A Sneak Peek at the Delaware Designer Showhouse

An aging contemporary home has been transformed into a thoroughly new stunner.

Only slightly off the beaten track, a mid-century-style home built for a DuPont executive started life as a hip party house. More than four decades later, the house is again a scene for celebration as the Delaware Designer Showhouse, which features the creative ideas of nearly 20 area interior and landscape designers.

The current owners are planning to sell the property, located in a sylvan setting off Kennett Pike in Centreville. Their original intention was to give the home and grounds an update before listing it. But when the opportunity came up to host a show house sponsored by the Junior League of Wilmington, they raised the bar to a whole-house makeover.

Built in 1974 on 3.5 acres of woods with two ponds, the property was designed for entertaining. The house is 4,400 square feet, yet seems even more spacious, thanks to expansive views of the outdoors.

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As a certified wildlife habitat, conservation is the priority for the landscaping. Red Tail Restoration & Land Management of Aston removed invasive plants, then replaced them with native plants that highlight early fall color through flowers or foliage, including spicebush, Joe-Pye weed and white wood aster. 

“The owners had put great care into the forest surrounding their home, which allowed us to put an equal focus on aesthetics as well as environmental improvements,” says Red Tail owner Greg Gagliano. “It’s a beautiful example of a natural environment that supports a diversity of plants and wildlife.” 

The conversation area of the family room centers on the apricot stone fireplace.

Art meets life

An extensive collection of contemporary art that had been amassed by the homeowners serves as inspiration for designers throughout the home. Many local artists are featured, including Caroline Chen, Graham Dougherty, Ed Loper, Ken Mabrey, Jon Mort and Vicki Vinton.

Mabrey and Chen, two of Wilmington designer Megan Gorelick’s favorites, inspired the color scheme in a sophisticated yet playful bedroom.

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“With the pale pink textured grass cloth as the backdrop, the rest of the color scheme needed to be crisp, clean and cool,” she says. “I fell in love with Kate Spade’s first-ever collection with Kravet fabrics at the launch party this spring.”

The dressers are a mix of textured wallpaper with lacquer, which gives them a vintage feel that plays off of the room’s mirrors. The mirrors were discovered at a hip Palm Beach resale shop. True black hardwood floors contrast with high-gloss white moldings. High-gloss black doors and a pale blue ceiling are Gorick signatures.

Kate FitzGerald-Wilks of Timeless Design in Landenberg was inspired by the home’s mid-century architecture, unique stone and natural surroundings. “My goal was to create a family room that is serene, laid-back and connected to nature,” she says. 

The room is made up of two distinct conversational areas. A cocktail grouping consists of a tree trunk table encircled by mid-century rattan lounge chairs. The conversation area centers on the apricot stone fireplace, which inspired the color scheme. The room is lit by an outdoor-inspired chandelier of bronze branches and candles. 

The vibe extends to the dining room, designed by Cheryl Umbles of Newark. Saturated tones of Turkish ikats, Latin-inspired linens and African batik art give the room a well-traveled feeling. Instead of traditional dining room seating, there’s a bench and table seating in the round that encourages conversation.

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“Sitting down to dinner should excite your palate even before the table is set,” Umbles says. “The wall of windows and wraparound deck beckoned me to create a bold, colorful statement that was as dramatic to view from inside or out.”

The office features a needlepoint rug from Asmara, memo boards and comfortable seating.

Emphasis on the environment

In the kitchen, by Zoe Hewitt Designs, the focal point is the earthy green island with a live-edge wood breakfast bar overhang. The cabinets are handmade custom cherry wood in a natural finish.

A designer’s office by Karen Helme Designs of FOUND in Centreville focuses on comfortable seating, a desk, a drafting table, memo boards and other tools of the trade. The needlepoint rug is from Asmara. Soft earth tones and an array of opulent finishes—leather, marble, fur, glass and old wood—were chosen to complement the wooded views from the windows. 

The master bathroom, designed by Ellen Cheever & Associates and Joseph Giorgi of Giorgi Kitchens & Designs, was inspired by the organic contemporary architecture of the home—with a little Broadway theater for pizazz. A combination of textured Porcelanosa tiles are used on the floor and shower walls to complement wood-like Plain & Fancy custom cabinet fronts. Highly veined Cambria quartz forms a dramatic shower tower floating in a glass wall. The black, gray, white and rust colors in the quartz reflect the owners’ art displayed in the room.

The designers did not overlook safety features. The floor’s textured finish helps to avoid slips. A special grab bar also serves as a storage ledge in the shower. 

“We created a bathroom to serve as both an organized personal space to start a busy day in—and an elegant place to end an evening,” Cheever says. 

Unique features

The walls of the artist’s studio
are color-washed and display the room
designer’s dog portraits.

There are creative finishes and materials throughout the house. A few notable examples:

• The basement floor, by Floorguard in Newark, is coated in an epoxy that contains metallic dust to create a shimmering effect. Overture Ultimate Home Electronics of Wilmington installed high-end video and audio capable of entertaining a crowd on game day.

• A pool table crafted in rustic knotted pine was made by Monarch Billiards of Crum Lynne, Pa.

• A powder room designed by Mike Dodson of Wilmington sparkles with an array of mirrored finishes. (Of the full baths, two were totally redone, and one received an elegant facelift.) 

• The stained glass sidelights in the foyer, by Lore Evans of Glass Gallery, combines green wispy and water glass, iridescent dragonflies and orange agates for a pop of color that complements the tones of the stone in the entryway.

• A contemporary living room by Nile Johnson Interior Design of Kennett Square takes its cue from a major architectural feature: a wall of windows.

• Jeanne Buzby and Kerri Kelly took their cue from the environment in decorating a guest bedroom with white walls accented with blues and greens. The mix includes a 1950s console, ginger jar-patterned linen bedding and well-crafted personal accessories by British designer India Hicks. “Our passion for unique and eclectic elements is woven into our design,” Kelly says.

• L.L. Clayton of LouLou’s Whimsicals in Philadelphia created an artist’s studio inspired by the Bloomsbury Group’s Charleston house in England, a retreat for such luminaries as writer Virginia Woolf, art critic Clive Bell and other intellectuals of the 20th century. Walls and doors are color washed and subtly illustrated to conjure images of poets and artists. Clayton’s portraits of dogs hang on the walls. 

• A deck by Janice Hoffman of Sweetwater Design is an extension of the home that offers spaces for relaxing, dining and entertaining. Inspired by mid-century architecture and nature, it’s an eclectic look that blends sleek contemporary furnishings, antiques and repurposed pieces with a natural palette and variety of textures and finishes.

Parking is limited. Guests who tour the showhouse will be shuttled to the property from a parking lot nearby. The address? Organizers are keeping it a secret to protect the homeowners’ privacy.

IF YOU GO: The Delaware Designer Showhouse benefits its principal sponsor, the Junior League of Wilmington, as well as four other nonprofits: Delaware Nature Society, The Delaware Contemporary, Delaware Fund for Women and Oxford Art Alliance. The showhouse will be open Thursdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays, noon-5 p.m., through Oct. 16. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. For details, go to www.delawareshowhouse.com.

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