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A Downstate Seductress

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Without cabinets of any kind, all kitchen items are stored on open shelves, which makes a unique display. Photograph by Jim MottTo say Drexel Davison is a collector is an understatement. In his own words, his circa-1792 home, on six acres along Del. 9, is a museum. Indeed, the rooms are as carefully curated and thoughtfully designed as those intended for public display.

“I just use the bed, the bathroom, the microwave and the fridge,” says Davison, owner of two hair salons in Rehoboth Beach. That was especially true last year, when he decided to downsize to a condo closer to his businesses. He sold the home and stashed his possessions in PODS containers, but less than a week before settlement, the sale fell through, leaving Davison with a mostly empty house.

He decided to repaint, install new windows and move his things—including wide-eyed dolls, needlepoint pillows, Longaberger baskets, Candlewick glass, and a slice of cake from Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding—back to their rightful positions.

If it seems like an eclectic assortment—add a reproduction of Diana’s wedding dress, stars-and-stripes valances and paintings in bold primary colors by local artist Murray Archibald to the mix—then you don’t know Davison. The hairstylist and entrepreneur is at times self-deprecating, devastatingly funny and childlike, delighting in a fairytale world he’s created. And when placed with Davison’s exacting eye, the items create a handsome display. Even his childhood Popeye doll, wearing a white uniform and sitting in a miniature chair, looks refined.

Few would deny that the front of the cedar and brick home, from its pristine white shutters to its cornice work, is the epitome of colonial charm. “I love the house. It’s awesome,” Davison says. “It’s the most beautiful house in Sussex County.”

The farmhouse originally resided in Millsboro, and some of Davison’s older clients remember seeing it there. The house at one time belonged to the Mumford family, whose descendents have visited the old homestead in Lewes. Elizabeth Mumford in 1937 scrawled her name across the bathroom door. “I asked the family why she signed it on that day, but no one knows why she did,” Davison says. Nevertheless, he has not painted over it.

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The music room includes a replica of Princess Diana’s wedding gown. Photograph by Jim MottWhen local builder Gary Hoffman bought the house, he moved it to the current location. The move was quite an event. Hoffman raised his family in the house, which was no easy task. There were three bedrooms—four if you counted a first-floor room—and one bath. The tiny kitchen area and dining room shared the same space.

Hoffman eventually put the house up for sale, but legend has it that no offer was good enough. “He loved the house, and he really didn’t want to let it go,” says Davison, who bought it from his family in 1991, after Gary’s death. Davison and his Dalmatian, Elvis, moved in.

Given Davison’s upbringing, it isn’t surprising that he’d be attracted to a late 19th-century home. Born Lewii Drexel Davison, he grew up in Dover. His mother is from Liverpool, England. His father, who passed away in 2007, was from Pennsylvania. “His family was a William-Penn-gave-them-a-piece-of-property family,” Davison says.

Nearly every weekend, his parents went to auctions to outfit the home. “They collected and have collected everything,” he says. Their purchases included Hummel figurines, Lionel trains, and Queen Anne and Early American furnishings. “You should see the things I got just from their basement,” Davison says.

From his mother, Davison inherited a love of antique needlepoint and antique furniture. His grandmother’s and grandfather’s writing desks are ensconced in the house. “But I like to mix it up,” he says. “I love drama,” like adding a real drippy chandelier or Venetian mirror to a pine Shaker table or chair.

In the foyer, for instance, a simple chair with a woven cane seat sits next to a swan decoy, neck extended, which is perched atop two antique steamer trunks. Archibald’s boldly colored panting of tulips accents the tableau. The mixture of the rustic, refined and vibrant is striking.

In the single bathroom, which showcases snowy towels bearing the Plaza Hotel’s royal blue emblem, Davison hung a colossal heart-shaped mirror over the ornate white porcelain sink, both of which are affixed to a white wall made of planks, like something you’d see in a rural Southern home. A smaller version of the mirror hangs over a petit writing desk and cane-back chair. Incongruous in a bathroom, it still complements the white retro tub.
 

