When the search for a country escape led a couple with a passion for reimagining real estate to Foxfire, a venerable horse breeding farm in Monkton, Maryland, the opportunity to own the tranquil estate was too perfect to pass up. Combining their love of the equestrian lifestyle with a talent for transforming properties with a past, the 8,000-square-foot manor house built in 1932 and surrounding 120 bucolic acres offered everything they were seeking.
After visiting the area for more than 25 years, the new owners were excited to have a place of their own where they could keep horses and ride on fall and winter weekends, gather with family, and entertain friends. They quickly invited 21 loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving at their new abode—giving their close friend and interior designer, Steven Gambrel, just eight and a half months to transform it into a home that would both reflect their style and suit their needs.
The majority of the remodel focused on opening rooms up to improve flow and let in more light. Function was an important factor in the update as well—having a space where muddy boots can be removed after a morning ride was a key consideration. The owners’ intent to offer the estate as an event space when they weren’t in residence also influenced decisions, such as the installation of a catering kitchen in an easily accessible area separate from the main kitchen that allows guests to enjoy the house in peace, even while preparations for a wedding are underway.
The home had beautiful original elements, including hardwood floors and fireplace moldings, which the owners were eager to preserve, as well as a rich equestrian past from which Gambrel drew inspiration. “It was important for me to bring that element into the design, but in a unique and tasteful manner,” he says. “I wanted to respect the tradition of the community and bring a sense of place to the interiors of the home, but achieve these references in a lean manner.” To that end, Gambrel incorporated equestrian elements in ways both large and small, hanging hunt caps on the walls of the boot room, placing a large-scale horse portrait in the living room, and working 20th-century horse drawings and framed equestrian gear into the décor.
The owners’ tendency to gravitate toward neutral colors created the opportunity for Gambrel to focus on texture in his design. Walls were finished in raw plaster or painted in neutral hues, and each room was layered with antiques and one-of-a-kind pieces from around the world to create environments that feel elegant, thoughtfully collected, and approachable.
While some rooms required less rethinking—the bar is original to the house, and was kept dark and rich, as it has always been—others called for more extensive reconfiguring. Gambrel had to start from scratch in the kitchen, taking lighting, function, and finishes into account, and familiarizing himself with the original 1930s Vulcan stove. Creating a mudroom out of a back hallway adjacent to the kitchen was another major revision, as was the extension of a space between the kitchen and mudroom to accommodate a nook outfitted with a banquet table that takes full advantage of the morning light.
A bedroom was converted to become the glamorous master bathroom, complete with a fireplace. Last but not least, the living room was transformed into a dramatic space when the original ceiling was removed. “It immediately opened up the room, flooded it with light, and allowed me to play around with the scales of the furnishings and décor,” Gambrel says.
While Gambrel focused on making the interior of the home an ideal getaway for his friends and an inviting place for families to stay over a wedding weekend, outside, landscape designer Justin Hicks carved out distinct spaces on the grounds where a ceremony, cocktails, reception, and other aspects of a celebration could take place. The result is a beautiful and welcoming property that offers a singular experience for wedding guests, and a private retreat for couples and their families.
Credits: Design: S.R. Gambrel. Builder: John Tiralla. Landscape design: Justin Hicks. Interior house photography: Douglas Friedman. Exterior house and event photography: courtesy of Foxfire. The Scout Guide Baltimore & Annapolis will host the launch party for The Scout Guide Baltimore & Annapolis, Volume 4 at Foxfire in October 2018.