This Rehoboth Home is a Castle in the Sand

A recently built home makes the most of its beach location but adds worldly touches.

What would ultimately become the perfect beach getaway began with an incomparable location—two contiguous lots only steps from the ocean and downtown shops and restaurants in Rehoboth Beach.

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All it needed was a home worthy of the setting: A house designed for both congregating and privacy, the centerpiece of an open-air compound that includes a pool, spa, pool house and infrastructure for alfresco cooking and dining. The homeowners wanted a house they would keep for generations, a place they would enjoy and also share with others,” says Bruce Palmer of Bruce Palmer Design Studio in Wilmington.

Palmer, who specializes in high-end residential properties, already had designed several homes for the family. To translate their vision of a timeless, tranquil retreat into reality, he started from the ground up. A smaller, dysfunctional house was torn down. A grove of small trees at the back of the property was retained, forming a verdant buffer from neighbors.

To improve the view for a new, three-story, 6,000-square-foot house, a telephone pole was removed and the power lines were buried. Palmer wanted to preserve mature crepe myrtle trees that would bookend the walkway to the front door. One of the trees already was perfectly positioned. The other had to be dug up and moved several feet. Every time you move a tree, there is a risk it won’t survive,” Palmer says. This one made the move in very good shape.

Photographs by John Lewis

The pool house is inspired by tiki huts of Polynesia.

The designer fashioned a powder room sink from a tree root, a slab of stone and a vessel sink.

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Inspired by nature

The interior of the house is designed with a strong relationship to nature, in both its connection to the outdoors and its materials and finishes. They wanted the feeling of the beach, but not that look with lots of shells and lighthouses,” Palmer recalls.

To that end, decorative branches reminiscent of driftwood were woven into the design. Crystal knobs applied to a chest of drawers sparkle like bubbles. Exotic woods harken images of ships and sea voyages. Palmer was intrigued by the concept of using a large tree root as the base for a sink in the powder room. But integrating plumbing into the root proved so problematic that the supplier had stopped selling them.

We ordered the last tree root off the showroom floor, confident we would find a way to make it work, he says. Palmer’s solution was to top the tree root with a slab of irregularly shaped stone and a large vessel sink. A stone panel mounted above the vanity top is configured to hide pipes to the industrial-style faucets mounted on the panel. The walls are sheathed in thickly textured grass cloth, “like fishing netting on old boats.

Cabinetry in the kitchen and bar area is crafted in Macassar ebony veneer while natural walnut tops the dining table.

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Artful design

To maximize the space in the house and minimize the square footage carved out to accommodate the HVAC system, Palmer designed artful chases to accommodate ducting and tubing. Decorative moldings in the foyer conceal conduits for air conditioning.

The idea is to make it look attractive and intentional rather than functional, he says. A central gathering space includes a conversation area with a large sectional sofa and vintage rope chairs positioned in front of a fireplace made from rocks smoothed over time by running water. A sculptural piece of driftwood is mounted diagonally on the face. A raised granite hearth is supported by two teak spheres.

Cabinetry in the adjoining kitchen and bar areas is crafted in Macassar ebony veneer. The softly shimmering countertop and integrated sink are made from pewter. It doesn’t get those swirled scratch marks like stainless steel—and it isn’t too shiny, Palmer says.

The dining table is topped by a single slab of free-edge natural walnut, so big it had to be hoisted by crane over an exterior deck and through a window. The surrounding chairs are upholstered in leather, embossed to look like shagreen, a hide made from the skins of sharks and stingrays.

Another view of the kitchen and gathering space.

Sleek and sumptuous

In the master bedroom and bath, natural materials establish a palette of earth tones. The floors in both spaces are zebrawood, an African species of wood prized for its boldly striped grain. Walls are defined by grass cloth and trim picture moldings. The bed is tailored; the mattress rests on leather strapping.

The master bath is sleek and sumptuous, with mesquite panels in a diamond pattern framing a soaking tub set in a wood platform. A large shower is tiled in a mosaic of marble and limestone. Faucets shaped in a simple swoosh are mounted on the wall above double sinks.

A guest room is reminiscent of a sleeping porch. The centerpiece of the space is a massive canopy bed of intricately carved mahogany shipped from Indonesia. Palmer recalls losing sleep over the bed, waiting a year and a half for its arrival. When it finally did get here, it was broken in pieces with no instructions on how to put it back together, he says. Luckily, we have a great carpenter who solved the problem.

To panel a streamlined, masculine home office, he shipped in hard-to-find pecky cypress from Florida. The burrowed grain of the wood is caused by a fungus, which dies after the tree is cut down and milled. The design also incorporates several designated gathering spaces for family and friends. There’s a clubby billiards room with brick walls. A relaxed sitting room on the second floor is a hangout space for teens. There’s a media room, where each member of the immediate family can watch films from the comfort or his or her individual chaise lounge.

A central staircase features black stair treads and crisp white risers and banisters. The underside of the staircase is left uncovered, creating a black-and-white contrast reminiscent of an Escher woodcut, where you can’t tell if the stairs are going up or down, Palmer says.

The home office paneling is made of hard-to-find pecky cypress from Florida.

Private oasis

Outdoors, the homeowners enjoy a private oasis, where they can swim, dine and entertain. There’s a pool and spa surrounded by travertine decking. A 60-inch grill and crab pot are built into a counter-height wall that extends from an outdoor fireplace.

The pool house is inspired by tiki huts of Polynesia. But how to recreate a thatched roof that can withstand a Mid-Atlantic winter? Palmer’s solution was to design a traditional shingle roof for the exterior of the structure, lining the interior with thatch and bamboo.

It’s a mini-getaway, with casual seating, a flat-screen TV and an elevated fireplace. The walls and floors echo the exotic, grassy vibe of the thatched roof. The floor is tile, but it’s made to look like a sisal rug, he says. It has a bumpy texture, yet it’s easy to keep clean.”

In the evening, tiki torches illuminate the garden. Palm fronds sway in the breeze. We found palm trees that actually can survive year-round in Rehoboth, he says. No detail is too small.

A second-floor sitting room.

Get the Look

TURN TRADITION ON ITS HEAD: Instead of covering the roof of a tiki-style pool house with thatch, Bruce Palmer created a roof within a roof, lining the interior with thatch. It has all the ambiance, with far fewer worries about maintenance.

BE NATURAL: Linen, cotton, silk and other natural fibers give a home a relaxed sense of comfort and elegance.

SHOP THE WORLD: In the beach house, an ornate mahogany bed was imported from Indonesia. Pecky cypress was shipped in from Florida. Wooden tiki columns in the pool house were discovered on, a global purveyor of antiques.

EXPLORE THE ART OF CONCEALMENT: Palmer designed decorative moldings to mask ductwork for air conditioning. Plumbing pipes are hidden in the intricate and irregular channels of a tree root repurposed as a sink vanity.

MAXIMIZE THE SETTING: Burying power lines and preserving trees maximized the view in front of the house and optimized the privacy in back of the home.

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