A design team makes magic in an Ocean City retreat, melding light-filled spaces, stunning bay vistas and a serene, restful vibe
Walk in the front door of Mike and Mary Strittmatter’s Ocean City vacation home and all you see is water. Beyond the chic, comfortable living area, the Assawoman Bay extends for miles—all white-capped waves churning in the winter wind on the day this writer paid a visit.
“So many people say it feels like you’re out on a yacht when you first enter the house,” Mary enthuses. “Or an ocean liner.”
Indeed, the home’s location is magical, occupying a point that juts dramatically out into the bay to create water views on three sides. In fact, though the Strittmatters were ready to renovate their former vacation house in this bayside enclave, when this one came on the market they grabbed it. Mary, an interior designer, and Mike, who owns the excavation and construction company Strittmatter, Inc., envisioned reconfiguring the interiors to better accommodate those vistas, and adding bedrooms that would lure their grown sons, friends and other family members out on frequent visits.
The couple had already enlisted architect Warren Ralston for the previous house, so he simply shifted his focus to the new one—which definitely needed help. “It had amazing potential with that view, but it was very dark,” Ralston recalls. “It looked like someone took a house from the 1980s in Northern Virginia and plopped it on the water.” Working with John Rego of T&G Builders, he says, “We turned it into a beach house—inviting, less formal, fresh, clean and bright.”
The small lot limited the scope of the renovation to the home’s original footprint. “We gutted it and started over,” explains Rego. “First we incorporated the exterior work—removing existing brick and stucco and repairing sheathing damage from driving rains and winds typical of the location.” Gray-painted CertainTeed shakes, plus new dormers, trim, windows and doors, impart a beach-house sensibility.
Inside, a dated, two-story great room featured a fireplace on the waterfront wall that obstructed the view; catwalks above were supported by a number of intrusive columns. A small kitchen separated the great room from an unused formal living room.
“The first challenge was seeing past what was in front of you,” Ralston reflects. “We showed Mike and Mary how to imagine it without all the divisions and the blocked view. Almost every space was reimagined with the premise of amplifying light and views.”
In Ralston’s transformative design, the staircase was relocated and the ceiling was lowered to accommodate a second-floor bedroom and rec room where the kids gather. Structural steel beams eliminated the need for columns. A porch off the great room was rebuilt and the fireplace was relocated; now, a wall of sliding-glass panels by Western Doors folds back to merge indoor and outdoor spaces. Phantom screens on the porch come down for protection from insects and heaters keep the space comfortable into fall.
The kitchen moved to where the formal living room had been and the previous kitchen became the dining area. New floor-to-ceiling windows in the kitchen and dining area expanded views once blocked by cabinetry. Jamie Rollins of Cabinetry Unlimited worked with Mary on the new kitchen, which centers on a large island topped with quartz.
Though she initially had planned to decorate the interiors herself, Mary prefers to work on a smaller scale and asked Christie Leu, a friend and former design-school classmate, to take on the job. “Christie was the perfect choice because I trusted her,” she observes. “I told her I wanted to have the feel of coastal luxury.”
Leu began by layering the great room with architectural flourishes for character and interest. She selected a limestone fireplace surround and a custom mantel and designed built-in bookshelves on either side. And she conceived a new ceiling with coffers that mirror the room’s seating arrangements. In the foyer, Leu added millwork details around the staircase to make it a feature element.
Embracing Ralston’s vision of a light-filled aerie, the designer used color throughout the house to tie the interiors to the water’s luminous hues. She started in the two-story foyer, where an accent wall stretches up 19 feet. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with that?’” the designer recalls. She tapped Baltimore-based Lenehan Studios to faux paint “a textured gradation from dark blue to ivory, like the colors of the ocean,” Leu explains. “That’s where I got my color palette.”
Fabrics in warm blues and grays sound a soothing note on the main floor, while upstairs, the rec room is painted dark blue. Light wood tones dominate throughout the house—including the durable, engineered-wood floor. Leu and Mary selected art that would reflect the beach locale without being kitschy; Leu crafted some of it herself—delicate sea urchins and starfish against pretty matting, and framed sailing flags in bright colors.
The Strittmatters spend time year-round in their bayfront escape. And luring the kids worked: “Oh yes,” says Mary. “Like us, they’re out here every chance they get.”
Renovation Architecture: Warren C. Ralston, AIA, WCRA, Chantilly, Virginia. Interior Design: Christie Leu, Christie Leu Interiors, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Kitchen Design: Jamie Rollins, Cabinetry Unlimited, Selbyville, Delaware. Renovation Contractor: John Rego, T&G Builders, Berlin, Maryland. Landscape Design: Chesapeake Landscaping, Princess Anne, Maryland.
Bar Stools: wayfair.com. Coffee Table, Side Table, Lounge Chair: palecek.com. Hanging Bed: kwhome.net. Ottomans: designerinc.com.
Console, Swivel Chairs & Sofa: ambellahome.com. Sofa & Chair Fabric: kravet.com. Woven Coffee Table: fourhands.com. Wood-Framed Chairs & Stone-Topped Coffee Table: stanleyfurniture.com. Floor & Table Lamps: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Throw Pillows: vanguardfurniture.com. Fireplace: heatnglo.com. Rug: coecarpetandrug.com.
Dining Table: tritterfeefer.com. Host Chairs: designmasterfurniture.com. Kitchen Appliances: monogram.com. Fixtures over Island & Dining Table: curreyco.com. Cabinetry: Custom by cabinetryunlimited.com. Counter stools: interludefurniture.com
Bedstead & Nightstands: Existing. Area Rug: coecarpetandrug.com. wallcovering: thibaut.com. Pillows on Window Seat: pindler.com, kravet.com.
Area Rug: wayfair.com. Stair Runner: coecarpetandrug.com. Console: stanleyfurniture.com. Faux-Painted Feature Wall: lenehanstudios.com.
Built-In Bunk Beds: Custom by tg-builders.com. Area Rug: coecarpetandrug.com. Library Ladder: Vintage. Bedside Lights: visualcomfortlightinglights.com.
Brass Shelving & Corner Banquettes: Custom by tg-builders.com. Wall Covering: phillipjeffries.com. Bar Table: roomandboard.com. Sectionals: Existing. Area Rug: coecarpetandrug.com. Swivel Chair: braxtonculler.com. Game Table: ambellahome.com.