Grand Old House
19th-century home retains its formal look, but comfortable touches abound
By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the Holiday 2019 issue
For 20 years, Guy and Karen Buttaro had a vacation home in the 600 block of Kings Highway in Lewes. When they walked downtown, they passed a 19th-century Italianate-style house that was home to a small shop called the Antique Corner. They often took time to admire the building.
“I always said, ‘That’s a really cool house. I’d like to renovate it,’” Guy recalls.
Then one day, a couple of years ago, they noticed a For Sale sign in the front yard. As soon as they could, the Buttaros called a real estate agent and set up an appointment to visit.
The house “had fallen into disrepair,” Guy says. Even so, “we thought it was really sharp.” Tall ceilings — 11 feet downstairs, 10½ feet upstairs — “gave it a grand effect.” And original plaster crown molding, especially ornate in the living room, “put it over the top.”
The Buttaros sold their vacation home and in July 2018 bought what was known as the Thompson-Hocker House, built in 1873 by Dr. James and Anne Thompson and purchased in 1902 by Dr. Ulysses Washington Hocker and his wife, Adella. (In addition to living in the same house, Thompson and Hocker both served as mayor of Lewes — Thompson from 1914 to 1926 and again from 1927 to his death in 1930, and Hocker from 1931 to 1936.)
A major renovation was completed a year ago, just in time for the Buttaro family to celebrate Christmas there. Now, “it’s fantastic!” Guy says.
As part of the overhaul, during which the Buttaros were advised by Lewes architectural designer Brenda Jones, the back section of the house, made up of what Guy calls a “hodgepodge of construction,” was completely demolished and replaced. That included a section that Hocker, a general practitioner who retired in 1950 at the age of 80 and who lived in the Kings Highway home until his death in 1955, had added for his medical office. “Many people around town still remember lining up on the porch to wait for their time to see the doctor,” Karen notes.
Intricate wooden molding and chair railings throughout the house had been covered in so many layers of paint, much of it lead-based, that they couldn’t be stripped and reused, Guy says. They were replaced by new, identical woodwork, made by Tom Moore with Sterling Millworks in Aquasco, Md.
Preserved were the parquet floors, installed by the Hockers atop the original pine flooring, and an L-shaped stairway, with pine treads and a rich dark mahogany banister and newel posts. Also kept intact was the ornate crown molding in the living room and the plainer, but still impressive, crown molding in what was the dining room (now the kitchen) and the men’s smoking room (now the dining room).
The former smoking room also has its original set of bifold doors that open into the kitchen. Each of the four doors has two locking mechanisms, one at the top of the door that slides up into the framing and the other at the bottom that slides down into the floor.
Windows in the old home were removed, carefully taken apart so that the frames could be cleaned and repainted, then reassembled. Despite being single-pane windows, as opposed to the double- or even triple-paned ones that 21st-century energy-conscious residents are used to, these are surprisingly airtight, Guy says. Heavy insulated drapes also help keep the weather outside.
Walls throughout the 3,500-square-foot house are near-white, a Sherwin-Williams shade called “cotton.” Karen, who did the interior decorating, says she wanted to respect the grand feeling of the structure and at the same time make it feel like the vacation home it is. In the dining room, for example, the large table is made from wide sun-bleached boards and the chairs are upholstered in blue fabric bearing images of starfish and scallops. Upholstery on the chairs at the kitchen bar has coral on it.
Even in the formal living room, where the walls are adorned with paintings Karen bought in Venice with this house in mind, there is a relaxed feel.
“This carpet is the first thing that I bought for the house,” she says, pointing out the living room’s silk area rug in muted reds, aquas and grays. “I knew that I wanted something formal in here, that I wanted to respect how this is an old, formal house. But at the same time, I wanted it to be comfortable.”
The Buttaros’ home will be among those featured on this year’s Christmas Tour of Lewes. “This is such a grand house,” says Karen, who will have it decorated for the holidays in time for the Dec. 7 event. “Hopefully, people will enjoy seeing it.”
Guy, who acted as general contractor for the renovation project, agrees. “It’s nice to have been able to bring something back that was in such bad shape,” he says. “I think that this house will last another 150 years.”