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This 1959 North Wilmington Midcentury Modern Home Is a Beauty

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A white Noguchi pendant light, reminiscent of a full moon, suspends from wood rafters in a sitting room. Vintage stools are perched in front of a stone fireplace. Flagstone from the front entrance continues into the foyer floor to create a seamless entry into this midcentury modern home in Wilmington./Photos by David Heitur

Originally built for artist Carolyn Blish, this sleek and sophisticated Delaware abode brings California style to the East Coast.

The midcentury house George Marrone calls home is sleek and sophisticated yet warm and welcoming.

Call it Mad Men meets The Brady Bunch. The post-and-beam home in North Wilmington he shares with partner Michael Nocera and two Olde English Bulldoges was built in 1959. Its multilevel, open-concept design and large expanses of glass create a fresh, unfettered connection to nature. Picture sipping martinis in a treehouse.

“For me, midcentury design is all about organic simplicity, fluid and clean-lined without anything superfluous,” Marrone says. “Every room has a view, and any time of year is beautiful, although autumn is my favorite.”

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The home was built for artist Carolyn Blish and her husband Stanley, a DuPont executive. The design incorporated many of the high-end accoutrements of midcentury homes. A mezzanine gallery overlooks the foyer. A three-sided, see-through stone fireplace warms sitting rooms on either side and the adjoining dining area. The homeowners hope to someday refurbish the charcoal grill and ventilation hood in the living room.

“Carolyn envisioned a California modern vibe that wasn’t common in this area,” Marrone recalls.

When he bought the house 12 years ago, he was delighted so many of the original features were intact. That made it easier to look beyond faded shag carpeting and an overgrown lot.

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In bringing the house back to a hip and healthy state, the couple retained whatever they could. In the kitchen, an electric cooktop was beyond repair. But the angular metal hood above it, designed by Blish, was still functioning. The floating oak stairs in the foyer were freed from carpet, sanded and finished in clear coat.

Marrone’s keen eye and Nocera’s able hands proved to be the perfect partnership. Marrone keeps the house looking stylish; Nocera keeps it running.

The couple made a difficult choice in painting dark wood doors and woodwork white. It turned out to be a sound design decision, brightening the house while not detracting from the integrity of the architecture.

Photos by David Heitur

“I think anyone looking to restore but still honor a home’s roots has to tackle this kind of dilemma,” Marrone says. “Since the house has other dark wood elements in the beams and ceilings already, the white trim and windows brought balance to the space.”

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Natural light from large glass panels above and on either side of the front door cascades into the dining room on the lower level. Plate glass windows visually connect an interior lounge to the patio. Cork floors enhance the vintage vibe in the kitchen. A mezzanine is a bridge from the foyer to the second floor./Photo by David Heitur

In decorating the house, he has been able to indulge his love of collecting. Among his finds is a rosewood Mies van der Rohe Barcelona daybed, snapped up at auction for $2,000. He discovered a Louis Poulsen PH 5 pendant lamp online when the University of Copenhagen was selling off fixtures. He showed up bright and early at a house sale and was rewarded with a Knoll petal patio table.

The AP-19 wingback chair by Danish modern master Hans Wegner had been on his bucket list for years. Known as the Papa Bear chair, the arms resemble paws. Marrone bought it at an estate sale, confident he had found something special. The experts on Antiques Roadshow agreed, featuring the piece in a show filmed at Winterthur in 2019.

“The assessor said don’t ever reupholster this, as it will then be a ‘recovered’ Papa Bear chair like so many others,” he recalls.

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In the dining room, a floating walnut buffet is built into a wall. A vintage sputnik chandelier illuminates a lean, sinuous table. A small, spare wooden chair crafted by the celebrated furnituremaker George Nakashima is displayed in the corner, like a piece of art.

Blish-portrait

Photo by David Heitur

As for the artist who built the house, she is now in her 90s and has visited several times. Marrone and Nocera discovered a whimsical self-portrait Blish painted on the laundry room wall after they took down wallpaper. It depicts the artist at her easel while her husband snaps photographs.

“Carolyn’s daughter loved seeing it and said her dad was always taking pictures while her mom was painting,” he says. “So we kept it just as it is, a little piece of our home’s history.”

Related: This Rehoboth Beach Getaway Is a Midcentury Modern Hangout