Dawn Buckworth’s house is called Leftovers, an architectural casserole of bricks, wood and iron salvaged from old country houses in southern New Castle County and put together in the English style of the 18th century.
On the exterior, there are four varieties of red brick, louvered black shutters on the front door and a gambrel-style roof sheathed in cedar shakes. Inside, visitors will find wide-planked pine floors, elegant wood-paneled walls, carved chair rails and wavy glass panes set into mullioned windows.
“When I look out the window, through that old glass, it’s like looking into the past,” Buckworth says.
Although the house looks as if it has stood since Colonial days, it was built in 1955 as quarters for the curator of the Historic Houses of Odessa, a community of homes preserved for the public by philanthropist H. Rodney Sharp.
Buckworth grew up nearby, the daughter of William “Bucky” and Jeanne Buckworth, preservation buffs and old house aficionados. Mrs. Buckworth managed Sharp’s office for many years and persuaded him to sell her the January House, built in 1772 across Main Street from the site where Leftovers stands.
Seventeen years ago, when Leftovers came on the market, Mrs. Buckworth had the inside track.
“No one dreamed it would ever be for sale,” her daughter recalls. “I was shocked when mom called to tell me it was available.”
Buckworth was teaching school in Wilmington, where she had bought a house several years earlier. Her mother suggested she take a look at Leftovers.
Initially, she hesitated. Did she want to leave the city for life in Odessa, population 364? Did she want to live across the street from her mom and dad? Did she want to take on a historic property and its maintenance issues?
Still, it doesn’t hurt to look. Buckworth drove to Leftovers. She walked up the granite steps, opened the big raised-panel door and passed beneath the transom, with its shimmering bull’s-eye glass. In an instant she had her answers.
Yes, yes and yes.
“I didn’t even have to see the rest of the house,” she recalls. “I knew that I wanted it.”
Page 2: Keeping it Real
Buckworth beamed when she saw the vintage lantern that illuminates the foyer. She embraced the textured plaster on the interior walls, finished in authentic 18th-century fashion. She admired the antique Delft tiles imported from Holland that surround the fireplace in the expansive parlor.
“But the kitchen counter had to go,” she says.
And it did. Out went weary laminate and in came blue-and-white tiles edged in wood. Buckworth also put in wide pine planks on the floor.
She decided to make do with the metal cabinets that were installed when the house was built, painting them the Wedgwood blue she came to love during frequent trips to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
Mrs. Buckworth remembers Sharp as being most interested in the authentic areas of old homes, before the amenities of modern life put their stamp on blueprints.
“Mr. Sharp didn’t care about kitchens and bathrooms,” she says. “But if the plaster on the walls wasn’t just as it should be, he would have it taken out and done it over again.”
At Leftovers, Buckworth strives for authenticity, removing the wiring in the brass chandelier in her dining room and replacing the bulbs with candles. The built-in cupboard with butterfly shelves and raised paneling on the fireplace wall are the real deal, salvaged from a house built in the 18th century.
The cherry dining table was a gift from a much loved late aunt, Miriam Douglas, who also was a teacher. (The original receipt is neatly stored in the sideboard.) The silver tea service was a gift from Buckworth’s father to her mother, given the year she was born. The mirror with the elaborate mahogany frame was made by Ronald W. Starnes, a celebrated local cabinetmaker, and passed on by his family after his death.
Page 3: A Perfect Fit
Yet the homeowner is very much a woman of the 21st century. She added a cheerful sunroom to the rear of the house, incorporating a brick archway from what once was a screened porch. Tradesmen used four kinds of bricks to seamlessly match the exterior of the existing structure.
Buckworth furnished the space in blue and su
nny yellow, with wicker furniture and cushions upholstered in a print fabric in a beach umbrella motif. It’s a favorite gathering space, with rocking chairs always at the ready for frequent guests.
The sunroom has a seamed tin roof, which enhances the Colonial vibe and provides an acoustical connection with nature.
“It sounds wonderful in the rain, listening to that soft drumming overhead,” Buckworth says.
When she bought the house, Leftovers boasted a formal front garden of mature boxwood hedges and a walkway paved with pea gravel. She meticulously restored the white picket fence, removing and sanding each picket before reassembling the fence and adding a fresh coat of paint.
She planted a climbing hydrangea on the house—much prettier and less invasive than ivy—and created a private retreat on the back of the property with a pea gravel patio beneath the shade of a towering magnolia tree.
Returning to Odessa proved a perfect fit for Buckworth, who now teaches fifth grade at Cedar Lane Elementary School in Middletown. She has adjusted to the sweet and soulful pace of Odessa time, antiquing with her mother, trading tools and pleasantries with neighbors, and kayaking on the Appoquinimink with friends.
“When I pull in the driveway, I feel a sense of instant peace,” she says. “I am truly home.”
Integrate the past. At Leftovers, four kinds of bricks were used to construct the sunroom addition to seamlessly match the existing structure.
Garden creatively. The grounds surrounding the Leftovers house include formal boxwood hedges in front and a casual entertaining space in back, with groundcovers of pea gravel and ivy. There is not a blade of grass to be mowed or watered in this low-maintenance, drought-tolerant setting.
Invest in the “wow” factor. The cedar shakes on the English-style gambrel roof are far more expensive than synthetic shingles but are an invaluable element of the home’s curb appeal.
Surround yourself with things you love. Dawn Buckworth brought in beachy fabrics in her sunroom, a table from a beloved aunt in her dining room and, in the kitchen, a collection of bell jars gathered from her travels.
Make over rather than tear down. In the kitchen, tired laminate counters were replaced with tile, and pine planks were installed on a damaged floor. But the original metal cabinets remain in place.
Page 4: Sharp Dressed House | Long before he became a philanthropist, H. Rodney Sharp was a 20-year-old schoolmaster in Odessa.
Long before he became a philanthropist, H. Rodney Sharp was a 20-year-old schoolmaster in Odessa.
The once-thriving grain port had already slipped into a long nap in 1902, when Sharp left town after only two years for life above the canal. He would marry a du Pont heiress, prosper at the DuPont Co. and donate a fortune to his alma mater, the University of Delaware.
But he never forgot Odessa, a microcosm of architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. “Mr. Sharp loved Odessa,” says Dawn Buckworth, who has lived in the town almost all of her life. “His devotion shows through in the wonderful architecture you find here.”
Sharp set about creating a living history lesson with a settlement of 10 historic buildings and a Colonial Revival garden.
He famously purchased wallpaper hand-painted in 1770 off the walls of an English manor to install in the Corbit-Sharp house, the centerpiece of his park. A swarm of restorationists opened up beehive ovens that had been cold for a century and painstakingly analyzed paint scrapings to duplicate the vivid pinks, blues and wintergreens on the original plaster walls.
Over time, some of the properties, including the January House, where Buckworth’s parents live, became private homes.
Sharp died in 1968. The next year, Winterthur took over the operation of the houses that remained open to the public. The Historic Odessa Foundation has been the keeper of the town’s historic flame since 2005, offering tours of five meticulously preserved houses, outbuildings and gardens, including its celebrated Holidays in Odessa event.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to view firsthand how Delawareans lived—and decorated—in centuries past. A few tips to take home: Create a still life with bowls of fresh fruit, dress windows with simple swags, polish the silver, display it on a sideboard and enjoy it every day.
The Historic Houses of Odessa are open to the public March through December, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m.–4:30 p.m. Guests may visit Monday through Wednesday by reservation. The houses are closed January and February, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Adults $10; groups, seniors and students $8; children under 5 are free. Visit historicodessa.org, or call 378-4119. —Eileen Smith Dallabrida