Renovating a Historic Home with Reverence

Darin Dell and Rob Wiest have slowly but surely made changes to their stately Dover home, adding contemporary touches while preserving charm and character.


For years, the stately brick home on a quiet street in Dover was known as “the spider house,” a nod to its distinctive front gate, which was forged in the shape of a web and embellished with an eight-legged, red-eyed arachnid the size of a dinner plate.

Darin Dell and Rob Wiest aren’t fond of spiders, but they were captivated by a web of sorts, one spun by the character and charm of the house.

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“I got a really warm feeling when I walked in the front door,” Dell says. “We were looking for something that isn’t cookie-cutter, and this is not like anybody else’s house.”

The couple would soon become only the fourth owners since the house was built in 1930. The brass knocker on the front door is engraved ROSCOE, the name of the original owners.

“If the Roscoe name has been there for almost 90 years, we figure we ought to keep it,” Wiest says.


Genuine originals

Wiest appreciated that several other original features remained intact, including two sets of Dutch doors, an arched doorway leading to a formal dining room, elegant six-over-six windows and softly glowing oak floors.

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“We are hardwood floor people, and we really like that there are hardwoods throughout the house,” he says.

For the couple, the most desirable feature of the house is its red brick, which provides both aesthetic and functional appeal.

“This house is all brick, the basement included,” Wiest says. “It’s the most solid house I have ever seen.”


Taking on projects

The couple moved in two years ago, with three elderly dogs and an African gray parrot in tow. Though their new home offered superior structural integrity, there was a lot of work to be done, inside and out.

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The backyard is spacious enough for two outdoor
rooms.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

A large garden offered such delights as rare camellia shrubs and magnolia trees. But the once-manicured grounds had become overrun in recent years, obscuring the Federal-style facade of the house and a classical entry porch with columns and pediment.

Removing overgrown plantings created instant curb appeal, while enhancing natural light inside the house. The web gate—the spider is now down to seven legs—was taken down and repurposed as a screen in the side garden. In its place went a fresh white gate and matching fencing.

The backyard was ideal for entertaining, with a large stone fireplace, a pergola, wood deck and patio paved with red bricks. Moving an ill-placed shed to the back of the property opened up the area, allowing the partners to design a series of open-air rooms.

“I love outdoor entertaining,” Dell says. “We’ve had parties for 45 people out here, and the flow is wonderful.”

He crafted a rustic harvest table from wood salvaged from an old fence. A mirror stationed above a glass-topped side table used as a bar visually expands the dining area. A wrought iron settee and chairs with comfy cushions form an intimate conversation area around the fireplace. A grouping of rattan furniture, painted black with white cushions, provides a second outdoor sitting room on the patio.

A wooden sign from Dorians, a gift shop that once operated downtown, is mounted on the back of the house. It had been repurposed by the previous owners as the lid to a chest that stored extra chairs.

“We love that it has some Dover history to it, so we decided to display it,” Dell says.


Sentiment and sophistication

The dining room features birch paneling, a mahogany table that seats 14 and twin china cupboards.//Photo by Joe del Tufo


The interior of the 2,300-square-foot house offered lots of pluses, including a spacious formal living room with a massive brick fireplace and French doors that connect the room with a greenhouse. The space is large enough to accommodate a vintage grand piano from John Wanamaker, the iconic Philadelphia department store.

“This is my favorite place in the house, sitting here and listening to Darin play,” Wiest says.

The piano was a gift from a friend who didn’t have a place for it. The antique mahogany secretary by the front door was passed along by a friend’s parents. The mahogany chest of drawers was a gift from another friend. The framed christening suit displayed on top was a present from Wiest’s mother on his 50th birthday.

Throughout the house, the couple have decorated with a blend of sentiment and sophistication. Ornately framed prints of colorful monkeys and a pheasant were won at charity auctions. The sepia-tone portrait that pictures Wiest’s paternal grandfather as a boy is placed on what was once his aunt’s desk. The massive brass candlestick holder on the hearth was received by Dell’s parents as a wedding gift. A tea set his father bought in Japan is displayed in the dining room.

Birch paneling in the dining room may or may not have been added by a previous owner. Dell and Wiest opted to keep it, along with the Colonial-style brass chandelier. The cupboards that store china, crystal and collections of mercury glass came from the couple’s previous home. “They fit like they were custom-made for the space,” Wiest says.

The mahogany table, a find at an antiques store, expands to accommodate guests at dinner parties. Dell crafted an additional leaf so the couple could seat 14. Guests have included friends, relatives and acquaintances of previous owners. “We enjoy talking with them and listening to their memories of the house,” Wiest says.


‘Be patient with an old house’

The homeowners’ biggest renovation project, the kitchen, retains its vintage vibe.//Photo by Joe del Tufo


Dell, a computer technician, and Wiest, a floral designer, have renovated other properties, so they took a hands-on approach to the house.

Their biggest project was the kitchen. A previous owner had expanded the space, taking down the wall to a utility porch. But the layout was awkward, with a peninsula restricting movement between the food preparation area and the dining space. Built-in seating was arranged with benches facing the window. “You couldn’t interact with people at the table,” Wiest says.

The couple gutted the kitchen, picking up floor space by demolishing a pantry and broom closet. They hired a contractor to do the rest of the heavy lifting, creating a kitchen with a vintage vibe and the efficiency and functionality of the 21st century.

“We didn’t want to jump in and modernize everything,” Dell says. “You need to be patient with an old house and keep its character.”

Simple white cabinets are paired with black granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. A pair of glass-front upper cupboards look as though they might have been ordered from a 1930s catalog.

At the center of it all is a long island, with storage and seating for five. “It’s very conducive to having people sitting there, talking with you and enjoying a glass of wine,” Wiest says.

A beadboard ceiling is reminiscent of a tongue-and-groove ceiling on an old porch. The couple also decided to use beadboard for the backsplash. They were surprised one day to find a workman laying the material horizontally instead of vertically.

“We decided to keep it that way,” he says. “It’s one of those things that starts as a mistake and winds up being better in the end.” 


Let the sun shine in. Pruning back shrubs that blocked windows and painting the walls creamy yellow brightened a dark living room. Enjoy the great outdoors. A backyard with a fireplace, dining area and two seating areas allows the couple to entertain lots of guests—or enjoy a quiet evening at home. Respect the past. The homeowners retained a doorknocker with the name of the original owner. An artists’ rendering and card with their names is displayed in the laundry room. Make it work. The couple kept the pink ceramic walls in a powder room, updating it with a new pedestal sink, vinyl plank flooring and crisp gray wallpaper. Be a recycler. The homeowners provided a new home for vintage furniture from friends and family who had run out of room.

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