The definition of sheer joy is a small child at play on the beach. Whether splashing in the surf, chasing sandpipers or digging fortiny crabs, the possibilities for fun abound until sunset—or naptime—intervene.
A couple with three married children, four young grandchildren and one on the way loved hosting the entire brood every summer, until they outgrew their modest oceanfront house in Bethany Beach, Delaware. “At one point, we had to put a crib in the laundry room,” lamented the wife. “We tried to figure out a way to renovate but there were things about the house that we just couldn’t fix. It was easier to start over.”
The owners tapped Bethany-based builder Mark Dieste to build their new, seven-bedroom vacation home after admiring his company’s work in the neighborhood, and architect John B. Hendrickson to design it. Confined by a long, narrow lot, Hendrickson took advantage of every buildable inch between the oceanfront setback and the street, and drew up a structure that is only 30 feet wide but 132 feet long. Varied rooflines, decks and window arrangements keep the exterior from looking too boxy, but the architect left the interiors—including the kitchen and bathrooms—a blank slate for the clients to detail as they wished.
At first, the wife planned to decorate the interiors herself with help from the Florida interior designer who had completed the couple’s permanent winter home. But Bethany’s strict building laws gave her pause. Demolition of the existing house, construction of the new one and all installations would have to take place between September 1 and June 15. If they missed the mark, the family would not be able to enjoy the house the following summer.
“I came to the conclusion that I needed help,” recounted the wife, who had serendipitously spotted a photo of a beach-themed show-house room by designer Erin Paige Pitts in a magazine. She called the Gibson Island-based designer and said, “As soon as I saw your hanging starfish sculpture, I knew you were the one for me.”
Pitts was hired in July 2011 and hit the ground running. “I promised the owners I’d keep ahead of the builders so we wouldn’t slow anything down,” she recalled. Pitts developed a plan that would add character and detail to what she called “a vanilla rectangle,” creating concept boards to help her clients visualize both interior architecture and furniture arrangements.
She designed custom millwork, including paneling, tongue-and-groove woodwork and box-beam ceilings, to help define rooms and transitional areas. “These details help break up the home’s long and linear spaces, which otherwise would feel like a bowling alley,” she explained. “They also add depth, warmth and texture.”
Pitts subtly evoked the seashore in every room. Adhering to the blue-and-yellow color scheme her client requested, she selected furniture, surfaces and tile with organic textures that recall shells, weathered driftwood, sea glass and reeds of grass. “I wanted it to feel like you were at the beach, but not in a kitschy way,” she explained. “The blue of the water and the yellow of the sand should just take you there.”
Completed on time in June 2012, the new home puts visitors in a beachy mood regardless of the season. The ground level, which houses an exercise room, spare bedroom and laundry room, spills out to the dunes. The main living areas with the best views occupy the second and third floors; stairs and an elevator connect the three levels.
The interiors were designed to be comfortable, kid-friendly and conducive to fun for all ages. Awash in pale blue iridescent tile, blue cabinetry and Blue Celeste marble countertops, the kitchen can accommodate multiple cooks when meals are prepared for a crowd. A casual breakfast table on one side of the kitchen and a larger dining table on the other make serving a breeze.
The living room and family room on opposite ends of the second floor are furnished with cozy rattan and upholstered seating in durable fabrics that can withstand wear and tear from little ones. “The owner wanted everything to be cleanable and comfortable for kids,” noted Pitts.
Areas for play abound. In the family room, a dedicated puzzle table and children’s play table are positioned beside cabinets that stow away toys. A play area on the third-floor landing has its own secret hideout concealed behind built-in shelves. And three children’s bedrooms all convey a light-hearted, whimsical vibe.
The beachfront end of the third floor is reserved for the master suite—a sanctuary complete with a deck overlooking the ocean, a breakfast bar and a spa-like bath. As architect Hendrickson pointed out, “In large beach houses like this one, the owners typically pay special attention to their own private space so when the kids and grandkids become too much, they have an ‘away’ place.”
In this house, said the homeowner, that situation rarely arises. “We always know we’ll all be together in the summer,” she observed. “Having everyone in the new house is awesome. And Erin was a lifesaver. I never would’ve gotten it done on my own.”
Pitts is most proud that the house reflects the couple’s aesthetic—not her own. “I tell clients, ‘It isn’t about me; it’s your house,’” she explained. “So making it feel like it belonged to them was important. When I see them in the house, I know it feels like them.”
Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: JOHN B. HENDRICKSON, AIA, Bethany Beach, Delaware. INTERIOR DESIGN: ERIN PAIGE PITTS, Erin Paige Pitts Interiors, Gibson Island, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: MARK DIESTE, Mark Dieste Design/Build, Bethany Beach, Delaware.