Great Room

Enduring Décor

Nearly three decades — and a few additions — later, beach house stands the test of time

By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the June 2019 issue

When Carol and Charlie Smith built their house in Henlopen Acres in 1991, Carol bought rolls of wallpaper for the hanger to put up. Nearly 30 years later, all of that wallpaper is still in place.

“It looks like it’s brand new,” she says, standing in a bedroom where the walls are covered in a navy floral print and complementary border.

Not only that, but — perhaps even more amazing, in this age of tearing down and building new — Carol still likes all of the patterns that she chose. She is also still fond of the decades-old MacKenzie-Childs tile that is in the master bathroom (rosebuds and pink and white checks) and that surrounds the fireplace in the great room (baskets with roses and grapes).

Not that she and Charlie aren’t capable of change. In September, Dion Lamb with CRx Construction of Rehoboth Beach completed a renovation of their kitchen. Workers enclosed a section of screened porch to add to the square footage and installed custom-made white cabinets with alder countertops.

Ticket holders for next month’s Cottage Tour of Art, sponsored by the Rehoboth Art League, will get to see the wallpaper and tile as well as the newly redone kitchen. After being part of the tour in 2011, the Smith house will be back this year for a repeat performance.

“I like to go on house tours and look at how people have decorated their homes,” Carol says. “Sometimes you go through and you think, ‘How could anybody live here?’ And then other times, you really like it and you get some good ideas.”

The Smiths lived in Rockville, Md., when they bought the Henlopen Acres property. Their house, which they designed with the help of architect Jennifer McCann (who now works with a firm in White Stone, Va.), has a center atrium and accessible widow’s walk, and is modeled after New England inns the couple visited. “We had a lot of ideas written on napkins,” Carol says. “We would be sitting in a restaurant and get an idea, and all we had to jot it down on was a napkin.”

They wanted the house to have large, open spaces that allowed for easy circulation of people. “We had four children in high school and college at the time, and on weekends the house was jammed with their friends,” Carol recalls. “The house worked really well for that.”

Over time, as happened in the most recent renovation, portions of the home’s original wraparound screened porch have been enclosed. The great room has a sitting area that was once porch and one former porch corner is now a family photo gallery. Dozens of photographs, all in similar frames, hang on two walls, surrounding a century-old Steinway upright piano that belonged to Carol’s grandmother. No one in the family plays the instrument — Carol isn’t even sure that her grandmother did — so Charlie had it converted into a player piano.

Throughout the house are needlework pillows, rugs, even a replica of the iconic little blue box that holds special treats from Tiffany & Co., all created by Carol’s sister Joanne Trihey of Beaver, Pa. A small Trihey rug in a downstairs bathroom depicts more than a dozen pairs of beach shoes and sandals.

The Smiths like art, and their collection includes half a dozen paintings by Alexandre Renoir, great-grandson of the famed impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as works by Gaithersburg, Md., painter Betsy Koepenick and by Harbeson artist Betsey Von Dreele, who creates scenes from strands of fabric. Prints of paintings by maritime artist John Stobart line a wall of the second story balcony.

Perhaps most prized, though, are two trompe l’oeil murals in the kitchen, painted by Koepenick. The larger of the two depicts a row of pegs from which hang jackets and hats. The articles of clothing bear logos from the schools that the Smith children attended: the University of Virginia, Stonehill College (in Easton, Mass.), Georgetown (Md.) Preparatory School and Boston University. There’s a cap from the Big 33 Football Classic, a high school all-star game in which one of their sons played, and a Hoya cap from Georgetown University. Lying on top of the peg row is a Chicago Cubs cap — Charlie was a pitcher with a Cubs farm team in 1964 — and representing Carol is a rectangular planter in her favorite china pattern from German ceramics company Villeroy & Boch.

The second mural shows a coat rack with several caps, from Providence College (in Rhode Island), Nevis (an island in the West Indies) and Smith Litho, the family printing business in Rockville, which closed in 2010. There’s also a hat from the now-shuttered Tijuana Taxi restaurant, once located in downtown Rehoboth Beach and then on Route 1. “We loved their margaritas,” Carol says.

She notes that the kitchen, with its murals, is one of her favorite places. “Sometimes people come in to visit and we sit down in the kitchen and never go anyplace else,” she says.

It is a comfortable place, and that’s important to her. “I have to be able to put my feet up,” she explains. “Home is a place that’s comfortable, and where, if something gets broken, it doesn’t matter.”


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