Friday, April 06, 2012

His Majesty’s Tax Collector Slept Here

By Beth Herman

Though Rousby Hall plantation’s palatial main house was battered and burned by the British in 1780, as members of the prominent Fitzhugh family that occupied it were American sympathizers, the property’s 438 s.f. customs house—charged with collecting taxes for the entire Patuxent region—was spared.

Built half-a-century earlier by John Rousby II (1680-1744), who was both Naval Officer of the Patuxent and His Majesty’s Customs Collector from 1717 until his death, some accounts posit that the tiny tax office’s future operational promise saved its life. Confident that the crown’s taxes would one day again be collected in this utilitarian structure, General Alexander Leslie and his 2,500 marauding soldiers moved on to pillage elsewhere. Lucky for 21st Century owners (and Americans!) Bob and Barbara Allen.

Jettisoning a former decorator’s show house they’d purchased and transformed into a bed and breakfast, with JoAnn Zwally of Ashton Design Group at the helm, the antiques loving Allen’s went shopping. Spying the Lusby, Maryland early Georgian customs house with its Flemish bond brickwork, the couple was spurred by its provenance and primed for the challenge of restoring and renovating it, along with a tired, 277 s.f. 1950s addition. What’s more, with three adult children and a gaggle of next generation offspring, the couple wished to add a large, open-concept living space to the two earlier structures—with a foyer; great room; kitchen; master suite; screened-in porch; laundry room; lower level family room and bath (the space could accommodate bedrooms at a later time). Here the entire family could assemble for summer vacations and holidays.

Dormers, drop leaf and “D” ends

“Lusby is right near St. Mary’s City, and St. Mary's City is an historic settlement that goes back to the 1600s,” said designer Zwally, who, after the bed-and-breakfast project, also created and implemented the interior design of the Allen’s Lusby residence. Enamored of St. Mary's City's Jacobean character, the Allen’s sought to emulate its emblematic dark, hand-timbered elements in their brand new addition, something that proved problematical in its execution, however. The concept was soon replaced by lighter, simple moldings on walls, around a Rumford fireplace, on the insides of dormers, and in a new master bedroom with its own fireplace.

Inspired by Annapolis architect Charles E. Anthony’s exposed truss system in the new great room, with its 12:14 roof pitch (ceiling height is 20 feet at its apogee), Zwally and lighting designer Linda Gombos swapped the idea of effective recessed lighting, which was impossible at that slope and altitude, for surreptitious track lights around and inside of the trusses. Two chandeliers and a few strategic floor lamps also helped illuminate the cavernous space, with a wall of glass French doors and “skylights” (expressed as long dormers on the exterior—or maybe they’re dormers that function as skylights on the interior!) bathing the space in warm, natural light. With a dormer on the original 1730 customs house, and one on the 1950s addition, these modern dormers carried the concept through to the new design for continuity and flow.

Employing custom millwork, Zwally was able to conceal the television, using plush swivel chairs to facilitate viewing. A drop leaf table redolent of 18th Century design, acquired from the Allen’s old bed-and-breakfast, can be used for entertaining and extended family dinners, its dual “D” ends living separately under lamps in the foyer until needed. With the homeowners’ predilection for all things red or red-toned, a black and red rug from their former bed-and-breakfast was reestablished in the great room, with furniture and fabrics manifesting the deep hue in various solids and patterns. In the 3,679 s.f. addition’s exceedingly long galley kitchen, their appetite for red was articulated in part by burgundy cabinetry and Brazilian cherry flooring.

Victrolas, views and vigilance

A screened-in porch affords the couple and their family ample opportunity to observe boating activities along the 7-acre site’s 400 feet of water frontage (for the record, Rousby Hall estate was born on 5,000 acres). Mahogany decking and a white painted bead board ceiling with recessed lighting create a clean canvas for the porch’s pristine white wicker furniture with red Boussac fabric.

In the new master bath, a modern take on an old claw foot tub is realized in a Kohler claw-and-ball-foot tub. Carrara marble tiles with black granite inlay help polish and shine up the shower, as do two wall sconces, a chandelier, rope lighting underneath the vanity—and of course a red wall panel.

In the 1950s addition, among other things Zwally and antiques aficionado Barbara Allen created a posh powder room, featuring a wash station that is a former Victrola cabinet—filled with old 78s—turned sink. Because the cabinet was so high, Zwally had to search vigilantly for a shallow sink bowl that would be functional while maintaining the furniture’s aesthetic.

Books, bricks and beams

Redesigning the tiny customs house itself, Zwally and builder Howard Freeman, who was involved in all aspects of the property’s new construction, renovation and restoration, transformed it into a comfortable library space. Mid-century knotty pine paneling from a prior renovation that had masked the period exposed brick walls beneath was removed. Two muted, slip-covered loveseats from the bed-and-breakfast were integrated into the design, with throw pillows in russet, pale blue, brown and oatmeal softly reflecting the hues of the multi-colored brick. A Kerman rug, originally in the Allen’s Ashton, Maryland dining room that was later used in their bed-and-breakfast, found its way into the customs house-cum-library.

Millwork wainscoting and cabinetry painted a clean white flank the library brick, creating extra storage and brightening the space. “You can also see the original rough wood ceiling beams,” Zwally said, relating the new addition’s exposed wood trusses to the custom house’s 1730s building style. The designer also noted the beginning of an arch, revealed in the brick wall when paneling was removed, that was a Palladian or curved window in colonial times. In what is now the library, a ladder leads to an original sleeping loft as an 18th Century customs clerk would sleep above the office.

A new garage was built with an apartment above, and bedrooms in the 1950s addition supported the homeowners’ family visits.

With their offspring now pursuing goals that keep them far away from the Lusby, Maryland residence, completed in 2003, the home is on the market with the enterprising Allen’s—and Zwally— anticipating their next design (ad)venture-a-trois.

Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Hodgdon. For story suggestions contact bh @


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Anonymous said...

What specific color name and brand of Burgundy paint was used for the kitchen cabinetry?

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