Making You Look

Renovated Lewes home uses tricks of color and light to draw the eye  through its entire length

By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the May 2015 issue

In the backyard of Hal and Holly Brundage’s Lewes home stands a tall curly willow tree, Salix matsudana, by far the largest feature there. With its unique corkscrew branches, it’s the first thing that a visitor to the yard notices.  

And it’s one of the first things that a visitor who walks into the house through the front door notices, even though it is three rooms and a screened porch away.

That’s by plan. The late James Carmo, an architect in Palm Beach, Fla., and an acquaintance of the Brundages, designed the home’s interior so that the eye of anyone standing in the front door is drawn to the back and to the tree. 

Carmo died in August without ever seeing the house, either before its renovation or after. He based his design on photographs and sketches the couple sent him. 

“He had great vision,” says Hal. “He really grasped what this house is about and came up with a great plan.”

The Brundages bought the Market Street house in 2011. Renovations were started in December of that year and were completed by Labor Day 2012. Brenda Jones, an architectural designer based in Lewes, helped to put Carmo’s plans into action; the contractor was Herring Creek Builders near Lewes. 

Last year, the house won the Lewes Historical Society’s annual Restoration Award. It “has been restored to its former glory while adapting to the conveniences of today,” the society said in making the announcement. 

The house was built in 1904 in an L-shape, with the bottom of the L facing the street. Over the decades, numerous additions were tacked on. Step one in the renovation was tearing off everything that wasn’t part of the original structure. 

“At first, we thought that we would stick to the footprint as it first was,” Hal says. “But soon, we realized that wasn’t going to work.” He and Holly ended up adding to the back and to one side to accommodate a larger great room and master bedroom suite. Now, the house is about 2,500 square feet, up from 2,075 when the Brundages bought it. 

The living room is the same size and shape it was in the original configuration. Holly and Hal planned to renovate the room’s fireplace, which appeared to have been plastered over. But when workers tore the plaster off, they found no fireplace, just a connection for a space heater. The Brundages went ahead and had a wood-burning fireplace installed; they bought the Victorian mantel in an antiques store in Salem, N.J. 

Hanging in the hallway just outside the living room 

(as the eye travels toward that curly willow) is a collection of colored scientific engravings — of an iguana, a snake, birds and a sea turtle — by 18th century English naturalist Mark Catesby. Hal is an environmental and fisheries consultant and for several years has been studying the sturgeon population in the Delaware River. There are prints of sturgeon throughout the house, including six in his upstairs office and two, by 18th century German ichthyologist Marcus Elieser Bloch, in the great room. A small room (really an expansion of the hallway) that the Brundages call the gallery is lined with bookcases holding old microscopes, cameras and books. 

Holly, who chose the colors for the house, says she used an optical trick to ensure that Carmo’s plan to draw the eye from front to back worked: The hallway and the great room are both painted aqua, but the hallway is a darker shade. “The eye follows the lighter shade,” she says.

Enhancing the effect is the fact that the great room is made bright by its vaulted ceiling and many windows. Tucked into the side of the great room, opposite the hallway, is the kitchen, orange with dark granite countertops and painted off-white cabinets. 

The master suite is on the first floor, just off the gallery. On display over the bed is a silk embroidered wall hanging that Hal bought during a working trip to Mongolia. 

Upstairs are two guest bedrooms and Hal’s office. A half wall separates one guest bedroom from the hallway; windows in that room are too small to satisfy the fire code’s demand that there be a way out other than going down the stairs. (The half wall is required because a locked, or simply closed, door could be too hard to find and exit through in a smoke-filled room.) 

The Brundages bought their Lewes home from the estate of Katherine Harker, who died in 2009 and who was known in the Lewes area as the Avon Lady. Along with the house, they also got Katherine’s collection of UFO and “alien” collectibles. They got rid of most of them. But they kept one: a silver alien about 2 feet tall, with an oversized head and a shy wave. It stands in their front yard, near the west edge of the front porch. 

“Everybody knew Katherine, and everybody knew about her collection,” says Holly. “People get a kick out of seeing this in the yard. It’s like a part of her is still here.”

Lynn R. Parks is a regular contributor to Delaware Beach Life.