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Familiarity Breeds Content


The granite-topped center island seats eight and doubles as a buffet during parties. Photograph by Thom ThompsonThe homeowners have deep roots in Kent County, so it was fitting that they decided to build their home beside a sylvan grove that has stood for generations on the banks of a St. Jones River tributary in Dover. “Both our families are here,” he says. “It’s where we grew up and where our children will grow up.”

They envisioned a large house, with lots of room for friends and relatives, all designed and decorated in a style that makes visitors feel welcome. The couple was fortunate in having an interior designer who already knew a great deal about their lifestyle. Lucy Findlay of Partners in Design in Dover had been a friend of the family for many years.

“I’ve known him since he was three years old,” she says. “I decorated his mother’s house and his uncle’s home.”

The couple wanted to establish a look, flow and vibe that reflected their sensibilities, yet met the practical requirements of two busy professionals with two young children. “The goal was to create a big house that feels cozy and livable, rather than cavernous,” Findlay says.

They worked from the ground up. Planks for the floors were salvaged from Pennsylvania barns and stained in a deep, rich brown. Because the wood is already distressed, there’s no need to worry about dogs and kids adding a few dings.

In the gathering room, a stone fireplace makes a rustic focal point. A large sectional sofa in beige micro suede feels soft and looks luxurious but is impervious to spills.

Panels of beige suede cloth dress the windows without detracting from the views. The panels are trimmed in bands of deep brown for contrast. “We wanted to get some fabric into that room to balance all the wood,” Findlay says.

Kitchen cabinets are painted black to contrast with the floor. Plates, pots and pans are stored in pull-out drawers rather than cupboards. Topped in granite, the big center island seats eight. In addition to casual dining, the surface also serves as a buffet during parties. A microwave drawer—also accessible for kids—and an icemaker are built into the island.

Pull-out columns on either side of the commercial-style range store spices so they are at the ready for the cook. A wall of cupboards accommodates large and seldom-used storage pieces.

Despite its casual feel, the design is thoughtful and sophisticated. There are no white ceilings. Throughout, ceilings are painted in the same soft, earthy tones as the walls. “It’s a wonderful technique in homes with high ceilings,” Findlay says. “It takes your eye right up to the moldings.”

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The homeowners discovered the glass-fronted china closet at a weekly antiques auction in Maryland. Photograph by Thom ThompsonIn the dining room, the ceiling is coffered, giving the space a sense of formality. That is balanced with asymmetry—a contemporary dining table flanked by chairs on one side and a bench on the other. “If you have to squish, there’s more seating on a bench,” the woman says.

The glass-fronted china closet was made in the 1930s. She discovered the piece at the weekly antiques auction in Crumpton, Maryland.

To infuse the room with color, walls are painted in the tomato soup red that the woman loves, then finished with a black wash that Findlay recommended, giving the surface a patina of age. The woman discovered the embroidered floral silk for the curtains. Findlay designed the treatments with matching shears to ensure privacy.

The lovely setting provided distinct architectural challenges. The lot isn’t deep enough to accommodate the 6,500-square-foot home the owners originally wanted. The contractor, Dover native Jeff Garrison, came up with a solution: a house that was a little longer and slightly narrower.

Because they were building custom, the couple could specify such architectural details as wide doorways, 9-foot-tall doors and rounded plaster edges on walls.

Before the walls are closed, the possibilities are wide open. It is the optimum time to install a security system, as well as wiring and speakers for a whole-house sound system. The wires can be upgraded easily as new technology emerges.

The blank slate also enabled the owner to install a custom system of body sprays and jets in the master shower.

“If you were going to put this type of system in an existing bath, it would be an unbelievable hassle having to work with the plumbing and tile that was already there,” the man says.

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A stone fireplace is the focal point of the gathering room. Photograph by Thom ThompsonDespite the bells and whistles, salvaged wood floors give the space the same relaxed and welcoming feel as elsewhere. “Wood is so much less cold and sterile than stone or tile,” Findlay says.

The master suite includes a spacious walk-in closet with special storage. The kids’ closets also are designed with efficiency in mind. They’re outfitted with shelving for toys and games.

In keeping with the philosophy of family-friendly living, the laundry room is on the second floor, only a few steps from bedrooms and bathrooms. “I appreciate not having to go up and down stairs carrying laundry,” the woman says.

Because the homeowners expect to live in the house for many years, there also is infrastructure in place for growth. A playroom will evolve into a space for the children to read and do homework. On the lower level, the man of the house has designated space for a media room. There is plumbing for a future bar.

A screened porch off the second-floor master bedroom offers a great view of the St. Jones. Photograph by Thom ThompsonOutdoors, the family enjoys an ongoing show of wildlife attracted to the trees and water. “We see baby owls, beaver, muskrats, blue herons,” she says.

On the first floor, a large screened porch overlooks the water. In warm months, the family gathers there for meals.

On the second floor, a screened porch off the master bedroom gives the couple a bird’s-eye view, as well as a sanctuary where they can drink in the summer night air without the intrusion of mosquitoes.

“Decks and balconies are nice,” he says, “but it sure is nice to enjoy the feeling of being outdoors without having to worry about bugs.”

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  • In deciding how to dress your windows, consider the view outside. In the Dover house, the homeowners kept draperies simple on the windows on the back of the house, so as not to obstruct the view. On the street side, they opted for more elaborate treatments, paired with shears that provide privacy.
  • Lift a room by painting the ceiling the same color as the walls, rather than flat ceiling white. The technique wraps the room in color and shows off crown moldings.
  • Maximize your potential for organization with infrastructure. In the Dover house, the kids are learning a valuable lesson on keeping things in place, thanks, in part, to built-in shelves in their closets, which make it easy to be tidy.
  • Invite summer breezes in—and keep bugs out—with screened porches. A first-floor porch is ideal for dining, while a second-floor porch off the master bedroom is a serene sanctuary.

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