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LOG CABIN CHIC Western Maryland retreat combines rugged ambience with luxurious styling

It began as the most basic of weekend retreats -- a rustic cabin deep in the woods of Western Maryland.

The owners, a family of four, wanted all the creature comforts that would enable themselves and their guests to "rough it" in style.

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But they didn't want to lose the spirit of rugged camp buildings dating from the turn of the century.

The result is a mountainside compound that elevates the log cabin to a new level of luxury while reinterpreting it for the 1990s.

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It's the only building in Maryland this year to receive the highest tribute in American architecture -- a 1996 honor award from the American Institute of Architects.

In announcing the prize -- one of the few ever bestowed on a Maryland residence -- the AIA's judges described the residence as a "deeply American" building."

"Brilliantly sited -- part ledge, part treehouse -- this building reveals aspects of the history and character of the land and nature of building materials," the judges said. "It is a tour de force."

The house was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a nationally prominent firm that has gained a reputation for exploring and exploiting the emotive qualities of architecture, particularly in small buildings, and for creating a powerful sense of place by merging the technical aspects of building with a great sensitivity to the surrounding environment.

Based in Pennsylvania, the firm recently collaborated with James Cutler Architects to design a sprawling compound near Seattle for Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The Maryland retreat is its fourth national AIA honor award. Peter Bohlin was the principal in charge and Joseph Biondo was the project architect. Allan D. Garnaas Associates was the landscape consultant.

The owners of the Maryland house don't want to be identified and don't want the location of their house to be disclosed. The architects will say only that it was designed for a husband, wife and two children who wanted a weekend getaway within an hour's drive of their main residence in metropolitan Washington.

The clients love the imagery of the great camps of the Adirondacks, in upstate New York, Mr. Biondo explained. But they didn't want to travel to New York every weekend, so they set out to re-create that Adirondacks ambience in Western Maryland.

Placed at the edge of a small plateau on a forested mountainside, the house overlooks a stream valley to the south. The land was the site of an earlier cabin and is marked by stone ledges and a grove of pine trees.

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The house is arranged as a series of indoor spaces that follow the rim of the hill. Visitors approach by driving or walking up a steep incline to a quarrylike entry court that is framed by a curving wall made of heavy log timbers.

By using logs, heavy timbers and stonework of the type found in rustic buildings of the early 1900s, the architects created an intimate forecourt that evokes a natural "clearing in the woods." On the other side of this extended log wall, or spine, the house becomes a series of loosely arranged "sheds" that reach out to face the sun and valley below.

These shed structures are supported independently of the log walls and held together with galvanized-steel connectors. While some of the enclosed spaces are small and cozy, others are quite large, such as the "great room" in the middle of the house and an indoor swimming pool at one end.

In the spirit of older camp structures -- American house compounds built from the late 19th century to the early 20th century -- much of the framing for interior partitions and cabinets, as well as galvanized hardware and electrical fittings, were exposed to view, adding to the visual richness of the house.

Furnishings are spare, for the most part, and functional. In some cases, the architects designed tables, shelves and other furnishings to complement the spirit of the rooms. One of the most distinctive pieces of furniture is the built-in seating in the great room, which is made of the same large, river-washed stones as the fireplace hearth. The stones are covered with cushions.

The natural look of the log timber post-and-beam construction on the outside of the house gives the illusion that the columns are growing out of the forest. Hand-peeled, scribed-in-place white cedar logs were chosen for their ability to resist rot and insects.

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By using post-and-beam construction, the architects were able to create south-facing walls that were not load-bearing and therefore very flexible in design. Large, mahogany-framed window walls and Western Red cedar siding further enrich the exterior.

While cedar was chosen for the exterior, the rafters, columns and beams of the interior spaces were made from precision-cut Douglas fir timbers.

Currey Custom Homes of Myersville, Md., was the builder. The AIA jurors particularly admired the way builder Michael Greg Currey and others worked with the architects to bring together ++ materials that evoke a turn-of-the-century camp spirit.

For example, the builders brought boulders onto the site and arranged them on the slope below the house like a natural outcropping, to intensify the sense of a ledge.

Details are crisp throughout, and there's an almost Japanese quality -- delicate and unadorned -- to some of the shelving and cabinetwork.

"The way the house is detailed shows how the collaboration of architect and builder working closely together can produce a raw yet manicured piece of architecture," the AIA jurors marveled. "It is poetry in form and function."

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Pub Date: 5/16/96


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