Bidder Homes and Gardens

Perseverance and some savvy about auctions helped this family land its dream home at a bargain price.

The dining room’s pale blue walls are a backdrop for the china collection. Photograph by John LewisNona Cunane Van Deusen has an affinity for great design, top quality and a real deal.

She is the founder and CEO of Stylebug, which offers designer fashions at deep discounts, first online and now also at a storefront in Wilmington.

So when she and her husband Herb went looking for a new house, they took a similar approach, searching for the best value in a luxury home. In today’s real estate market, that often translates to finding a high-end property offered as a short sale.

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“It’s a lengthy process and a lot of work,” Van Deusen says. “But we were willing to roll up our sleeves, wade in, and do all the research it takes to find the ideal property.”

The couple thought they had found the perfect fit for themselves and their three young daughters in a 7,000-square-foot farmhouse-style home on two acres in an exclusive development in Landenberg. Previously sold for more than $1 million, the property was in foreclosure and had been empty for three years.

A former owner had removed lighting fixtures, some of the carpet needed to be replaced, and water had made its way into part of the basement.

But there was much to recommend the house, which is set in a wooded enclave where trees provide a natural buffer from neighbors. The home retained its top-of-the-line kitchen, with granite countertops, spacious cherry cabinets and professional-style appliances. The Van Deusens appreciated the craftsmanship of the stone exterior as well as interior architectural details, including arched doorways and columns.

“We brought in people to look at things that should be repaired,” she recalls. “We visited the property at least 10 times before we made an offer.”

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The bank at first turned down the couple’s bid. But their chance to buy the house wasn’t gone yet because the lender opted to sell the house at auction. So Nona and Herb decided to give it one last try.

It was a natural decision for Van Deusen, who grew up watching her dad buy and sell heavy equipment at auction. She also has bid on art and antiques with her mother many times over the years, winning such unique finds as the hand-painted portfolio of an artist who designed wallpaper for more than 20 years, starting in the 1930s.

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The kitchen island is the hub of the house. Photograph by John LewisHaving experience in buying at auction was a definite plus,” Van Deusen says. “We also had the advantage of having researched the property thoroughly so we wouldn’t be stuck with unforeseen problems.”

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When the gavel went down, the Van Deusens were surprised and delighted. The house was theirs for $495,000, plus a 5 percent buyer’s premium. The price was significantly less than what they originally offered the bank.

They immediately set to work stabilizing and improving the house. The lower level, now dry as a bone, is home to an au pair suite, an exercise room and an entertainment center. Herb installed the projector and sound system. “He’s an engineer,” Van Deusen says. “It’s great having someone who knows how to make things work.”

In the large, open foyer, there is a portrait of the couple on their wedding day, an artist’s interpretation of the Van Deusens at their reception. There also is a painting of the 18th-century farmhouse in Newark that was Nona’s girlhood home, as well as a portrait of the new house.

The pale blue walls in the dining room are a backdrop for her collection of Flow Blue china, which was made by English potters in the 1700s in the slightly blurred style of Chinese porcelain.

She bought the Queen Anne cherry table and chairs at auction. The furniture is top quality, but a little too traditional on its own. So Van Deusen balanced the curved, cherry pieces with a clean-lined, black-painted hutch. She stationed a pair of chairs upholstered in printed blue fabric—with black, painted legs—at the head and foot of the table.

Overhead is a black, wrought-iron chandelier. Large glass hurricane shades showcase clusters of blue hydrangeas on the table. “It doesn’t look like your grandmother’s dining room,” she says. “The black makes it look more contemporary, much more interesting.”

A stone fireplace is the focal point of the family room, a space that is open to the kitchen and dining area. The earth tones in the stone are reflected in the carpets and wood floors, creating a welcoming feeling of harmony that unifies the spaces.

“I like warmth and casual, but neat,” Van Deusen says. “I don’t like clutter. I like to come home to an organized house.”

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Nona with Ava, 3, and twins Holland and Stalena, 18 months. Photograph by John LewisA long farmhouse table is flanked by Windsor chairs on one side and a simple bench on the other. It’s a multi-purpose space, a hub for informal dining, as well as art projects for the girls.

Van Deusen’s favorite spot is the center island in the kitchen, the hub of the house.

“I feel happy and peaceful sitting there with my husband, having a glass of wine and talking about our day,” she says.

A sumptuous master suite includes a cozy seating area and a luxurious bath. The plush ivory carpet was already in the house.

She created a serene, sedate sanctuary with a pale, tone-on-tone palette and opulent fabrics. The small sofa and club chairs in the seating area are upholstered in muted checks and floral prints. The bed is dressed in hushed hues of sand and cream.

 The family enjoys the property’s gardens from rocking chairs on the front porch. Photograph by John Lewis“I wanted it to be soft and cool and comfortable,” Van Deusen says. “I need a place to rest—and to rest my eyes.”

Those soothing surroundings are heightened by luxurious linens, starting with the high-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed. “It’s a return to the hotel,” she says. “It’s enjoying nice sheets and towels every day at home.”

Outdoors, the couple expanded their open-air living area, installing a brick pathway that links an existing deck with a new patio of pavers. Rocking chairs are stationed on the front porch.

“I love to sit out here with my girls,” Van Deusen says. “We rock, we look at the trees, and we enjoy the peace and quiet.”


  • Incorporate a sense of warmth into family spaces with earth tones and fabrics such as chenille.
  • Think of your bedroom as a suite in a fabulous hotel. Dress the bed in high-thread-count sheets of Egyptian cotton, in white or ivory. Invest in luxurious white towels for the bath.
  • Update a traditional look by introducing contemporary pieces. Nona Van Deusen added modern upholstered chairs to rev up her Queen Anne dining furniture.
  • Vintage wood and textiles balance the tile, stone, porcelain and metals found in modern bathrooms. An antique bench with a needlepoint seat gives the master bath a heightened feeling of luxury and substance.
  • Look for unique finds at auction. A hand-painted rendering of flowers by a wallpaper artist is now framed as one-of-a-kind botanical art.

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