Beachy but Modern
Lewes home evokes the neighborhood’s past, but is built for the future
By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the August 2020 issue
When Fena and Andy Macdonald bought their Lewes Beach property in 2010, the lot already had a small dwelling on it. Neighborhood lore had it that the core of the so-called Dorsey Cottage had been a military barracks, purchased for use as a fishing cabin and floated down the Delaware River from somewhere upstream to its new home.
“It was very old, but super-cute,” Fena recalls. “I loved it.”
As strong as that affection was, it didn’t protect the house from decay. “It got to the point that it just wasn’t safe,” Fena says. “We tried to keep it, but it was moldy and crumbling around us.”
Three years after buying the property, the Macdonalds had the old barracks/fishing shack demolished, its parts reclaimed by Second Chance, a salvage and job-training operation in Baltimore. A new, 4,000-square-foot house was completed on the beachfront property in 2016. The design firm was Robert Young Architects of New York City; the contractor was Camenisch Construction of Milton.
“I don’t like tearing down old cottages,” Fena says. “In our new construction, we really wanted to preserve that cottage feeling and build something that fits in with the houses that have been on Lewes Beach for a hundred years.”
At the same time, “we wanted something contemporary, up-to-date, so that it will fit in with houses around it for the next 100 years.” The house has facets of modern industrial style decor, including exposed plumbing in the master bathroom’s shower, a poured concrete hearth in the great room and poured concrete countertops in the kitchen and master bathroom. The countertops are so heavy that they had to be lifted into place by a crane before the roof was put on, Fena says.
The Macdonald house is two two-story rectangular sections, sitting at right angles to each other and connected by a breezeway. In the back section, facing Delaware Bay, are the public rooms: upstairs, the living and dining areas and kitchen, combined in a great room, and downstairs, a rec room. The family’s bedrooms and bathrooms are in the front section, closer to the street.
“It’s all about the view,” Fena says, explaining why the house is reversed from the typical orientation, which would have public rooms facing the street and bedrooms tucked in the rear. “You want the best views from the rooms you’re usually in.”
Walls throughout the house are white, another decision made with the outside in mind. “Everything inside is neutral,” Fena says. “I wanted the view, with the water, the sand and the grass, to be the main feature.”
The home’s main entrance is in the breezeway. There and throughout the ground story, the floors are polished concrete. “That’s perfect for an easy, beachy cottage,” Fena explains. “I can just sweep out the sand at the end of the day. I can even hose it off if I want to.”
The framing of the open staircase that ascends from the foyer is made from unpolished raw steel. The thick, 3-inch treads are oak.
The great room opens onto a screened porch looking out over the beach and bay. Between the porch and the great room is a wall of glass doors that can be slid out of the way to completely open the living space to the outside.
Typically, Fena says, similar sliding doors are on the ground level and open onto a pool deck or patio, something made of concrete. These doors, on the second story and opening onto a wooden porch floor, “were a nightmare to install.” According to builder Paul Camenisch, the doors had to be installed before the exterior wall was finished, a difficult proposition. “Pretty much the structure had to be built around the doors to create that wide-open feel,” he says. In addition, the doors are very heavy: “It took four people to pick them up and install them.”
But the end-result was well worth it, Fena says. “We have them open almost all the time, except when we really have to close them. We hate running the air conditioning.”
In the kitchen, oak cabinets are stained to look like old barn wood. The drawer pulls and cabinet door handles are cleats, the dock fixtures to which boats are tied.
With a six-burner stove and a 12-foot table at which 20 people can sit, “this kitchen is built to be able to feed a lot of people,” Fena notes. She doesn’t blink at preparing meals for up to 30 people.
In fact, with two six-bunk bedrooms, “this whole house is designed to accommodate a crowd.” The three Macdonald teenagers can bring friends, Fena and Andy can invite guests, “and everything works just fine. The house just flows.”