Stephanie Antosca Boright and her husband, Barry, share a passion for breathing new life into old houses, even on vacation.
Over the years, they have restored 15 homes, including a circa 1860 house at the beach that they renovated twice—first as a weekend get-away and then as their primary residence.
For years, the energetic couple enjoyed taking a break from high-powered careers in Washington, D.C., in laid-back Lewes. They rejuvenated a tired house on Mulberry Street, a quiet byway that is a living primer on American architecture, lined with homes built over two centuries.
“Then an old house down the street went up for sale,” Stephanie Boright says. “It was in terrible condition and we thought we should buy it before someone knocked it down.”
The house had been empty for five years, save for a family of foxes. Stripped of most of its detail and dragged down by a sagging, ill-conceived addition, the structure was in such bad shape it presented a challenge even for the Borights.
They demolished and rebuilt the addition, stabilized the roof and opened the living spaces to create a welcoming retreat where they could enjoy time off with friends and relatives.
Walls were removed from both sides of an enclosed staircase to allow natural light to flow through the first floor. A small parlor was outfitted with a gas fireplace and built-in bookcases, an intimate nook for reading or playing music.
All the walls were taken down on the second floor to reconfigure what was once a maze of corridors and small bedrooms into larger rooms radiating from an open central hall. The hall is furnished as a secondary sitting room, a place where visiting friends can unwind.
When Barry Boright, a U.S. Marshal, accepted a job heading an area bureau, the couple moved to Lewes full time with their young daughter Sydney. They immediately started gathering ideas for a project they hadn’t undertaken before, transforming a second house from a weekend hangout to a year-round home.
But before the Borights got out their hammers, they put on their thinking caps and contemplated how they wanted the house to function.
“Live in the house the way it is for a few months and see what works and what doesn’t,” Stephanie Boright advises. “We needed to live with the clutter to figure out the best way to design new ways to store the things we had.”
The stacked washer/dryer that was just fine for beach towels and T-shirts was taken out and replaced with a second-floor laundry area equipped with side-by-side full-size appliances that can accommodate loads of linens and winter clothes.
In a vacation house, the owners typically bring clothes with them, then take them home when they leave. During the summer, Sydney used the under-the-eaves cupboard in her bedroom as a playhouse. When the Borights became full-time residents, closets became a priority.
“Now, I actually keep things in my closet instead of playing in it,” Sydney Boright says.
The master bedroom is still spacious, even after the Borights borrowed square footage from the room to create a walk-in closet.
A large balcony expands the space visually and provides a tranquil setting for morning coffee or an afternoon nap. Carpet loomed in a sisal pattern provides the earthy look of woven twine with the durability and sumptuous foot-feel of wool.
“A bedroom isn’t just a place to sleep, it’s a place to relax,” Stephanie Boright says.
She is a successful television producer, whose credits include the reality series “I Survived,” and the long-running White House drama “The West Wing.” Because she does most of her work from home, she required an oval office of her own, a command post from which she could run her business.
Stephanie Boright found it in the attic, transformed from a dark and dreary storage area to a bright and cheerful workplace. A dormer increased the amount of head room and also allows more sunlight into the office. A window seat is a serene spot to read. Beneath are file drawers for paperwork.
During the renovation, the Borights repurposed as much as they could from the original house. A clawfoot tub was refinished and installed in Sydney’s bathroom. In the kitchen, a large central island was made from wood and beams salvaged from the demolition of the rear addition.
“It’s a new house, with old bones,” Stephanie Boright says.
On the outer side, the island accommodates seating for casual dining. On the inner side, there is open shelving, the better to keep pot and pans at the ready.
“It’s so much easier to get at things when you need them if you aren’t opening doors and drawers,” she says.
A friend who was remodeling a kitchen donated more cupboards, installed in the adjoining family room to provide a bar and additional storage. A large sectional sofa is dressed in durable slipcovers in keeping with the relaxed, no-fuss vibe.
Throughout the house, there’s a casual and contemporary feeling. Lines are spare, clean and uncluttered. Colors are soft and hushed.
“I like pale blues and greens because they remind me of the sea,” Sydney Boright says.
In the dining room, the little girl playing on the beach depicted in the painting over the mantel is Sydney. The artist is her grandmother.
Her father created the rustic table surrounded by chairs covered in woven sea grass.
“We had a table in the space but it just didn’t fit the room,” Barry Boright recalls. “What we needed was a long, narrow table.”
He admired the harvest-style piece in a friend’s dining room and learned that his pal had made the table himself.
Flush with inspiration, Barry Boright headed to the home improvement store, where he bought 2-by-10 inch and 2-by-12 inch pine planks, and 4-inch square posts for the legs. He set up a work station on the sidewalk, where he assembled the pieces.
“I trimmed it out with 2-by-3 pine, stained and polyurethaned it, and had the perfect-size table,” he says.
The screened porch on the back of the house, furnished in wicker for a vintage feel, is a casual gathering place during the warmer months, where the family enjoys fresh air without the whine of mosquitoes.
“In summer, this is where we live,” Stephanie Boright says.
When the Borights decided to live in Lewes full time, they built a pool that allows them to enjoy their backyard throughout the week. The old garden shed is now home to an outdoor shower.
Hydrangeas flourish in the moderate, garden-friendly climate of Sussex County, producing lovely bouquets with a minimum of effort. The exuberantly blooming shrubs are romantic and nostalgic, a charming match for the house that is in keeping with the Borights’ respectful approach to renovation.
Throughout the project, the couple discovered scattered reminders of their home’s history. Memorabilia included flags and military uniforms from the 1940s and a stack of tickets to the inaugural voyage of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, launched July 1, 1964.
In all, the Borights donated five boxes of relics and photographs to the Lewes Historical Society.
A poignant discovery was a pair of child’s boots tucked inside a wall, a 19th-century tradition believed to bring the homeowners good luck.
Before the wall was closed up for the next century or so, the family placed a memento marking their time in the house.
“Now, there is a pair of Sydney’s shoes in the wall,” Stephanie Boright says.