As a real estate broker, Stephen Mottola sells homes for a living. Even when he isn’t working, Mottola spends a lot of time on the home front. He is a serial renovator, buying intriguing properties, then putting his own personal stamp on them.
“Most people think of a renovation as a big headache, but I actually enjoy it,” he says. “It’s exciting to see my ideas take shape.”
Mottola has renovated and resided in 16 properties over the past 30 years, from the Jersey shore to Florida. His first fixer-upper was in Wilmington’s historic Quaker Hill neighborhood. Since then, he has lived in nearly a dozen other neighborhoods in and around the city.
His latest home is a red brick, two-story Colonial in Woodbrook, a sylvan neighborhood in North Wilmington. Built in 1962, the house is a chip shot from DuPont Country Club, with a clear vista of the links.
“I loved the view,” he says. “And I knew I could make the floor plan open.”
At 3,500 square feet, the house was already large. Mottola added 700 square feet of living space, plus a garage.
He also took down walls and redefined the existing space, starting by expanding a cramped foyer into a grander entry. He vaulted a section of ceiling into the second floor to create a tray ceiling with a large pendant chandelier.
The foyer sets the tone for what guests can expect in the rest of the house. A turned staircase is done in a Chinese Chippendale pattern, echoing Asian accents that are sprinkled throughout rooms in upholstery fabrics, wallpaper and lighting.
Mottola has been collecting Chinese export porcelain since his college days. Blue-and-white plates, bowls and vases are arranged in vignettes throughout the house.
“I’ve bought pieces in Copenhagen, England, all over the United States,” he says. “I have a bowl that I love that I found at a yard sale in Nantucket.”
The urn sits on a contemporary glass console table that is paired with an antique grandfather’s clock and an 18th-century desk and Chippendale chair. “Mixing things that are old with things that are modern makes a house interesting,” he says.
The family room
The Queen Anne chairs in the dining room were handed down from his grandparents. Mottola teamed the traditional pieces with a circular glass-topped table on a rattan base. “I love a round table for a dinner party,” he says.
In the informal dining area, he reinvented wood Windsor chairs from his previous home, taking them to an auto body shop for a shiny coat of lime green paint. “I keep my favorite things when I move,” he says. “The rest goes on to other places.”
The 18th-century highboy in a bedroom was stationed in a dining room in his previous home. An antique chest in the formal living room was in a bedroom.
He worked with Megan Gorelick, a Wilmington-based interior designer, on custom furniture for the formal living room. The space is anchored by two sofas placed back to back in the center of the room.
“It’s a large room with two great views at either end: the fireplace and the golf course,” he says. “By having two conversation areas, people get to enjoy both.”
The space is a study in neutrals and contrasting textures, with soft, matte beige upholstered furniture and shimmering, lacquered walls and ceiling. The walls are a gallery of sorts for part of Mottola’s extensive art collection.
Almost every square foot of the home has been transformed with such niceties as recessed lighting, crown moldings, a whole-house sound system and new, oversized windows with hinged shutters. The makeover required nine months of work and an investment of more than $1 million.
The master bedroom
A sumptuous master suite is dressed in crisp and masculine navy and white. Built-in cabinetry flanks the fireplace. The lacquered tray ceiling above the bed conjures visions of a velvety night sky.
A walk-out basement is now an additional space for entertaining, with a cozy seating area for guests. The bathroom is outfitted with a large steam shower.
The only vestige of the original bathrooms is a gray-tiled shower in the en suite bath that adjoins a spacious guest room.
Mottola gave each bathroom a unique look, raising the ceiling in a guest bath to 10 feet and installing plank-style tile in a chevron pattern in the shower. The ceiling in the shower in the master bath is tiled in marble mosaic in a black-and-white basket-weave motif. The walls are sheathed in glossy gray tile from Italy.
Outdoors, an intimate terrace in front of the house, “a great place for a cocktail,” offers a view of the golf course. An expansive covered patio behind the house is warmed with a stacked stone fireplace.
The change that made the biggest impact was siting a large chef’s kitchen in the space previously dedicated to an attached garage.
“It didn’t make any sense for the garage to have the best view of the golf course,” he says.
Mottola enjoys cooking. He also likes to entertain, hosting a holiday party for 350 guests. So he was intent on a kitchen that could accommodate a single cook as adroitly as a team of caterers.
The spacious kitchen
To that end, the kitchen is equipped with professional-style appliances. An 18-foot-long center island provides lots of space for prep. For custom, raised-panel cabinets, he turned to Goebel Cabinetry, a family-owned business in Exton, Pa.
“I was impressed with their hand-dovetailed doors,” he says. “And their designer is phenomenal. She even found a way to incorporate storage into the range hood, which I had never seen before.”
It’s a classic look, with white cabinets, nickel pulls and a farm-style sink positioned under a window that faces the golf course. Tile in an arched, Italianate pattern is laid from the countertops to the ceiling.
The space previously dedicated to the kitchen was transformed into a bar and service area, with walnut cabinetry that looks as if it might be at home in an Edwardian men’s club. A mosaic stone backsplash blends varying hues of gray, like a herringbone tweed jacket.
“It’s set in sheets, only four-by-four, so it’s very precise and totally unique,” Mottola says. “As many houses as I’ve done, I have done something new and different in every one.”
Explore new finishes. In the Mottola home, a brick fireplace surround was replaced with soapstone, echoing the countertops in an adjacent bar area. Panes of antique glass are set into the back of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, reflecting more light into the room. / Strive for seamless transitions. Planks from the existing oak floors were interspersed with new planks in a kitchen addition to integrate the two spaces. / Be creative with storage. The kitchen includes a pull-out spice drawer and storage for large serving pieces tucked behind the paneled doors of a range hood. A wall oven for caterers is stationed in a walk-in pantry. / Try something new. Mottola’s house includes lacquered walls and backsplash tiles that extend to the ceiling. / Reinterpret traditional features. Mirrored panels are set into closet doors in the guest rooms. Monograms are woven into skirted seat covers for dining chairs.