A Lewes Home Becomes a Holiday Haven

See the art-filled home along with others during the 42nd Annual Christmas Tour of Lewes on Saturday, Dec. 5

The first Christmas was celebrated in a humble stable. Diana Beebe rings in the holidays in a barn.

Beebe’s home is one of four converted barns on Shipcarpenter Square, a preserve of authentically restored 18th- and 19th-century homes in Lewes. Most structures were transported over Sussex County’s pancake-flat roads from other locations in Delaware, as well as Maryland and Virginia. 

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Beebe’s barn was built 160 years ago on the Dodd farm, sited on what is now Del. 1. Purchased at auction for $200, it was disassembled, then moved to its current site.

“I have always lived in old houses, and the idea of living in an old barn appealed to me,” she says. 

For all their charm, barns in their original state lack the creature comforts needed for human inhabitants. 

Cows carry their coats on their backs. People need closets to store their wardrobes. Goats aren’t fussy about taking showers and other habits of hygiene. Most folks prefer bathrooms. And while chickens are content to hunt and peck for food, people value kitchens where they can prepare and enjoy meals.

A lot of the heavy lifting had already been done when Beebe and her husband bought the barn in 2000 as a weekend and holiday getaway. 

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“The beams were covered with years of bird poop,” she says. “They had to sandblast them, which raised the interesting grain.”

Four large skylights provided additional natural light. Heartwood pine flooring from California had been installed, as well as heating and cooling systems, a rustic kitchen and a bedroom with a master bath.

But there was only one closet, tucked away in the bedroom. There was little space for guests or entertaining.

English antiques were handed down by Diana Beebe’s grandmother//Photos by John Lewis.

Beebe sewed the runner that decorates the country-French table.

Lofty ambitions

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To design a respectful renovation that would add square footage without sacrificing character, the couple turned to Libby Zando of Zando Designs in Milton for what would evolve into a two-stage project.

“I had worked with Diana on a previous home, and it was wonderful working with her again,” Zando says. “I also used to live in Shipcarpenter Square, and I feel a great affinity for that place.”

First, a glassed-in porch was transformed into a large, ground-level guest suite for the Beebes’ disabled son. It created enough room for his exercise equipment. An access ramp is bordered by a raised pond.

“We made it look like an old home with various levels rather than an add-on,” Zando says.

The Beebes took on the second phase in 2007, when they retired and decided to make Lewes their primary home. They added a bedroom to the second-floor loft area, built a screened-in porch and bumped out an area on the first floor, where a dining area easily seats 10 guests.

“Diana loves to entertain,” Zando says. “She has a lot of friends and she uses her home very joyfully.”

Ornaments on the tree.

The stockings hung at the mantel

are pieces of folk art, quilted by hand

Home for the Holidays

During the holidays, Beebe decorates the long country French table (she discovered it at an antiques show) with candles and greenery. (Hint: Good evergreens for cutting are Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine, white pine and boxwood because they don’t drop their leaves and needles as quickly as other greens.) 

Beebe sewed the table runner, as well as the pillows on the sofa in the adjoining family room. A cobbler’s bench serves as a cocktail table, the ideal resting place for a cup of eggnog. The stockings hung at the mantel are pieces of folk art, quilted by hand. 

A longtime educator and former director of the Rehoboth Art League, Beebe is passionate about art. After spending time in Australia on sabbatical in 2003, she began collecting Aboriginal art. Called Dreaming, art is interpreted by the indigenous people as a balance between the spiritual, natural and moral elements of the world. 

The first historic homes were moved to Shipcarpenter Square in the early 1980s. Most were Colonial-style farmhouses built from the late 1700s through the late 1800s in Sussex County. Homes are arranged in a horseshoe around a common green.

The Beebe barn includes both old and new elements. Vintage French tiles are set into the kitchen backsplash. English antiques were handed down from her grandmother. Petite French upholstered chairs are a gift from an aunt. The Madonna and child frieze in the entryway was made by Della Robbia, an English Arts and Crafts Movement pottery from the turn of the 20th century.

A cable rail system on the staircase and second-level loft lends a hip, industrial vibe. The steel cables provide safety for Beebe’s grandchildren without impeding sightlines.

“I have been using cable rail for more than 20 years,” Zando says. “I used to have to order it from California, but now it’s available just about everywhere.”

Zando found the salvaged wood that was repurposed as posts and banisters when she was picking up soil for a landscaping project.

“I am looking around the yard while they are loading the dirt, and I see these beautiful old beams,” she says. “I asked, ‘Can I buy them, too?’”

In addition to guest space, the loft also provides a place for Beebe to sew or work on crafts. 

“It also is a delightful place to read—cozy yet light,” she says.

Zando persuaded the Beebes to brighten their home’s interior by painting the barn wood white. 

“The white creates a beautiful shadow line,” she says. “Lightening wood with gray or white wash also opens up the grain.”

Because barns traditionally have few windows, obtaining natural light is a challenge. The Beebes doubled the light in the kitchen when they found the mate for the one small window in the room.

“It was a perfect match,” Beebe says. “Having two windows instead of one made the kitchen a lot more cheerful.”

They added their own special touches to the space, displaying a collection of French butter presses. Beebe decided to leave the extra-tall kitchen counter as it is.

“Your back doesn’t get sore working at this counter,” she says. “It’s wonderful for making bread.”

You can tour other historic homes on Dec. 5, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., during the 42nd annual Christmas Tour of Lewes, sponsored by the Lewes Historical Society. For tickets or more information, call  645-7670 or visit www.historiclewes.org.  

GO GLOBAL. The Beebe home is filled with art and furnishings from around the world, from art by the Aboriginal people of Australia to elegant antiques from Europe to paintings by local artists.
Introduce compatible contrasts. Modern cable rails and vintage wood railings make a harmonious pair because both exude a loft-like, industrial vibe.
Make your home accessible. An enclosed porch converted to a first-floor suite accommodates the son’s mobility issues while remaining part of the action.
Make space for sharing. The Beebes made their home more inviting by bumping out an area that can accommodate a large dining table.
Let there be light. Skylights, an additional window and white wood walls all make the interior brighter and more cheerful.

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