Many mid-Atlantic beach houses riff on Nantucket style, with shingled façades, pitched roofs and turrets. In a sea of such traditional homes, a new Rehoboth Beach escape captivates passersby. Its clean lines, flat roof and pared-down elevations celebrate a look prevalent on the opposite coast: Palm Springs Modern.
The owner, DC dentist Gary Seiden, bought a corner lot in this community a mile from the ocean as seagulls fly. His vision was to build a weekend retreat where he could relax and entertain. “I wanted a Palm Springs house with a courtyard and a pool,” he explains. “And I wanted everything on one level so I could open up my bedroom door and jump right into the pool.”
By the time he was ready to design and build more than 10 years later, most homes in the neighborhood had been completed. He reached out to DC-based architect Tom Kamm, who had designed one of its few modern ones, for an interview. They clicked and Kamm landed the job.
Architect and client share an affinity for the Palm Springs Modern vernacular. “My family had a home in Palm Springs so I’m really familiar with it, as is Gary,” relates Kamm. Not only is the nation’s highest concentration of Mid-Century Modern architecture found in this California hot spot, but its annual Modernism Week draws thousands for tours of its iconic buildings.
Kamm and his partner, architect Kelly Saunders, based their design of Seiden’s house on the typical Palm Springs desert-courtyard home—noted for its simple geometry and abundant walls of glass. Their plan consists of three wings arranged in a U shape, embracing a pool/garden courtyard. The main entry wing houses the living and dining rooms; a floating stair and catwalk lead to three guest suites tucked away in a volume cantilevered above it. A second wing contains the master suite, complete with a dressing room, bath and outdoor shower. A third holds the kitchen, butler’s pantry, family room and carport. And a party-ready lower level awaits overflow crowds.
Glass doors and folding NanaWalls lead to the courtyard and pool. Bands of pale brick, the architects’ answer to Southwestern adobe, and dark-stained wooden doors, stairs and overhangs break up expanses of glass and crisp, white stucco. “It was about creating an outdoor room defined by the form of the building, but the outdoor room is as strong as any of the interior spaces,” explains Kamm. “I’m always focused on the notion of transparency versus privacy. Each side of the courtyard has its own massing and its own physical characteristics.”
During the design phase, interior designer Rex Rogosch and landscape architect Jennifer Horn joined the team, collaborating on plans to achieve the streamlined look and carefree attitude the owner was after. A visit to Seiden’s DC row house, which is full of bold, modern art, helped Rogosch get the ball rolling. “I wanted everything to be architectural, but also to feel inviting,” says the designer. “I didn’t do anything too strong because I knew art was going to be a focal point.”
For the main wing, Rogosch designed two chaises with sculptural profiles that, like the glass cocktail and dining tables, reinforce an open feel. He likens the room’s geometric chandeliers to an art installation. “They’re beautiful from all angles,” he notes. Seiden chose the artwork, including large pieces acquired at Art Basel in Miami.
Horn also took cues from the architecture. “Gary wanted the landscape to reinforce the forms Tom and Kelly worked on, so we tried to use plantings in a muscular, linear way,” she explains. Low screening walls, overflowing with native shrubs and grasses, echo the lines of the house and connect it to the landscape.
Since desert species weren’t an option in humid Delaware, “We looked at plants that have a form that you might see in California but can handle a completely different environment,” Horn says. “And we thought about how plants would look in winter because Gary wants to enjoy the home all year round.” In the courtyard garden, she softened masonry edges with freeform little bluestem and thread leaf amsonia—a species that reminds her of seaweed. “We wanted to be a little wild in the planters,” she says.
Enjoyment is key for Seiden and his husband, who retreat to Rehoboth almost every weekend. “When I arrive in the summer,” Seiden says, “I jump in the pool immediately.” And come fall, the Baltimore native watches Ravens games on one of the living room chaises, facing the TV and fireplace.
From the low-maintenance landscape and outdoor guest shower to the window shades raised and lowered at the touch of a button, every element of the four-bedroom, eight-bath home revolves around relaxation and easy entertaining. A butler’s pantry boasts a beverage fridge and icemaker so guests can pop in for a cold drink. Rogosch points out that his simple color palette means furniture can be moved around “and it all happens to work together.”
Seiden loves sharing his getaway with friends. “In my beach house, you’re allowed to bring in sand. You’re allowed to bring your kids. I’m not finicky about what’s going on,” he insists. “I feel super-blessed that I was able to do this.”
Architecture: Thomas A. Kamm, AIA, and Kelly Saunders, AIA, LEED AP, Kamm Architecture, Washington, DC. Builder: Garrison Homes, Lewes, Delaware. Interior Design: Rex Rogosch, r Squared Design, Lewes, Delaware. Landscape Architecture: Jennifer Horn, RLA, Jennifer Horn Landscape Architecture, Arlington, Virginia. Landscape Contractor: Green Acres Landscaping, Arlington, Virginia.