Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Caroline Boutté's Wheatlands

Early settlers on the Eastern Shore harvested tobacco, but later planted wheat to feed Washington's Continental Army. Hence the name "Wheatlands," the colonial estate now owned by Washington architect Caroline Boutté. "I love the history," Mrs. Boutté proclaims. And indeed her house is historic. It belonged to the Revolutionary War Captain Perry Benson, who as a General in the War of 1812, fooled the Brits and saved St. Michael's by ordering that lanterns be hung high in the trees away from the town's blacked out buildings and homes. Thanks to Perry's cunning, the Redcoats' cannons were misdirected and the important maritime center was spared.
Unscathed by the British Naval assault, the General's Georgian home was not renovated until 1850 when Victorian accouterments were added. In 1999, Mrs. Boutté purchased the house and set about refurbishing and expanding the stately manor and its outlying structures to suit her own family's needs and preferences. Three and a half years later, the recently completed renovations have resulted in what she calls "a great family home."

In the main house she added much needed detail to the stark family room by breaking apart Jacobean-style furniture and paneling the walls with the spindled wood. She designed the décor of the other main public rooms around the four distinct patterns of china she and her late husband David collected while traveling the world and had lighted niches constructed to highlight the most exceptional of these pieces. She redecorated the laundry room, now known as the Peter Rabbit Laundry for its array of Beatrix Potter inspired collectibles from her sons' childhoods, and built the "Mudman Library" to house David's books and showcase the amazing army of some one hundred Chinese terracotta soldiers he'd owned. Then, she did the most surprising thing of all. She took advantage of the fact that she has one of the few basements in Talbot County to construct a spa so contemporary and complete as to evoke the feeling of being luxuriously pampered at The Four Seasons. The former English basement now filled with mirrors and modern amenities features a sauna, a stream shower, a juice bar, and a small home theater. It is her personal retreat, or so she thought, before her two teenage sons and their young friends discovered its pleasures as well.

In other impressive feats, she transformed a mid-1800's barn (which had become a five-car garage) into "a cowboy house" with a music studio for her sons Gray and Banks. She renovated an old three-bedroom guest house, devised an office for herself in yet another outbuilding, and had all of the above freshly painted red.

As much as the Bouttés love old houses, it was Wheatlands' location on sixty acres of land with miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline that made the property so appealing. "My husband used to say he wanted to live somewhere where men wore Bermudas at lunch," Caroline explains, and while they thought about heading to Charleston, South Carolina, they chose the Eastern Shore for its proximity to the District and to their friends. Happy to have both "extensive water views" and to have "inherited a mature garden," Mrs. Boutté delights in the grounds which contain a swimming pool, pool house, and a deepwater dock with a boathouse. Her favorite place is the rooftop deck of the boathouse where she goes to relax and watch the sun set. "It's like being on a boat," she says. "It takes you completely away." Of course, anytime Mrs. Boutté wants to actually climb aboard her boat, she is just minutes away from St. Michael's and dinner at her favorite crab house.

When not engaged in business travel or meeting the demands of her position as president of The Women's Museum, Mrs. Boutté resides full time at Wheatlands patiently awaiting completion of renovations to her Watergate apartment.

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