Labor of Love

Building a house with just the right touches is hard work — but rewarding too

By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the April 2017 issue

The Bay Vista home of Mike and Drew Zorzi is a work in progress. Drew has a list of things she wants done; fortunately, Mike is a builder — he constructed much of the house himself. (He owns, with his brother, Mario, Zorzi Creations, which installs hardwood flooring and custom woodwork.)

But the fact that finishing details are not complete does not mean that the couple and their three children aren’t comfortable there. “We love it here,” Mike says. “I don’t see us ever moving anyplace else.”

The three-story, 5,200-square-foot home is at the east edge of the Rehoboth Beach-area development, overlooking the Lewes-and-Rehoboth Canal and, beyond the waterway, Thompson Island. A small branch of the canal runs right behind the house and parallel to a boardwalk, made of ipe and lined on the landward side with bricks.

The Zorzis tore down an existing house on the property — “not salvageable, in my opinion,” Mike says — to build their home. They moved in about a year ago.

Mike says that in designing it, he and Drew wanted to provide plenty of opportunities to catch the view. Four windows in the great room look out toward the canal; a fifth, south-facing, provides a view across Rehoboth Bay to Massey’s Landing. There is a deck off the third-floor master bedroom and a screened porch off the second-story “kids’ room,” a gathering spot tucked in behind the kitchen.

Mike had a few requirements of his own: a six-burner gas stove and countertops made from black walnut. He built the counters himself, joining boards together and then sanding them to satin smoothness. There are 45 linear feet of countertop in the house: in the kitchen, on top of shelves on either side of the fireplace in the great room, and in the dining room, on built-in cabinets.

Another demanding task was laying out and installing knotty-cedar ceilings in the third-story bedrooms. The ceilings follow the roofline, including dormers, and are therefore irregular. “Mike stayed up so many nights trying to figure the ceiling out,” Drew recalls.

It was worth it, he says: “I love the cedar. It has such a warm look and feel. And it makes the rooms sound different.”

Drew was responsible for choosing colors for the interior walls. Sand predominates, appearing in the great room and the master bedroom. The remaining three bedrooms on the third story are yellow, royal blue and a lighter blue; the kitchen, breakfast nook and stairwell are sage, and Mike’s second-story office is moss green. The kids’ room is yet another shade of blue, tending toward gray. And the dining room, where a wall of windows looks over the front yard, is coral.

“I pick colors that make me happy,” Drew explains. “I am a stay-at-home mom, so I need the house to look bright and fun — not boring. I just pick colors that energize me.”

In addition, “I have never lived out of town before,” she says; she grew up in Rehoboth Beach, and until moving to Bay Vista her family lived there. “This still feels like a vacation home to me, and it just seemed right to go with fun colors.”

It is in the dining room where Drew feels there is unfinished business. She wants to paint some kind of pattern on those coral walls — a checkerboard, maybe, or boxes — in a lighter shade of coral. “I love putting patterns on the walls,” she says.

That she can do: “I’ve been known to grab a bucket of paint and paint an entire room over,” Drew says. But she needs Mike to fulfill her plan of putting up a modified archway in between the great room’s living area and the kitchen, to delineate the two spaces.

Mike says that construction of his family’s home was a labor of love. Offering particular help were John Nelson of Oceanic Ventures, in Lewes, who built the cabinets, and S.E. Millman Masonry, also a Lewes firm, which put in the great room’s brick fireplace. The mantel is a thick piece of European white oak, the same wood from which the home’s floors are made. Knots and cracks in the unpainted mantel have been filled in with black epoxy, to emphasize rather than hide them.

Mike says that he comes from a family of careful woodworkers. His grandfather, John Zorzi, who lived near Harveys Lake in Pennsylvania, built hydroplanes for racing. His dad, Michael T. Zorzi, lives in Broadkill Beach and “picked up a lot of stuff from his dad,” Mike says. He and Mario started their business in 2003.

“I have learned that there’s a right way to build a house, and a wrong way,” he adds. “I believe that with this house, we figured out the right way.”

Lynn Parks is a regular contributor to Delaware Beach Life.