Portals of Color and Light
Antique stained-glass windows add both beauty and privacy to this Rehoboth home
By Lynn R. Parks | Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the October 2019 issue
While visiting an antiques store several years ago, Toni McClay came across something that would change her life, and the life of her husband, Sam.
“I was shopping there, something that I liked to do on weekends, and I saw a small stained-glass window,” she says. “It really took my eye, and I started wondering what I could do with it. Well, I thought, I could hang it in a window, where the colors could catch the sun. So I bought it.”
Toni doesn’t remember the cost — probably around $50 or $75, she says. But that stained-glass creation is now one of more than three dozen colorful, antique windows on display in the McClay home in the Rehoboth Beach Yacht & Country Club community.
That first purchase, which hangs in an upstairs guest bedroom, was in pretty good shape, needing nothing but a light cleaning, Sam says. (He is responsible for any refurbishment that is required. “All I do is pick them out,” his wife says.)
But that hasn’t been the case with many of the other windows they’ve acquired. With wire brushes and steel wool, Sam has had to scrape off years of accumulated grime as well as paint left behind in other, less careful, makeovers. In several instances, he has also had to replace panes of glass that were broken.
Nearly always, when the window is in a wooden frame, he repaints the wood. Occasionally, he uses a router to add a small bead to the frame, just to make it a little fancier. He saves any hardware that was attached and reuses the original nails and screws if he can.
Sam doesn’t know how old the windows are, but guesses that many of them have passed the century mark, based on “layers of bad paint and putty that’s so hard it’s like cement.”
The McClays bought their 3,200-square-foot home 16 years ago, when it was under construction. “I liked it because it looked cottagey from the outside,” Toni recalls. “Even though we’re at the beach, so many houses around don’t look like beach houses.”
Another attraction was its front porch — “We use it every day,” Sam notes — and its many large windows. “I don’t like to be closed in,” Toni says. She also doesn’t like to use curtains, blinds or shades. She has found that the stained-glass windows let in plenty of light but at the same time provide privacy.
In the home’s entrance foyer, identical rectangular stained-glass windows, with fleurs-de-lis in blue and clear beveled glass, cover the side windows of the front door. The fact that they are a nearly perfect fit is purely accidental. “I buy a window and then always wonder where I’m going to put it,” Toni says.
That was also the case with a large arched window that hangs in the home’s second-story great room, in a half-circle window. “She bought it but didn’t know where it could go,” Sam says. “I measured and turned out that it fit just right.”
That window faces south. “When the sun comes through, it is amazing,” Toni notes. She put an antique wicker chaise longue in the room with the idea that she would sit there and read. That hasn’t happened yet, but she is hopeful that it will.
At the entrance to the great room is one of two old doors that Sam has refinished and fitted with colored glass. The oak door has an oval of dark blue glass in the center and is decorated with scroll work that Sam had to carefully take off in order to remove layers of old paint.
The second door, also oak, is at the entrance to the master bathroom. It has a center rectangle of green glass surrounded by 12 small squares in various colors.
In addition to stained-glass windows and doors, the McClays also collect antique furniture. In the entrance foyer are a desk that belonged to Toni’s grandmother and a stout oak buffet with a short mirrored back. In the dining room is a maple mantel that the couple bought more than 40 years ago, which they have taken with them on each move.
Outside in a flower bed is an old wrought-iron gate, made in Cincinnati, that Sam refinished. This summer, it was covered with a pink flowering mandevilla. At Christmas, Toni will hang strings of small white lights on it. She will also put a holiday wreath on a small metal moose, dubbed “Vermont,” that stands in a flower bed near the front door.
Toni says that even though nearly all of the windows in their house are decorated with stained glass, she and Sam are keeping their eyes open for additions to their collection. Despite the work that’s often involved, Sam doesn’t mind.
“Sometimes, I just walk around the house to see all the colors and the sun shining through the windows,” he says.