wish list.

"Bill definitely knew what he wanted," Pattey adds. "He's a very discerning client with a keen eye and impeccable taste, truly a client that teamed with me on the project, as opposed to some clients who give me carte blanche with a design."

Because of that instant connection between client and designer, Pattey had little difficulty producing a hand-drawn conceptual design for Allen's approval.

"A designer must be tuned into every aspect of the design, from the orientation of the rooms to capture the best views, all the way down to the exterior cladding of the home, in this case, cedar shingle," Pattey says. "I conceptualize freehand, then I hard-line it to scale to make sure what I'm proposing is based in reality. The plans have to fit the constraint of the site and all pertinent building codes."

Built for views
Because of the lot configuration, the Allen house is L-shaped at street level. An impressive tower housing a staircase gives the façade definition, along with a concave sloping roof, which, according to Pattey, "is punctuated by eyebrow windows reminiscent of shingle-style homes."

An informal side entrance off the street leads to a wide space comprising kitchen, living room, sitting room and pool/bar room, with the rear of the home featuring an entire wall (half of two perpendicular walls) of glass doors and bay windows overlooking Ipe wood decking, considered by many to be top-of-the-line construction because of its durability. A bulkhead built at the water's edge constitutes the backyard. From most views on the grand first floor, the ever-moving waves of the Assawoman Bay and the pleasure craft sailing them appear as though they could crash into the living room.

The home's interior architecture showcases dramatic yet cohesive use of lines, circles and arches, in addition to round and angular bump-outs, while its furnishings create a casual elegance. The idea here was to bring the natural colors beyond the windows into the home through the use of soft taupe and aqua wall colors, muted wool rugs from Asia, Brazilian wood flooring, light marble countertops and fireplaces, and glass fixtures and accessories that catch the setting sun, sparkling like the shimmering wake from boats across the water.

Traditional tailored chairs and sofa are upholstered in shades of blue and white silk. Contrasting tables of dark woods are topped with cut-glass lamps that project a full color spectrum. A double-sided marble fireplace (one of six in the home) with a wood-burning oven separates the great room from the pool room. The first floor also includes two lanai (one of which is enclosed for barbecuing), a full guest suite, a front hall foyer with a coat-check room, and a formal two-story dining room. A 6-foot, round dining table rests under a crystal chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling. A sweeping cantilevered staircase leads to undulating balconies off the second-floor hall with a view to the table below.

"The flower arrangement on the table is a replica of our wedding flowers," notes newlywed Shelby Allen, an Ocean City real estate agent.

Room to share
A master suite with a spa bathroom, a second suite and a study are found on the second level. The study boasts built-in shelving units and a large picture window overlooking the Bay. There's another suite over the garage on the second floor, and a two-bedroom family suite on the third floor adopts a more coastal, nautical style as in its furnishings, accents and copious use of beadboard.

"This is a duplication of the 1920s and 1930s coastal vernacular," Bill Allen points out. "As we progress through the house, it becomes less formal."

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From a second tower staircase rising to the third level, one can peer straight to the cupola and its circular grouping of windows.

"The cupola was one big steel cage that had to be lowered onto the [tower] during construction," Bill Allen says. On this third level, a guest suite includes bedroom, bath and a living room also used as a children's playroom.

"The space and function of the home fit our busy lifestyle," Bill Allen says. "It is perfect for entertaining. We have hosted several 200-plus-person charity events for Atlantic General Hospital [and] Coastal Hospice, to name two. But [the house] is also perfect when it is just the two of us."

Shelby Allen agrees. "It [has] finally become a home, and it feels lived in," she adds. "For the first few years, we were finishing and accessorizing the home, collecting pieces, one by one, on our travels, which didn't happen overnight."

Two ragdoll kittens and a black Labrador complete the family living happily in this award-winning home.

The Making of a Winner
Though Bill Allen knew what he wanted from his home, the award-winning design didn't come without challenges. Home designer Christopher Pattey had to work within local building codes to manage storm-water runoff and create some semblance of privacy in the densely populated area. When he submitted the home for the National Association of Home Builders' American Living Award, he explained the process to the judges in writing, reproduced, in part, below:

"The owner's goal was to design a home with an open plan oriented to optimize southwest water views for casual entertaining and provide various bedroom suites for overnight guests.

"Local codes and constraints played a role in the design solution. Pervious pavers and rain gardens manage storm water, while high-impact, wind-resistant Loewen windows were used in this highly vulnerable location. Rooms and windows were placed to maximize privacy from adjacent neighbors while providing panoramic water views, giving a boatlike feel to almost every space.

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"As most lots dictate, the density in coastal towns is intense with water frontage at a premium. A responsible architect marries the owner's large program of space with an artfully pleasing geometry of shapes, articulated to diminish the home's mass. In an effort to visually reduce the large three-story mass, the core of this home was "carved out." Carving out the façade was softened by the gentle upward swoop ascending to the centrally punctuated octagonal tower. This allowed delineation of the two stair towers. Architectural elements of graceful eyebrow windows, oversized paneled columns, eave brackets, pilasters, an undulating water table, and slate and copper roofing unify the overall vernacular of a decidedly coastal shingle style with an innovative twist of the architect's own stylistic fingerprint."

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