Interior Designer Todd Davis Reflects on Rehoboth

For interior designer Todd Davis, past summers spent in a midcentury modern beach house became indelible memories.

In 1962, when Todd Davis’ grandfather Robert Davis bought a parcel of land from famed journalist Drew Pearson in Rehoboth—called Rehoboth by the Sea at the time—the purchase on Carolina Street marked the start of a six-decade legacy, the rustic site of family rituals for four generations of Davises.

Enjoying peel-and-eat shrimp (sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning) became a ritual for the Davis family
Enjoying peel-and-eat shrimp (sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning) became a ritual for the Davis family. Courtesy Big Fish Restaurant Group.

The Davises have a centuries-long history in the area—the graves of ancestors can be found 15 miles away in Milton. “You have to go up a dirt road to get to the Davis family graveyard,” says the Miami Beach–based interior designer, who grew up in Bethesda and has worked extensively in Washington, D.C. “It is very well-preserved. You can read the gravestones of the people from the 1700s.” For his part, Davis’ grandfather had owned previous homes in Rehoboth and environs, including a place on Slaughter Beach that had been washed away in a storm.

The one-story Carolina Street home that Davis’ grandparents had built was an all-wood midcentury modern beach house with a pitched roof, ample clerestory windows and a freestanding black metal fireplace—“shaped like a spaceship,” Davis says—that reflected the era’s notion of futurism. “The house was very modern for the time. …It was very California-style.”

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The Rehoboth boardwalk was within walking distance of the family summer home of Todd Davis, an interior designer and principal at Brown Davis.
The Rehoboth boardwalk was within walking distance of the family summer home of Todd Davis, an interior designer and principal at Brown Davis. Photo by Joe Del Tufo.

The three-bedroom home, which still stands, is around 2,000 square feet and includes an outdoor shower and a screened-in porch that runs the length of the home. To walk in is to be struck by its authenticity and charm. “I love that it doesn’t have one piece of drywall in it,” Davis says.

Stylish yet unpretentious, the home is a mile and a half from the town center and six houses from the beach; it was never meant to be more than a seasonal getaway place. “These were the days when people had simple beach houses,” Davis recalls. “They had just what you needed to be comfortable. It did not have insulation; it was not winterized. It was just something you opened up in the spring and closed in the fall.” The house lacked even a private phone line; the Davises shared a party line with the neighbors, like in a midcentury sitcom.

The family’s wooden midcentury house on Carolina Street.
The family’s wooden midcentury house on Carolina Street. Photo by Nick Garcia.

For virtually every summer of his life, Todd has spent time at the Carolina Street beach house. (A few years ago, a home redesign project for a client in North Shores allowed him even more time in Rehoboth.) “As kids, we would walk the beach to the boardwalk and then walk into town all the time,” he remembers.

Designers Todd Davis (left) and Robert Brown
Designers Todd Davis (left) and Robert Brown. Photo by David Heitur.

Todd’s father died just a few months ago, so the past—swimming laps at the local YMCA, sitting down to savor peel-and-eat shrimp seasoned with Old Bay—feels especially acute: “The memories of my grandparents, the simple days. In the ’80s or ’90s, there were different bakeries that have come and gone, and whoever would get up early would go to the bakery, pick up some delicious stuff and get a newspaper—a Wilmington newspaper for my grandparents and the Washington Post for us. You’d sit on the porch and have coffee and talk and get ready for a day at the beach.”

Related: This Rehoboth Beach Getaway Is a Midcentury Modern Hangout

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