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Set In Stone


As one can tell from this panoramic view, the entire home is oriented toward Silver Lake. Photograph by Thom ThompsonYou can go home again.

The homeowner made that happy discovery when exploring his options regarding a mid-century brick rancher in Dover once owned by his parents.

In addition to memories, the house boasts sweeping views of Silver Lake, a 167-acre reservoir at the headwaters of the St. Jones River.

The homeowner, a developer, and his wife, a former teacher and avid collector of antiques, brought the house into the 21st century, retaining part of the original floor plan while giving the property an updated look and feel.

“I enjoy a project,” he says.

His parents had visualized a home for an active family. For this couple, the new design is in keeping with their current stage in life as empty-nesters with grown children and grandchildren.

Lanterns illuminate the stone walls of the wine tasting room. Photograph by Thom ThompsonThe main level is devoted to everyday living and entertaining, with an open floor plan that encompasses a gathering room, dining room, kitchen and formal living room. A two-car garage now has a starring role as a home theater. Two small bedrooms and a bath were gutted and transformed into a master suite. Outside, the original brick has been resurfaced with stone.

A loft topped with a cedar-lined cupola is a masculine getaway for him. The walk-out lower level has been reconfigured to include an informal seating area around the fireplace, a small wine room and two guest bedrooms with baths.

“He has the vision, that special ability to see through the walls,” she says. “After the walls are up, I can see how I want to decorate them.”

Throughout the house, she has created artistic vignettes, grouping various collections of antiques. A high niche in the dining room is large enough to display vintage children’s furniture and playthings, including a school desk and a Schoenhut piano.

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Outside, the original brick was resurfaced with stone. Photograph by Thom ThompsonFlow blue and Wedgwood blue pottery are grouped on a side table. Her collection of miniature chests is displayed on a ledge leading to the lower level. She discovered the circa 1770 canopy bed in the guest room at an antiques shop in Accomac, Virginia, on the lower Eastern Shore. On a fireplace mantel, she arranged a tin tray, screen and box decorated in tole painting, a folk art style.

“I call it farmhouse eclectic,” she says, “country but not cute.”

She inherited her love of Americana from her mother, an antiques dealer who introduced her to auctions. Her collections establish a relaxed tone throughout the house, from the painted Pennsylvania Dutch blanket chest on the lower level to the butterfly cupboard in the dining area, a piece she bought from a home on Dover’s historic green.

Built in 1960, the rancher originally had eight-foot ceilings, the standard of the day. To make the house feel lighter and brighter, the homeowners sacrificed storage space in the attic in order to raise the ceilings.

Off the foyer, a large formal living room is much the way his parents left it. There’s a central fireplace—the original brick has been covered in stone—and Colonial-style eight-over-eight pane windows.

“As soon as you come in the front door you get a look at the lake,” she says. “The entire house is oriented toward the water.”

To provide a panoramic vista, the homeowners expanded the footprint of the house back to the retaining wall and added a two-story great room with soaring, 13-foot ceilings. They installed commercial-size panes of insulated double-pane glass to maximize the view. The floors are pine, milled in 10-inch wide planks.

A pair of big, cushy sofas provides casual seating. She found the rustic, oversized coffee table at Mitchell’s Interiors in Laurel. With a distressed finish and aged patina, the piece looks like an antique. “But it is actually new furniture made from old wood,” she says.

The couple enjoys cooking together—he handles meat and fish, she prepares the side dishes—so a large kitchen with several work areas was a priority. The space is open to the gathering room, which allows the couple to interact with their guests when they are hosting the party.

“Plus, when you’re in the kitchen cooking, you can see the lake outside,” he says.

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The loft is a masculine getaway for the man of the house—with a view, of course. Photograph by Thom ThompsonCustom natural cherry cabinets were crafted by Jeff Taylor, a Magnolia woodworker. His one-of-a-kind approach enabled the homeowners to specify such amenities as a built-in hutch with a beadboard backsplash and upper cabinets fronted in wavy glass that looks as if it might have been made in the 18th century.

She liked Taylor’s work so much she also asked him to make a furniture-style vanity with bun feet for a powder room and bookcases for the lower-level family room.

Filling your Rolodex with the names of gifted people in the trades is an important launching point for any home renovation. The homeowners take it a step further, relying on the pros for input in making decisions.

“It pays to ask people who do things for a living what they think of the products you are considering,” she says. “Which kitchen faucet do you get the most repair calls on? Which would you install in your own home?”

To sew valances to frame the windows, she turned to Connie Freer of Material Matters in Dover, whom she has worked with for years. For access to high-end wallpapers, she went to Lucy Findlay and Valla Rogers of Partners in Design, a firm on the city’s historic Loockerman Street.

To camouflage a low ceiling in a guest bath, Findlay and Rogers suggested covering it in a vine pattern that coordinates with the floral paper on the walls. “The pattern makes the ceiling flow with the walls so the low feeling goes away,” she says.

Damon Pla, a decorative painter from Ocean View, added unique artistic touches throughout the house, including masks of Comedy and Tragedy in the home theater. He painted wispy clouds on the vaulted ceiling of the lofty hideaway, adding a whimsical replica of the plane the home owner pilots.

The cupola also provided a home for a circa 1950 traffic light that once directed motorists at an intersection on Del. 42 in Cheswold. It hangs in the peak of the cupola as a whimsical take on a chandelier. The stairs leading to the space are pine, with a wood banister and contrasting wrought iron spindles.

“I like the contrast of the wood and the iron,” she says. “It gives it an updated edge.”

Downstairs, there is a fanciful wine tasting room. Steps that once led to the outside are now sheathed in tile, a cool place for wine storage and display. Lanterns illuminate stone walls and small kegs—another collection—lend to the ambiance. On either side of the room, Pla painted murals depicting winery views, one approaching and the other departing.

To complete the vignette, the homeowner will plant a fig tree outside the window. “It will give people the feeling of looking out at the Italian countryside,” she says.

After a yearlong renovation, the rancher on Silver Lake is no longer the same house the homeowner lived in with his folks. Yet he is certain his parents would appreciate their son’s unique interpretation of the family home.

“No question, they would love it,” he says.


  • Group like objects together. That could mean different items decorated in the same technique, as in a tole tray, screen and box, or articles that share a common color, as in Wedgwood and flow blue china.
  • Make the most of the setting. In this house in Dover, windows are situated to maximize views of Silver Lake.
  • Consult your inner architect. The homeowners made a statement with such details as arched passageways, soaring ceilings and a cupola.
  • Create a harmonious contrast. Consider teaming wrought iron spindles with a wooden banister instead of traditional wooden spindles.
  • Round out your Rolodex. Seek out the best tradespeople, as well as providers of furniture, accessories and design services. Don’t just ask for estimates. Ask for their insights on various products and techniques.

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