Regaining Its Old Charm

Depression-era bungalow’s history spurs designer to renovate rather than tear down

By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the August 2014 issue

Brenda Jones wasn’t looking for a new home. She and her then-teenage boys were perfectly happy in their dwelling on Fourth Street in Lewes.

“I never thought that we would leave that house,” says Brenda, who is an architectural designer. “But it had been seven years since I had designed and built it, and I was kind of getting the itch to do a project again.”

A friend told her that a vacant lot on the corner of East Third Street and Rodaline Avenue was for sale. She was immediately interested; vacant lots in the heart of Lewes don’t come on the market very often. But when Brenda investigated, she learned that the lot and the small cottage next to it, facing Third Street, were a package deal.

“Well, I thought, that’s OK,” she recalls. “I could fix the little house up a bit, live in it while I was building on the lot and then sell it.”

Fast-forward 2½ years: Brenda has sold the Fourth Street home that she once expected to stay in forever, and is living in the small bungalow that she first thought was a throwaway.

“It was so nondescript, without any character,” she says. The once-open front porch had been enclosed and the house was covered with blue asbestos shingles. Inside, light gray paneling hid the house’s plaster walls and the original vertical-grain heart pine floors were covered by blue shag carpet. “But it turned out that I fell in love with it,” she says.

The turning point came when Brenda, while cleaning out the house, discovered a small snapshot of Donald Lynch. Donald was the brother of Mary Lynch Hayden, who died in 2010 and from whose estate Brenda had bought the cottage and the vacant lot. Donald and Mary’s parents, Minnie and George Lynch, had built the house in 1929.

In the photo, Donald is dressed in military fatigues and standing on Third Street, his foot on the bumper of a car. Behind him is the home where he and Mary had grown up and its front porch, as yet unenclosed, looks charming.

“This was a modest Depression-era bungalow,” Jones says. “It didn’t have any bells and whistles, it had just three bedrooms and one bath, but I saw from that picture that it had potential. I wanted to restore it to its glory days.”

Doing that was more work than she anticipated. The back porch, where the kitchen had been located, had to be torn down and rebuilt. The rest of the house had to be gutted, except for the floors, and all new electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning (geothermal) systems were installed. And those asbestos shingles had to be taken off and replaced with pale blue cement lap siding, accented by darker blue shutters. Despite all this, the work took just four months. Brenda bought the 1,200-square-foot home in December 2011; work was started on Jan. 3, 2012; and she moved in that April. The contractor was Mike Cooksey with Seacoast Construction.

What was the living room in the Lynch household is now a combined living and dining area. The south-facing house gets “incredible light,” Brenda says; to take advantage of it, she had another window added in the living area.

Where there used to be two doors off the living room, each opening to a bedroom, there is now just one, which slides back and forth on a track, like a barn door. It opens into the master bedroom.

The home’s second bedroom was used for closet space and to expand the bathroom; the original bathroom was so small that a woman could brush her teeth, use the toilet and shave her legs all at the same time, Brenda says.

What was the original third bedroom is now a studio (in addition to her design work, Brenda is also a painter). Because she found a Valentine’s Day card in that room, sent to “Mary L.,” Brenda believes that this is where Mary slept as a child.

The kitchen is located in what was the dining room. The bar that separates it from the dining area is topped with one piece of black walnut, which came from a tree that blew down more than 50 years ago near the entrance to Angola By The Bay (at the top of Rehoboth Bay) and was salvaged by the developer. The unvarnished, unstained wood is cut straight on its kitchen edge; the edge facing the dining area follows the original contours of the tree trunk.

On the back porch, where the Lynch family had their kitchen, Brenda has her design office. There, another sliding door that conceals a closet is made from the lid of a shipping crate that Brenda found when she was cleaning out the attic. The crate had contained the belongings that Kyoko “Susie” Lynch, who met Donald when he was serving in Japan and later married him, shipped from her home country to the house on East Third Street in 1958.

After Brenda finished remodeling her home, she invited Susie, who still lives in Lewes, over to see it. When Susie walked into the office and saw the crate lid, she started to cry. “Of course, she didn’t know that I was using it, and she said that she hadn’t seen it in years,” Brenda says, getting up to fetch a tissue from a nearby table. “This story makes me cry every time I tell it.”

Brenda says that she thinks often of the family that lived in her house — of Mary’s husband, Ducky, her brother Donald, her mother and her father (who died in 1960 following a harness racing accident in New Hampshire). In particular, she thinks about Mary, whose son, Lewis, was killed in a car accident in 1955 at the age of 19; Mary lived her whole life on East Third Street.

“I wonder whether she would be happy with what I did. I hope that she would be.”

Lynn Parks is a regular contributor to Delaware Beach Life.