Who Tom Dougherty
What A renovated brick house on seven acres
Tom Dougherty enjoys life in the country—especially when that peaceful, verdant slice of land is an easy drive from Wilmington.
He found seven idyllic acres that fit the bill, a lovely and secluded property in keeping with his affinity for the outdoors, a location that just happened to come with a two-story brick house built in 1941.
“The land was perfect,” he recalls. “The house, not so perfect.”
Dougherty briefly considered knocking down the house and starting from scratch. The existing interior was dark and cramped, with some passageways measuring a scant 21 inches in width. There wasn’t enough living space to entice his three grown children home for frequent visits.
But the house had endearing qualities, as well, including a large, handsome raised-panel front door and Colonial-style divided light windows. The brick facade was finished in the Flemish bond style, which alternates the headers—that’s the short end of the brick—with the stretchers—the long end. The result is a distinctive pattern created by the subtle contrast of the silvery header with the red stretcher.
Most of all, he was engaged by the home’s intimate relationship with the land.
“I wanted a house that is warm and welcoming, not huge and imposing,” he says. “Over the top is not my style.”
Dougherty, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, put together a plan to restore the home’s smile. He was confident he could take on the project with the knowledge he had gained from bringing back other vintage properties.
“I’ve never built a house,” he says. “I’ve rehabbed them all.”
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Achieving his vision of a relaxed, inviting country house started with taking down walls, encouraging flow between spaces. He also would construct a two-story addition, enabling him to add guest bedrooms and storage space.
Dougherty gutted the existing kitchen and relocated it to the eastern side of the house in order to soak in the morning sun. The kitchen is open to a large, casual dining space and the family room, where built-in cabinetry accommodates wine storage.
“I wanted to be able to see the fireplace in the family room from the kitchen, so you get that cozy feel in both rooms,” he says.
Dougherty sited a six-burner range in a large island, where friends and family can gather while he cooks. Clean-lined Shaker-style cabinets are painted white. The backsplash is paved in subway tiles, in keeping with the home’s pared-back, laid-back vibe.
Fireplaces in the family room and study are built in the Rumford style, with a firebox that is tall and shallow to reflect more heat. A streamlined throat funnels away smoke without whisking away the heated air in the room. The style was perfected in the mid-18th century and was embraced by the in-crowd of the day. Thomas Jefferson installed Rumford fireplaces at Monticello.
“The heat goes out into the room instead of up the chimney,” Dougherty says.
Jefferson enjoyed coming up with novel solutions around his house—and this homeowner does, too. The deep soapstone sink in the multi-functional laundry room is outfitted with a false bottom that can be pulled out when the homeowner is potting large plants.
The chimney in the new section of the house was built to accommodate back-to-back fireplaces, one warming the family room and the other facing an adjacent outdoor patio. Dougherty enjoys the primal joy of a crackling wood fire. But he realizes there are lots of folks who appreciate the convenience of a gas fire. “So we plumbed the fireplace for gas, just in case someone wants to make the switch down the road,” he says.
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To seamlessly match the original facade, the exterior of the addition is done in Flemish bond style, a meticulous and exacting process requiring a top-notch mason. Achieving that level of authenticity on a project of such scope is an intensive, hands-on process. If you want the details to be just right, Dougherty suggests rolling up your sleeves and wading in.
“When you are restoring a house, you need to be there every day, at every phase, working with many contractors,” he says.
To bring the house into the 21st century, he also focused on infrastructure, remediating an asbestos problem and bringing systems up to date. “We took out every pipe and every electrical conduit in the house,” he says.
For efficient heating and cooling, he installed an environmentally friendly geothermal system, which converts heat from the Earth into energy. “It’s quiet, a fraction of the cost of gas or electric, and the comfort level is fantastic,” he says.
Dougherty also made the most efficient use of space. Workers dug out the basement to carve out room for a small home gym. A jot of roofline off the second-floor master suite was claimed for a deck with a view of countryside. A second story over the detached garage holds the potential for a pied-a-terre for his parents.
Throughout the house are rustic accents, some fashioned from salvaged architectural elements. Dougherty repurposed a vintage chest of drawers to make a vanity in the powder room. The mirror is framed in the remnants of an old copper gutter.
A picturesque ruin of fieldstone, the remnants of an old barn, now define a garden Dougherty tends with his son, Mike.
“Our biggest challenge is keeping the deer away,” he says. “They nibbled our azaleas down to the nub.”
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With each renovation, Dougherty learns something new, essentially what he would do again—and what he would not. Next time around, he won’t choose limestone for the countertops in the master bath.
“Limestone is beautiful, but high maintenance,” he says. “Don’t believe anybody who says you can seal it and forget it.”
Natural cherry floors are a keeper. “Such a mellow color, very earthy, which is what I like,” he says.
Walls are painted in a sophisticated palette of naturals that provide a soothing, restful backdrop. Picture the soft gray of Nantucket fog, the subtle yellow of flax.
In the guest bath, Dougherty chose a frameless glass half-door instead of traditional sliding door tub enclosures.
“Those glass doors on tracks tend to get gunk in them,” he says.
The half-door keeps water inside the tub and maintains an open, spacious feel. A chrome pull anchored in the glass makes the door easy to open and close.
“I first saw that in a hotel room in New York and brought the idea home with me,” he says.
There’s a lesson here: Dougherty finds inspiration wherever he goes—and so should we all. Put it in your mental pocket, file it in the part of your brain reserved for architecture and interior design, and take it home.
“With every step along the road, I learn something new.”