New, in an Old Style

Dewey Beach home harkens back to an elegant era

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

When Alex Pires was growing up in Easton, Mass., one of his favorite buildings was the Ames Public Library, designed by 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Young Alex often visited the library. “I thought that it was the most elegant building in town,” he says. “You don’t see that kind of luxury anymore.”

He fell in love with the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style of architecture, typified by the library and, on a much larger scale, Trinity Church in Boston. Richardson’s buildings have turrets, arches and rows of multipaned windows. A private residence that he designed, the William Watts Sherman House, is one of several grand homes in Newport, R.I., built over the last 40 years of the 19th century in what would become known as the shingle style.

When it came time to design his new home in Dewey Beach, Alex and his wife, Diane Cooley, told David Jones 

of Jones and Boer Architects, of Washington, D.C., that they wanted something in the shingle style. In particular, they said that they like the Sherman House, primarily its windows, and another Newport home, the Isaac Bell House, which has two turrets. Their Dewey Beach home, shingled and complete with rows of multipaned windows and a turret, stands out among the cottages and modern beach houses that surround it.

“Our house is beautiful,” Diane says. “It has an organic feel, a beachy feel combined with an elegant feel, that really reminds you of New England.”

“Everything that people build today is utilitarian, functional,” adds Alex. “Nobody has the time” — construction of their house, finished in 2008, took two years — “or the money to build like this anymore.”

Both Alex and Diane are attorneys and have their own law firm, with an office in Washington. They also own several businesses in Dewey Beach, including the Rusty Rudder, Ivy, the Bottle & Cork and Northbeach. 

The contractor for their house was Beachwood Inc., of Showell, Md. Alex and Diane had difficulty finding a firm willing to tackle the job. The house is very detailed, with wood paneling throughout and a coffered wooden ceiling in the great room. And then there are all those cedar shingles. “No one wanted to do it,” Alex says. “They all knew that it would take a lot of time.”

The interior designer was Brenda Lyne of Pinehurst, N.C., who has since retired. 

The Pires-Cooley house overlooks the Atlantic. A screened porch extends across the front and the south side; in the great room, four sets of French windows open onto the porch. Floors are made of Australian cypress. 

Granite counters in the kitchen are swirls of blue, mirroring the ocean, Diane says. Large blue-and-white ginger jars stand in the glass-front top sections of French country cabinets. Over the stove, four antique Portuguese ceramic tiles, each showing a sailboat and all in blue and white, are set into the wall.

Unlike the homes in Newport, where the wood paneling typically is dark, 

the paneling in the Pires-Cooley home is painted a rich cream color. The one exception is Alex’s office, where the natural dark brown walnut color remains. 

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, two comfy chairs, complete with hassocks, sit in front of the turret windows, looking north toward Rehoboth. The master bath is all marble, including the floor, which is covered in two solid pieces of orange stone. Next to the glassed-in shower is a heated towel bar, an extravagance that Diane wanted after experiencing one in a London hotel. 

Throughout the house are works of art, including paintings by Rehoboth Art League artists Jack Lewis (now deceased) and Aina Nergaard-Nammack. There are two paintings by Memphis folk artist Lamar Sorrento, one of which depicts Alex standing knee-deep in Rehoboth Bay with the Rusty Rudder in the background, and several boxing lithographs hang in his office. There are also bronzes, including a statue of Beethoven on the great room’s baby grand piano and another, of a young woman, titled “Elegance of the 1860s,” by 19th-century Italian artist Cesar Ceribelli. 

“This is 150 years old,” Alex says, holding the latter in his hands. “Lincoln was president!”

Diane and Alex’s house in Washington, built in 1921, has a long history of habitation and really feels like a home, Alex says. Their Dewey Beach abode, though he calls it “the prettiest building in town,” is just seven years old. “It isn’t there yet,” he says. “But it’s young. It will get there.”

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