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Davison loves to play with color, blending red, white and blue perfectly with yellow. Photograph by Jim MottFrom his mother, who collected coronation pieces, Davison also developed his fascination with royal memorabilia, including anything involving Diana, which is displayed in a dedicated room. He initially calls this gallery the music room, due to the grand piano, which is centrally located under a chandelier. (He doesn’t play. It plays itself, he jokes.)

Most people who’ve seen the room, however, refer to it simply as the Princess Diana room. White shelves hold 34 neatly arranged miniature outfits on stands. Behind each is a card detailing where Diana wore the real version. A life-size replica of her wedding dress is in its own case, and another glass case holds miscellaneous items, including a slice of her wedding cake. Despite the large number of items, nothing appears cluttered—though Davison balks at the word. “Clutter” is a “matter of opinion,” he says. “I guess you need to know how to clutter and clump.” He certainly does.

There’s a purple-and-pink TV with a Cinderella theme because, of course, Cinderella was a princess. Longaberger baskets are another passion, especially anything with a stars-and-stripes theme. “I have to buy it,” he says. “It’s usually the big, fancy hostess gift.” Stars-and-stripes curtains drape over windows in one of two formal parlors, and red-white-and-blue pillows share an overstuffed couch with a pillow featuring a Dalmatian, an homage to Elvis. Also in the room, a military cap hides the face of an eagle above the door. On the mantel, partially obscuring a portrait of Davison—“I look like J.J. from ‘Good Times’”—is an illustration of a saluting Mickey Mouse before the flag.

Davison has a knack for color, blending with ease red, white and blue with the home’s ubiquitous yellow walls. In another parlor, peacock features in flower arrangements pick up the hue of the shirt he wears in a portrait painted by well known local artist Abraxus Hudson.

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Candlewick Glass items are among the owner’s favorite collectibles. Photograph by Jim MottThe blend of classic and whimsical, sprinkled with Americana, is perhaps best displayed in the brick-floored kitchen, which Davison carved out of a laundry room-storage space. Molds for Hershey’s chocolates serve as a backsplash behind the white stove. Backless chrome-edged barstools—the kind you might see at a 1950s diner—surround an island on wheels, which, like the bottom row of cabinets, is topped with butcher block. There are no upper cabinets, only shelves filled with All-Clad pots and pans, cookbooks, a cluster of Starbucks mugs and Longaberger baskets. “I don’t cook, but I have it all,” Davison says.

Kitchen accoutrements change with the seasons. Around Halloween, spatulas are orange. At Christmas, towels have Santa on them. If it’s spring, the accessories are pink and lavender. (Every downstairs room gets its own Christmas tree.)

Don’t let the fruit on the counter whet your appetite, and forget drooling over the pretty slices of cheesecake on the Candlewick glass server in the dining room. “Not a darn thing is real,” Davison says. “It’s all fake, just a make-believe world.”

What is real, however, is the home’s sense of tranquility. The entrance hall has doors both in the front and back of the home, letting summer breezes pass through. Four acres are tilled by a farmer, who plants corn and soybeans. “I like to see him doing his thing,” Davison says.

It’s clear that despite his desire to downsize, Davison—like the home’s previous owner, Gary Hoffman—is still smitten by the house.

In this fairytale world, the Sussex County property is clearly an enchantress.
 


GET THE LOOK

  • Display your collections proudly. That way, guests can enjoy them as much as you do.
     
  • Cluster items artfully. One man’s clutter is another’s elegant display of prized possessions.
     
  • Mix it up. Davison hung an ornate chandelier in the dining room to dress up a Shaker table. The Venetian mirror heightens the effect.
     
  • Change decor with the seasons. Davison uses orange spatulas at Halloween, special tea towels at Christmas, and lots of pink and lavender accessories in spring.
     
  • Blend the classic with the whimsical to create the ultimate style statement.

 

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