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Finding the Right-Sized Home

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In the not-too-distant past, Theda Blackwelder lived in a large house in Millsboro. For most of that time, it was a perfect fit. But as her life evolved, her home started to feel too big. She wasn’t quite ready to downsize. Call it mid-sizing, the sweet spot between a house that has too much room and a home that doesn’t have enough space. Her wish list for a new home included an open floor plan that would accommodate gatherings of family and friends, as well as a formal dining room with space for a china cabinet. A garage and lots of closets, including a coat closet, also were must-haves. “I looked at townhouses that were very nice but seemed a bit snug,” she recalls. “I soon realized I might be in for a good long search.” She found her ideal destination in Millsboro, only a few miles from her former home. It isn’t a townhouse. It isn’t a condominium. It’s a three-bedroom house, not too big and not too small. “I think it’s just right,” she says.

Artful decorating

Blackwelder shared her larger home with her late husband, the Rev. David Blackwelder, a Lutheran pastor and psychologist. She, too, is committed to helping the community, serving over the years on the boards of the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover and Opera Delaware in Wilmington. She is the current president of the Village Improvement Association in Rehoboth Beach. With a busy schedule, she appreciates that a newer home doesn’t require much maintenance. She would rather devote her energies to decorating the house. “It’s such great fun, putting a home together,” she says. One of her favorite aspects of interior design is choosing colors, weaving the vibrant hues she loves into the decor. In the kitchen, she painted the walls a warm terra cotta, a crisp contrast to the white cabinetry. In the master bedroom and adjoining bath, the color scheme is a cheerful combination of red, white and black. The arts are an important part of her life, and that is reflected in her home. Masks from operas—Blackwelder sang in the chorus—are displayed on walls. A woodcarving embellished with pebbles from Costa del Sol is a reminder of a trip to Spain with her daughter. A century-old lady’s fan, inlaid with mother -of-pearl, an heirloom from her husband’s family, is framed like a piece of art. In a casual dining area in the first-floor gathering space, the walls are painted with vines and blooms, an artistic nod to the outdoors. A wall-size painting of boats was a gift from a friend who is a painter. “We had loaned him our home, and when he asked how he could pay us, we said, ‘Oh, just paint something,’” she recalls. “We did not expect something so large and impressive.”


Photographs by John Lewis

The Opulent dining room.

The spacious master bedroom. 

Family heirlooms

Blackwelder has fond memories of her grandmother, who collected antiques for many years in her native Virginia. “She wound up with enough furniture to fill three houses,” she says. Her grandmother documented the provenance of each piece, taking down such details as when and where an item was made and who had owned it over the years. Blackwelder, intent on starting her own family, didn’t take much notice at the time. That is one of her rare regrets. “If I had to do it over again, I would have paid more attention,” she says. In mid-sizing, she emulated her grandmother, giving away furniture, accessories and household goods to her three grown children. It’s a satisfying solution on multiple levels. The next generation gets to enjoy the pieces, and Blackwelder experiences the pleasure of passing along family mementos. She has been collecting china and crystal for years. She gave a grandson and a granddaughter each a full set and still has more than enough to stage a fine table in the formal dining room. “I’m a china nut,” she says. “I have dinnerware—some good, some just fun—for most all occasions: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, winter, fall, spring, Fourth of July, plus a special set for when I serve Asian food, a set for serving Italian foods, shells for a beach theme and so on.”

A casual dining area features an artistic nod to the outdoors.

Measure twice

Like downsizing, successful mid-sizing requires lots of preparation. Before she began planning the furniture placement, she took lots of measurements of both the rooms in her new home and the pieces she wanted to put in them. “I could tell where I would place the big things—and what things I could not take with me,” she says. “I had to ask myself a lot of questions. What is important to me? What is not?” Scaling down also means bringing in new pieces that are a better fit. Because the sitting area is used for both formal and informal living, Blackwelder bought a tufted-back sofa in neutral beige in keeping with a more relaxed vibe. “My grandmother’s Duncan Phyfe sofa was very pretty, but it was never comfortable,” she says. Even though her home is smaller, she doesn’t shy away from decorative pieces that make a statement, such as the sailboat model in the sitting area. “We went to pick it up in a van, and it took several passers-by, very helpful women, to figure out how to fit the sailboat in the van,” she recalls. She also rethought the spaces in her new home. For example, Blackwelder didn’t need a second guest bedroom. But she knew she would enjoy a home library, where she could read, reflect and watch films. The room is a pleasant space, with comfortable seating and shelves for books and her DVD collection. A vintage window from a detached garage in Virginia now hangs in the library, its panes replaced with mirrored glass.

The home’s open floor plan accommodates gatherings of family and friends.

‘It had to go’

No matter how many times she reconfigured her layout, there was no place for one of her most cherished pieces, a hand-painted screen. “It’s very large, with birds and gold leaf, and also very heavy,” she says. “So it had to go.” Blackwelder owns a large harp, an instrument she played as part of the National Capital Harp Ensemble in Washington, D.C. She knew she wanted to keep it. But where to place the instrument in her smaller home? The solution was to position the harp on the landing of the second-story hallway, a niche that is open to the first floor. The harp doesn’t disrupt the home’s traffic flow, and there’s plenty of room to practice. Stationed in front of a large window, the harp also provides heavenly curb appeal. “People can see it when they drive by,” she says. “They think an angel lives here.”

The homeowner found the perfect spot for her harp—the second-story landing.

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