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In Seaford, Updating an Inherited Childhood Home

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In many ways, the ideal home is like a good mother. It’s warm and welcoming, a place where you feel safe—and special.

So when Jay Deputy inherited his mother’s longtime home in Seaford, it struck him as the right place for a downstate getaway. The house, a red brick, single-story house built in the Colonial style, sits on a large, shaded lot.

“One of the things I like about this house is the rooms are human scaled,” he says. “I can comfortably entertain six, maybe eight. At this stage of life when I entertain, I want it to be more intimate so I can learn about people.”

Throughout his adult life, Deputy has collected homes and their furnishings the way some folks collect art or jewelry or classic cars. The largest was a 13,000-square-foot mansion in St. Paul, Minn., where he hosted gatherings for 400 guests. He currently owns a loft in New York City and a centuries-old farmhouse in North Wilmington.

The Seaford house was built in 1968 in a community of DuPonters who were frequently transferred in and out of southern Delaware. When Deputy’s parents, John and Lillian, bought the property in 1970, they became its third owners.

When his father died suddenly of a heart attack in 1986, his mother redecorated. “That’s as it should be,” he says. “Part of moving on is making a house one’s own.”

The next generation

After Deputy’s mother died in 2009, the house was again ready for change. The first order of business was to stabilize and update the structure by repairing termite damage and installing new heating and air conditioning. He also restored the columns on the front porch, then set out rockers and casual seating where visitors can take in a view of hydrangeas.

Deputy also set about making the yard and garden more manageable, in keeping with a home away from home.

“I have taken out nine trees, and the leaves are still impossible,” he says. “It remains a work in progress.”

Photo by Jim Coarse//Moonloop Photography

Inside, Deputy focused on the entertaining spaces: a formal living room, a library, a dining room and a sunroom. He also decorated the master bedroom and guestrooms. He made only a few cosmetic changes in the baths. The kitchen—complete with its original Corian countertops, plank cabinets and wrought-iron hinges—he left alone.

“This is as it was when my parents lived here, and it is still a very serviceable kitchen,” he says.

When Deputy was growing up, the library, with dark paneling and a red brick fireplace, served as a family room. He freshened the space by removing the paneling and painting the walls and fireplace soft celadon green, inspired by the leaves in the floral needlepoint rug that came from his grandmother’s house in Bethlehem, Pa.

He found matching Baker settees at William Bunch Auctions and Appraisals in Chadds Ford, then had them reupholstered in a exuberant claret-and-ivory toile by Brunschwig & Fils that depicts pheasants, hunting dogs and woodland flora.

“Red and green are complementary colors, and the walls and the toile feel very comfortable together,” he says. “Originally, I painted the walls butterscotch, but it was all wrong.”

There are accents of black throughout the room: a painted tole tray on the wall behind the sideboard, silk shades on the brass chandelier and a small, painted cocktail table.

An Empire-inspired mahogany bookcase crafted in the 19th century displays antique volumes and Chinese porcelains, including monochrome celadon porcelains that subtly reflect the room’s palette. The bookcase is flanked by a pair of Chippendale chairs made in the 18th century. 

“They are slightly uncomfortable so I give them to people I don’t really like,” he says. “Then I say I am just kidding.”

PHOTO BY JIM COARSE//MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

‘A comfortable existence’

Deputy’s mother was a noted gardener and flower show judge who enjoyed entertaining. The younger Deputy also is an accomplished host, though his decorating style differs.

“Mom was a little more country, gravitating toward comfortable pieces, while I am a bit more formal,” he says. “But we both love Chippendale.”

The mahogany sideboard is an artful reproduction. Vintage Waterford crystal decanters and heirloom decanters that belonged to his grandmother hold a collection of rare Scotches.

“To come in this room on a cool-ish night with a little Scotch and some Mozart around the fireplace is a comfortable existence,” he says.

The St. Paul mansion took a full 10 years to restore, so Deputy picked up some tricks of the trade along the way.

“I became a quite good plasterer and learned how to use hammers and saws,” he says.

He hired out a lot of the work on the Seaford project, but took a hands-on approach to tasks he enjoys, especially painting.

“I have my little iPod and I listen to Bach, get in the zone and paint,” he says. “Painting gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and the effect is immediate.”

He also is fond of wallpaper. In the formal dining room, he chose a bold, blue-and-white Brunschwig & Fils paper depicting birds and vines. The dining chairs were made in the Chippendale style by Maison Jansen, known for its attention to historical detail. The dining table and breakfront, which once belonged to his aunt, are mid-century reproductions by Henredon.

PHOTO BY JIM COARSE//MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

“This kind of furniture is like Brooks Brothers is to clothing,” he says. “They are beautiful pieces that all go together and are always appropriate. Why would you purchase something if you already have something that works?”

His grandmother’s 1920s Chinese rug is at home with the oversized antique Chinese vases stationed on either side of the breakfront. A pair of 18th-century gilt-wood sconces with their original mirrors feature elaborate scrollwork that mimics the curves of the vines in the wallpaper. 

“The person I bought them from says they are absolutely French, but the carvings suggest that they are English,” he says. “I will research them and eventually find where they come from. I love the provenance of antiques, the history.”

Family heirlooms

In the sunroom, Deputy painted his mother’s white-washed wicker furniture black, adding cushions of claret-and-cream toile. Unmatched Asian-influenced chandeliers are unified with a glossy coat of crimson enamel. Lemon trees and lush, leafy plants give the space a tropical vibe.

“If it’s a really gray day and I’m out there, it’s really quite pleasant,” he says.

In the formal living room, his grandmother’s camelback sofa is upholstered in shimmering gold silk.

“It’s the fabric that was on the sofa when I was a child—and I’m 58 years old,” he says.

Cream walls are a neutral backdrop for a pair of wing chairs in coral and an Oriental carpet in shades of pink, blue, orange and gold. 

“I like color a lot, and I am certainly not afraid to use it,” he says.

A partner’s desk with brasses dates back to 1740. Deputy bought it at an auction in Houston, Texas. The mahogany desk with flame finials was crafted in Delaware. “It’s quite fine with niches and secret compartments,” he says.

The end tables on either side of the sofa are 18th-century commodes. “One my grandmother had,” Deputy says. “One I found.” The screen behind the sofa is from China—“magnificent stone, cut very thin.”

After his mother died, Deputy discovered his boyhood collections of minerals and baseball cards in the attic. It was a reminder of his lifelong affection for collecting.

“Things we find, things that have age, things we collect have a certain weightedness,” he says, “I love it when people come in here, look at something and say, ‘Tell me about that.’”


GET THE LOOK

Embrace family heirlooms. The sofa in the formal living room once belonged to Jay Deputy’s grandmother. She also passed down the needlepoint rug and crystal decanters in the library. Consider complementary colors. Vibrant ruby and soft celadon are variations of red and green, colors found opposite one another on the color wheel. Use paint to reinterpret pieces. In the sunroom, white-washed wicker furniture was painted black for a sophisticated, year-round look. Two different chandeliers are now unified with glossy red paint. A red brick fireplace was updated with green paint. Plan rooms to reflect the way you entertain. Deputy arranged seating in small groupings that are conducive to conversation. Focus on priorities. The homeowner concentrated on gathering spaces—and left the serviceable kitchen alone.  

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