A Washington, DC, couple on the lookout for a weekend retreat purchased a circa-1910 cottage a block from the beach in Rehoboth. In addition to its alluring location, the property boasted a guesthouse on the premises that would provide their college-age kids with a modicum of privacy. With its weathered-shingle exterior, the main house perfectly fit its quaint, beachside neighborhood—as well as its owners’ needs.
However, there were some drawbacks. The interiors were dated and, as with most homes of its era, rooms were small and choppy. “It was in horrible shape when we bought it,” the wife recalls with a laugh. “We did a quick renovation and kept it for a number of years before deciding to make it nicer and more useful. Our main goal was to open up the rooms on the main level and give it a relaxed, beachy feel. And we wanted it to be stylish.”
The couple hired Rob Brown and Todd Davis, who had renovated a home in Florida for them, to work their magic again. While the owners would have preferred to add onto the three-bedroom structure, they were hampered by Rehoboth’s restrictions for historic properties, which limited the scope of their work to the home’s existing footprint.
“The house was basic, no frills—just a functional place on the beach,” says Davis. “Our first directive was to create openness and flow, so we took out the doorway between the foyer and the sitting area and created a bigger opening from the sitting area to the breakfast room.” A peninsula that separated the small kitchen from the breakfast room was demolished to make way for a large, efficient kitchen centered around an island big enough to seat five.
An operable NanaWall in the kitchen opens completely to a dining area on the existing porch, seamlessly connecting indoors and out. The porch wraps around the house to the front entry, providing plenty of outdoor living space. Transparent sheets on electric rollers protect it from the elements and extend its use into the cooler months.
Despite its vintage, the house was low on charm inside. Brown and Davis recommended a dramatic interior makeover emphasizing millwork in an updated traditional style. “It was a modest cottage, utilitarian and blocky. We restored and improved the original so it felt like a higher-quality space,” Brown explains. “We made sure that the new architectural elements were appropriately cottagey. We thought, ‘It’s a cottage, so let’s make it as charming and cozy as possible.’”
To convey the “beachy” vibe the couple wanted, the designers, who split their time between offices in DC, Miami Beach and Los Angeles, went nautical. They replaced a window in the foyer and two flanking the fireplace with circular “porthole” openings. From wide-plank oak floors washed in a driftwood stain to the wood-paneled walls and board ceilings and beams, “the house is almost ship-like,” notes Brown.
The original brick fireplace was also transformed. “If there is an opportunity to have a fireplace as a focal point, we take it,” Brown says. “In this case, we really dressed up the fireplace with millwork.” The wood-burning fireplace is now fitted with a gas element, providing a modern touch amidst traditional paneling.
The NanaWall also injects a modern note. “We try to make architectural renovations feel as if that’s the way they were designed in the beginning,” Davis explains. “But sometimes we’ll decide to say, ‘This is new, this is modern living. This house has been updated with the latest.’”
The clean-lined, crisp-white kitchen combines custom cabinetry with marble countertops and backsplash. A Mid-Century Modern light fixture makes a statement over the island, setting the tone for chic furnishings with nautical flair; for instance, the bar stools were designed to look like they belong aboard a cruise ship, with leather seats and chrome bases.
Brown Davis custom-designed virtually all of the furnishings in the home. The pieces embrace a sophisticated, mid-century vibe, from the mahogany-and-brass console in the entry to the coffee table, which combines lacquered live-edge oak on a brass base with splayed legs. The wood-paneled sofa back was inspired by the work of iconic Hollywood decorator Billy Haines, whose client roster included Joan Crawford and Nancy Reagan.
“What’s really nice about customizing furniture for clients is that we’re able to draw in the exact size needed,” observes Brown. “Size, seat height, firmness—we ensure that everything is a perfect fit in each space.”
Upstairs, bedrooms were reconfigured to add closet space. A faux-wood wall covering by Jerry Pair imbued the master bedroom with a rustic, beachy feel.
The chic new look is exactly what the homeowners wanted. “We’re in Rehoboth for most of the summer,” says the wife. “It’s where we go to relax. We’re at the beach every day, surfing, paddleboarding, playing tennis. We wanted the house to reflect that beach-going lifestyle.”
Renovation Architecture & Interior Design: Rob Brown and Todd Davis, Brown Davis Interiors, Inc., Washington, DC, Miami Beach, Florida, and Los Angeles, California. Contractor: Oak Construction Company, Lewes, Delaware.
Super White Paint on Millwork: benjaminmoore.com. Windows: marvin.com.Flooring: Custom finished, engineered European white oak. Millwork: Designed by browndavis.com; fabricated by oakconstructioncompany.com. Custom Furniture & Drapery Design and Fabrication: browndavis.com.
Sectional, Sofa & Coffee Table: browndavis.com. Sectional & Sofa Fabric: romo.com. Patterned Pillow Fabrics: romo.com, China Seas fabric through quadrille.com. Fireplace: 42 Cosmo Unit with Ebony Glass through heatnglo.com. Floor Lamps: arteriors.com. Fan: Aviation through minkagroup.net.
Wall Covering: jerrypair.com. Hanging Lamps: relaxhouse.com. Art above Bed: Client’s Collection. Window Seat Cushion & Patterned Fabrics: Travers through hinescompany.com, raoultextiles.com. Nightstands: straussfurniture.com. Dresser: westelm.com.
Mirror: rh.com. Floor: Penny round mosaic tile.