Sweet Retreat

The Baltimore Sun

The white house on San Domingo Creek in St. Michaels is where Jeanne Ruesch has taken to stretching summer weekends into five days with extended family and friends.

The home, which has a cottage look and is featured in the current issue of Architectural Digest, reflects what Ruesch dreamed of in a retreat: an inviting place in harmony with the Eastern Shore's slower pace of life and a world away from suburban Washington, where her primary home is. In many ways, it embodies the vision her late husband had for an idyllic escape that lets all comers be as lively or private as they'd like. Otto Ruesch had envisioned a compound "where our children could come, with family, with friends, as they got older, and never want to leave," Jeanne Ruesch said.

The couple, who ran a financial services firm, bought two adjacent houses on a point of land, planning the larger one as the family home, and the smaller one for guests.

After her husband died, Jeanne Ruesch, who runs the charitable Ruesch Family Foundation, sought to renovate the smaller one into a home with a master suite above and four guest suites on the main floor.

She turned to architect David Jones and interior designer Thomas Pheasant, both of whom worked with her on her Chevy Chase home, to carry out her vision for a water-oriented haven.

"I wanted a family house. I didn't want a place that was so formal that it seemed so structured," she said. "I like open spaces with a lot of light. I knew that I wanted rooms that provide space for small groups and certainly for large groups."

The result is a bright home that exudes relaxation. It is characterized by high ceilings and spectacular water views through large windows and French doors. Clusters of plush sofas, chairs and upholstered ottomans, with tables at varied heights, provide places for eating, reading, playing and getting lost in thought; congregating with others; or watching from the sidelines.

Ruesch enjoys the flexibility the house offers. A large main area with a gas fireplace at each end is defined by rugs as living, library and dining sections; a multiuse family room is by the kitchen.

She finds guests curling up with a book in a chair by the windows, watching children play ball on the grass, or overseeing progress on a jigsaw puzzle in the living room. Outdoor activities are geared toward the water, whether swimming in the pool or kayaking in the cove.

"The kitchen is a place to hang out," Ruesch said. It's for lingering over coffee, bakery treats and bowls of fruit, and for group cooking with food from local farmers' markets. Everyone gathers for dinner, often in the poolside pavilion.

Furniture groupings allow simultaneous activities in the family room after dinner. People drift in and out; her adult son and his friends play cards at a table or "see a video on Mom's big TV there," she said.

"The family room is a wonderful room to sit and watch the storm," Ruesch said.

"If there's too much activity, you feel comfortable going into your room," she said. Each guest suite has a television in an armoire.

She can retreat upstairs to sneak in some work in the office area of her bedroom, lounge on the balcony or watch television. Behind doors are a bathroom and dressing area, a coffee bar and storage.

Design element: : "The house is really all about the water," she said.

Design inspiration: : Water and nature. Ruesch wanted the serene outdoor setting as an indoor design element. Big windows and French doors draw the eye out. The white kitchen has no above-counter cabinets on the water side; all storage is below Carrera marble countertops and in cabinets on the rear wall. Ruesch chose for Pheasant to add muted tones of blue to the home's beiges and taupes that are his hallmark. All of the bathrooms are marble.

Surprise feature: : In a setting that seems timeless, an heirloom grandfather clock in the foyer, with its soothing ticking punctuated by hourly chiming, emphasizes the day's cycles while bringing you back to earth.

Personal touch: : Ruesch loves to read by the water. With six wicker rockers, the bluestone porch that overlooks the creek is a favorite place for reading, and also daydreaming and being pleasantly startled by birds flying overhead or dallying on the creek.

Design tip: : Imagine how you'll use a house and create spaces that lend themselves to those uses.

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Write to Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, Real Estate Editor, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278 or e-mail us at homes@baltsun.com.

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