Baltimore Magazine - Luxury Bed and Breakfasts
June 1997

Perched on the banks of Oxford's Island Creek inlet, this extraordinary bed-and-breakfast is all about secluded elegance, artfully blending 18th-century splendor with contemporary luxury. Here, jacuzzis and elevators coexist comfortably with a 100-year-old barn and 260-year-old fireplaces.

Covering nine acres and dotted with magnolia and weeping-willow trees, Combsberry is not only one of Talbot County's oldest homes but also one of the county's finest examples of early architecture. Though the acreage originally belonged to a Josias Cooper, who was granted the land in 1649, it wasn't until 1718 that owner John Oldham actually built Combsberry. Oldham, relying on pattern books from England and the Continent, built an imposing four-room brick home with some unusual features: a stair tower with winding steps, a hidden cellar, and windows with arched-brick openings. Over the next 200-odd years, subsequent owners added their own touches and additions - the east kitchen wing in 1877, the barn around the same time, the west library in 1927.

Yet transforming Combsberry into a working bed-and-breakfast seems to be its most dramatic overhaul. Little more than a year ago, the very idea was barely a gleam in its owner's eye.

"We were starting from scratch," explains Mahmood Shariff, a Cambridge cardiologist who purchased the property nearly a decade ago. "We had zero, zip, nothing. Also, I knew nothing about this business."

Shariff and his wife, Ann, overhauled Combsberry's interiors with a design consultant from the St. Michaels furnishing store Higgins and Spencer. The result is a cozy English-country style that skillfully combines past with present. In the foyer, for example, there's a reproduction cherry secretary alongside a 200-year-old upholstered chair, which once belonged to Ann's grandmother. Though much of the furniture is handmade by Waterford, a company better known for its crystal, all of it was carefully chosen with relaxation in mind. "I don't want guests to come in and feel scared about touching this or that," explains Shariff. Adds Ann, "I wanted every chair you sit in to be so comfortable that you wouldn't want to get up."

That certainly applies in the Magnolia suite, Combsberry's most lavish - and most expensive - accommodation. Dominating the room is an enormous four-poster king-size bed heaped with plump pillows and lace, so lofty you need a step-stool to reach it. To ensure a stress-free stay, there's no television or phone in the suite, but considering the spectacular view of Island Creek - plus the jacuzzi and the oversized towels in the ultra-modern bathroom - you won't miss them. In balmy weather, don't hesitate to breakfast on the balcony overlooking the grounds, which include informal gardens laden with roses, geraniums, and ferns.

Or for a real home-away-from-home feel, try booking the Oxford Cottage adjacent to the manor house. Straight out of a storybook, this former caretaker's cottage is now a two-story hideaway with a white-brass bed, full kitchen, French doors leading to a brick-and-ivy-covered terrace, and spectacular views of the inlet from every room. And just opened this summer is the Carriage House, a house-in-miniature that includes fireplaces, a sumptuous dining room, kitchen, and a French-country decor.