Home Renovation One Century in the Making

A 100-year-old, Rockford Park estate gets a makeover for the 21st century.


Published:


Photos by Angel Eye Photography

In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts and the luxury liner Titanic sank on her maiden voyage. On Red Oak Road in Wilmington, an army of artisans set to work on a two-year project building what would become one of the most iconic properties in Delaware, a Tudor-style brick mansion with soaring chimney pots, a many-gabled slate roof and a lofty view of Rockford Park and Rockford Tower, the picturesque stone water tank that had been completed 10 years earlier. The home’s 5,750 square feet were replete with such amenities as two solariums, multiple sleeping porches, a wine room, a cloakroom and a garage with a mechanic’s pit and chauffeur’s quarters. A century later, a new generation of craftsmen went to work on the stately old house, fulfilling the current homeowners’ vision of a faithful restoration and judicious updates that will accommodate generations to come. “This is a very special home, and we wanted to respect the original grandeur and style,” says the lady of the house. “At the same time, it needs to be a place of support and comfort for a family.”

“This is a very special home, and we wanted to respect the original grandeur and style,” says the homeowner.

Past, Present and Future

To come up with a plan that would accommodate a modern household without sacrificing vintage charm, she turned to Wilmington architect Leslie Kelly, whose projects include the renovation of Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville. “She had a very distinct plan to preserve as much of the house as possible,” Kelly says. A large living room and a formal dining room—the main entertaining spaces—required only cosmetic updates. The living room, where the children of the house practice piano, was painted pale blue, echoing the antique Delft tiles on the fireplace. The ornate coffered ceiling, mantel and moldings in the dining room were crafted from fumed oak, an alternative to staining that brings out the richness of the grain. “All the wood needed to give it new life was Formby’s oil,” the homeowner says.

The ornate coffered ceiling, mantel and moldings in the dining room were crafted from fumed oak.

Reinterpreting the Kitchen

But the kitchen was unsuited for the family and friends, who enjoy cooking, congregating and conversation. In the early 20th century, the food preparation area was the domain of live-in servants and was divided into a warren of small rooms: a kitchen, storage pantry, butler’s pantry and a break room for the staff. The first decision was to restore the butler’s pantry, which retained much of its original cabinetry. To replicate missing or damaged cupboards and drawers, the team brought in custom cabinetmakers, GTI Millwork of Wilmington, formerly known as Group Three. Soapstone counters are durable, good-looking and enhance the vintage vibe. To conserve space in the kitchen, the homeowners opted to install two dishwashers in the butler’s pantry, where much of the household’s dishes and glassware are stored. “It isn’t a conventional solution, but we are happy with the way it turned out,” she says.

The restored butler’s pantry retained much of its original cabinetry.

A new kitchen and gathering area combine the original kitchen and break room. Although the footprint is the same, removing a wall gives the space a more open feel. Classic white cabinetry and marble counters blend seamlessly with professional-style appliances. An exuberantly patterned art-glass backsplash adds sparkle. The homeowners brought in more natural light by adding a window, using a multi-paned Tudor-style frame they discovered in the basement. Artist Lore Evans of Chadds Ford, Pa., installed antique glass panels. Throughout the house, interior storm windows are attached with magnets, preserving the charm of the leaded frames. “Because the window is identical to the others, it looks as if it has always been here, which is just what we wanted,” the homeowner says. The kitchen is open to an informal gathering area with a fireplace. There’s a banquette for casual dining. A hot tub was removed from an adjoining porch, which was enclosed to create a tranquil sunroom that quickly became the homeowner’s favorite spot in the house.

The living room was painted pale blue, echoing the antique tiles on the fireplace.

Remaining True

To assemble the craftsmen and artisans required for the renovation, the homeowners relied on Scott Porter of Porter Construction in Chadds Ford. “The goal was to remain as true as possible to the house,” he says. “That meant milling all the moldings to match the existing trim and preserving features like the original tile floor in the solarium.” In reconfiguring a large master suite, the homeowners’ wish list included his and hers bathrooms and additional storage space. For the shower in the husband’s bath, Porter suggested Moroccan plaster, a polished, waterproof surface made from olive oil and other organic materials. A nursery that was originally part of the suite was reinterpreted as a closet.  In the early 20th century, an entire room on the second floor was designated for linen storage. This 21st century family repurposed the space as a laundry room. Exterior lighting was controlled with a panel of push-button switches in the upstairs corridor. The homeowners preserved that piece of the past, creating a niche with a door. Despite the age of the house, rewiring the electrical system was remarkably simple, thanks to the original, forward-thinking builder. “All the wiring was in metal conduits,” Porter says. “Our electrician pulled out the old and put in the new.” 

Gathering spaces are furnished in a relaxed and elegant blend of pale upholstered pieces in natural fibers.

Next Generation

The children of the house were encouraged to express their creativity in decorating their rooms. They chose cheerful pops of orange and such 1960s-inspired touches as a hanging chair and shag carpeting. A cozy third-floor reading room, where volumes are arranged alphabetically, has a treetop view of the park. Gathering spaces are furnished in a relaxed and elegant blend of pale upholstered pieces in natural fibers. Wool and sisal carpets ground the spaces. A soothing palette of blue and aqua flows through the rooms, inspired by the floral wallpaper in the foyer. “I carried that piece of wallpaper with me everywhere,” the homeowner says.

Many of the home’s rooms provide a prime view of Rockford Park.

The original room-size coal bin is still in the basement, although the house has been updated with a super-efficient heating and cooling system. There’s a lower-level gymnasium for the man of the house, an avid cyclist. The manse’s crowning glory, its magnificent slate roof, had been replaced with asphalt shingles years ago. The new owners decided to revive the roof, this time with a DaVinci Roofscape, a technology that offers the beauty of natural slate with the durability of engineered materials. “It isn’t an investment we ever expect to recoup,” the homeowner says. “We committed to the roof because it is what this house deserves.” Throughout the restoration, the new owners discovered that other city dwellers love the house, too. Dog walkers and joggers incorporate the house into their daily routes. Drivers tapping their brakes to check out progress were involved in at least four fender benders. “The moving men asked if they could bring their families back for a tour,” the homeowner recalls. “Of course, we said yes.”

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May 2018

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Where:
The Station Gallery
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
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Cost: free

Where:
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Cost: free

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Cost: FREE

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

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More information

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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

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Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
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820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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