Spy House of the Week: An Ornithologist’s “Aerie”


Last month I wrote an article in the Talbot Spy about a “Bee House” built on the grounds of the Inn at Perry Cabin. The “Bee House” provided year-round shelter for the bees that ate pollen and nectar from plants and pollinated flowers from the cutting garden to support the Inn’s restaurant and Spa. The architect Peter Newlin told me about a “bird house” he had designed for an ornithologist so naturally I was intrigued. The ornithologist had purchased a site and built a small one-room cabin as her get-away, nestled in a wooded area with conifers, mature deciduous trees, native plants, a creek and marsh that attracted birds and other wildlife.

Peter’s client asked for a three-story addition so she could better observe the birds since different species seek different heights for feeding or nesting areas. The conifers on the property provided shelter, nest sites, and food for birds who prefer high spaces. The wild grasses and weeds provided cover for ground-nesting birds and their seeds provided abundant food for many other types of birds. Trees that bore fruit in autumn such as dogwoods and berry plants provided food for migratory birds and allowed non-migratory birds to “fatten up” to face the food challenges in winter. The oaks and other trees provided food for jays, titmice, woodpeckers as well as nesting habitats for many other species.

The design challenge was how to join a three-story vertical addition to a one-story  small cabin without overwhelming the cabin’s scale and to insert the addition as carefully as possible for minimum invasion of the wildlife’s habitat.  Peter rose to the challenge with his masterful addition. A path of pavers meandered through the opening beneath the trees from the parking area to the house.  The hipped roof of the original cabin inspired the shed roof of the wrap-around porch whose depth varies around the rectangular footprint to create a variety of spaces inside and out. Breaking the tower massing up by stepping it back as it passed through the roof behind and above the one-story original cabin, recladding the entire house and new roofing met the challenge. Many windows became “outlooks” for endless birdwatching. Old and new were blended seamlessly.

I absolutely loved the space planning. The first floor contained the original cabin that became a guest suite with its own door to the outdoors. The front door under a deep porch opened to a vista of the three-story spiral stair centered on the wood stove beyond.  Then your eye was drawn to the sitting room with posts around the center to delineate the comfortable upholstered seating around the wood stove and floor to ceiling bookcases. Surrounding the sitting area was the dining area and other seating in front of tall windows and French doors to access the outdoor seating under the deep protecting roof overhang. A galley kitchen completed the first floor plan.

I was amazed to learn from Peter that his client had applied seven coats of shoe polish to stain the slab-on-grade concrete floors! After this treatment, the large panel sizes defined by the wide joints in the flooring resembled flagstone and the earthen brown color was so appropriate for this wooded setting. The exposed stained wood decking ceiling, comfortable seating around the wood stove, French doors and tall windows that provided large areas for bird watching created a delightful space.

The bedroom on the middle level also had a stained wood decking ceiling. Wrap-around windows and a French door by the bed accessed a deck for listening to nocturnal birds. A bath and two large closets completed this floor. My favorite room was the third floor whose ceiling was pitched on all four sides to better reflect the sunlight throughout the day. Tall, large windows with vented units below and picture windows above wrapped around each corner.  Between the windows were full height bookcases. A wonderful space for a study but the interior architecture and the “bird’s eye” views of the landscape could be a distraction.

The house design was ahead of its time by incorporating many energy saving features.  The insulated slab-on-grade acts as a heat sink and the spiral stair provides natural ventilation by drawing the cool air off the forest floor and exhausting warm air through a dormer window at the third floor roof.

After visiting the property, I was inspired to rethink my own landscape design to attract more birds who hopefully would visit daily for my delight not to mention for my two cats’ entertainment!

As an architect, it is always a pleasure to feature an outstanding house designed by another architect.  It is no surprise that “Aerie” won a “Citation of Merit” from the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Here we are almost thirty years later celebrating this unique house.

Architecture by Peter Newlin of Chesapeake Architects,  410-778-4899, peter@chesarch.com, www.chesarch.com.


Spy House of the Week is an ongoing series that selects a different home each week. The Spy’s Habitat editor Jennifer Martella makes these selections based exclusively on her experience as a architect.

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

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