From Tent to Vacation Home
Former Methodist camp shelter has been transformed into a 21st-century getaway
By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the April 2020 issue
Janice and Mark Hansan’s 2,500-square-foot vacation home on Oak Avenue in Rehoboth Beach is thought to have started its life as a “tent,” one of the small two-story, four-room houses that were clustered around an open-air tabernacle at Second Street and Baltimore Avenue. The tabernacle and tents formed a Methodist camp meeting area that was established in 1873.
After the house was moved to its current location, perhaps in the early- to mid-20th century, the homeowner added a screened porch that extended across the front of the house and along both sides.
That porch eventually was enclosed. But in the home’s most recent renovation, completed in February 2019, the front portion of the porch was restored to its original screened version.
Janice and Mark spend summer evenings on their front porch. They relish the sea breeze, and their Labrador retrievers, Bella and Boo, enjoy watching people walk by.
“For years, we rented a house on this street in the summer; we love Oak Avenue,” Janice says. “We would walk by this house all the time, and often stop to talk to the people who owned it.” Like the Hansans, the previous owners’ primary residence is in Bethesda, Md.
Parents of three sons, the youngest of whom is in his first year of college, the Hansans weren’t planning on buying a beach house. But then the former tent went on the market and a year later, when it was still for sale, “we worked out a deal,” Janice says. (That deal included much of the furniture, as well as the dishes and silverware. “Why redo something if you don’t have to?” she asks.)
The couple bought the home in
the fall of 2016. Renovation work by Burton Builders, of Lewes, began in February 2018.
“We wanted to keep the integrity of the house,” Janice notes. “I love old houses and I didn’t want a cookie-cutter, Bethesda-suburban house. When I was growing up, my family vacationed in old beach houses, in Ocean City, Md., and in Bethany Beach, and they looked like this house. That’s what I wanted to keep.”
Visitors to the home enter into the west-facing sunroom, a remaining part of the enclosed porch. The interior wall is covered in clapboard siding, just as it was when the structure was still a tent, and the wooden floor is painted, as a porch floor would be. Original shutters, painted pale blue, flank a solitary interior window that looks into the living room.
The four-light door from the sunroom into the living room is the home’s original front door. Beadboard walls in the living room are painted sky blue and the brick surround of its gas-burning fireplace is painted white. Two single glass doors, each placed where a window used to be, open onto the front porch.
A guest room (on the east side of the house, in another enclosed porch section) has beadboard walls and, like the living room, is painted sky blue. A weathered sign advertising “Beach Rentals” hangs over the bed.
The U-shaped galley kitchen, tucked in behind the living room, has a wooden countertop in a small alcove at the bottom of the U and soapstone countertops along the two “uprights.” Janice chose those materials after she researched what kind of counters would have been found in homes in the mid-20th century.
What she calls the pantry, a floor-to-ceiling cupboard for dishes as well as food, is hidden by an opaque, ribbed-glass door. Underneath the wooden countertops, curtains made from old coffee sacks serve as doors for a couple of the cabinets.
Behind the kitchen is the family room. Floors there are made from reclaimed barn wood.
And behind the family room is a second screened porch, looking over the backyard. Dividing the family room from the porch is a folding glass wall: a series of bifold doors that can be pushed completely to one side, a position they are often in during the summer.
Suspended from the porch ceiling by thick ropes is an all-weather swinging couch, wide enough to be used as a bed. “I’d always wanted one of these,” Janice says, giving it a push.
In the upstairs hallway hang the front pages of three old newspapers, two from the New York Times and one from Philadelphia’s The Every Bulletin, all from 1922. During the renovation, workers found many newspapers stuffed into the walls, apparently for insulation. Janice selected three of the best-preserved front pages to put on display.
She says the family is still getting used to the idea of having a beach house. Last summer, they didn’t make it to Rehoboth as often as they could have, but she hopes this summer will be different.
“We’ve always loved coming to Rehoboth,” Janice notes. “And with this house, I feel a special connection to the town and its history. I want to come down as often as possible.”