New Ideas Freshen Up an Old Home
A Wilmington couple makes stunning renovations to a grand old house.
A seamed metal roof gives the addition a sense of age.
Donielle Larson and Reid Huber went house hunting with a wish list, open minds—and their builder. “We were prepared to do renovations, and we needed a professional who could give us an idea of the work that would be involved,” Huber recalls.
The couple and their builder, Scott Porter of Porter Construction in Chadds Ford, looked at a number of homes before a grand, old house in the city of Wilmington quietly came on the market. “It is a house that we have always admired,” Huber says. “It is the kind of house you look at and can imagine yourself living there one day.”
Built in 1939 in Colonial Revival style, the house had much to recommend it, including abundant curb appeal, with a facade of Avondale stone and a slate roof. Inside, there are such charming architectural details as plaster walls, arched doorways and graceful moldings.
At more than 5,000 square feet, it’s a large home. But the space was not distributed in a way that reflects the lifestyle of the couple and their 7-year-old son, Beckett. There were lots of bedrooms, but no family room.
But the biggest issue was the kitchen. “It was not functioning,” Porter says. “The appliances, cabinets, everything was completely worn out.”
The kitchen integrated wine storage and a hutch-style bar cabinet.
THE GAME PLAN
Together, the couple and their builder came up with a strategy for a renovation that would respect the home’s architectural integrity but accommodate an active, young family. “We started in April, and we wanted to be done by the time the baseball playoffs started in September,” Huber says.
To create a larger, more open kitchen, Porter would demolish the wall between the kitchen and an adjacent butler’s pantry. The new kitchen would be open to a family-room addition, designed by Period Architecture, a residential firm in West Chester. The first-floor powder room would get a makeover with a vintage-style marble sink top on polished metal legs, sleek sconces, a marble mosaic floor and charcoal-gray grass-cloth wallpaper.
With a southern exposure and large windows, the new kitchen is bright and cheerful. The couple chose classic, white, raised-panel cabinets, with hutch-like cupboards with furniture-style legs and glass-fronted doors in the bar area. Polished nickel Waterstone faucets add sparkle.
A large center island is crafted from natural walnut. It’s outfitted with storage and child-friendly refrigerator drawers and a prep sink. The island also serves as an informal dining area that seats six. Comfy counter stools are upholstered in leather with nail-head trim.
There’s an eight-burner, commercial-style range; a pot-filler faucet; climate-controlled wine storage; and a warming drawer tucked into the cabinetry. A high-end espresso maker is plumbed to provide filtered water. “As close as you can get to a perfect cup of coffee,” Huber says.
The large stove and dual oven offer a great cooking space.
For the kitchen counters, Larson wanted marble. She enjoys baking, and marble has been the choice of European bakers for centuries because its cool surface is ideal for handling pastry.
“It’s also incredibly beautiful,” she says. “I had my heart set on marble.” Her husband wasn’t convinced. “I worried about staining,” he recalls.
Indeed, marble is porous and susceptible to stains, especially when the stone is polished. Porter suggested marble that is brushed and treated with acid to give the stone a finish that can stand up to daily wear and spills.
“I have it in my own home, so I know it’s easy to live with,” he says. To prove his point, Porter poured red wine on the counter in his kitchen, snapped a picture with his phone and emailed it to the couple with a message: Don’t worry about stains.
“That convinced me,” Huber says. The pale palette is carried through in a backsplash made up of squares of milky, gray-veined Carrara marble. A decorative mosaic of marble is stationed above the range.
The radiant floors in the family room are paved with Chicago bricks.
A STONE IN THE ROAD
The exterior back wall of the existing home was only a few feet from a steep incline in the rear gardens. When excavation began on a family-room addition, workers discovered a sizable stone in the road. The edge of the house abutted a huge rock ledge.
The crew was able to chisel out enough stone for the addition, but not for a foundation. “We had to pour a slab,” Porter recalls.
That change in plans meant the owners were unable to extend the oak flooring in the kitchen into the family room. An artistic alternative was to create a heated floor paved in Chicago brick, a pale brick often imprinted with letters and other characters made in the Windy City, starting in the years following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
It’s a relaxed and casual space with a wood-burning fireplace flanked by built-in cabinetry. A pair of sofas and a duo of leather club chairs reflect the symmetrical aesthetic. A large cocktail table is made from rustic wood on a metal base.
Overhead, a cupola with clerestory windows ushers in natural light and a peek at the chimney. The crowning touch is a dramatic lantern-style chandelier. “I wondered about installing a light that large,” Larson recalls. “I am glad I let Scott talk me into it.”
An oversized chandelier descends from a cupola in the family room.
THE SECRET GARDEN
Three boulders from the excavation have a new home in the garden. Vintage curbstones salvaged from the City of Wilmington have been repurposed as a sweeping open-air staircase chiseled into the hillside. The exterior of the addition is clad in a mix of Chestertown buff and split iron stone with a seamed metal roof, designed to blend with the original house.
Towering trees—a tulip poplar, blue Atlas cedar and oak—soar above shrubs and flowers. A previous owner of the property was a gifted gardener, and the family has enjoyed watching a succession of perennials unfold with the seasons. “The bluebells just finished up, and we are looking forward to discovering what is next,” Larson says.
The new owners put in plantings, too—a more formal arrangement that serves as a visual transition between an expansive bluestone patio and the garden. The yard also is a haven for bird watching. “We have woodpeckers, cardinals and goldfinches,” son Beckett says.
The project was completed in time for the homeowners, natives of St. Louis, to watch the Cardinals play for the National League pennant. Their personal field of dreams is a large, flat expanse of lawn at the top of the terraced garden. “It’s just the right size for a game of catch,” Huber says.