A Room with a View
This Federalist treasure overlooks the Delaware—and one beautiful garden.
(page 2 of 3)
In the river room, silhouette portraits hang between shelves. Other silhouettes face half-hull models, which are affixed to wood backings.
You’d be hard-pressed not to notice the nautical theme sailing throughout the house. Wirt has always been drawn to the water. Once he started collecting items, including the hulls, “it was hard to stop.”
Lustrous paintings of ships in gold frames hang above fireplaces in the master bedroom and the library. A model of the ship The Flying Fish, a vessel built in Boston, occupies nearly one wall in the living room. When Wirt found the model, the mast and rigging were in bad shape. An artisan in Lewes restored it for him. The model now rests in a glass tabletop display case that Wirt refinished himself.
The pair does not limit its gold-framed artwork to ships at sea. Wirt found a painting of a judge’s wife, which hangs in the dining room. Her white lace cap shimmers like glossy egg whites, and her lash-less eyes follow you around the room.
An equally austere lady peers from her portrait next to the living room fireplace. Barometers and 18th-century mirrors also adorn the walls. “It is not that far afield from what Rachel and William Aull might have brought to the house,” Wirt says.
The owners have an obvious knack for blending reproductions and antiques. In the living room, a mid-19th century grandfather clock stands near a mahogany secretary built in the 1930s. An expandable dining room table, a Williamsburg reproduction, looks totally at home. “It’s just the right size,” Wirt says.
The four-poster queen in the master bedroom complements the home’s early American sensibility but provides 21st-century comfort. Dewey has installed his grandmother’s turn-of-the-20th-century bedroom set in the third-floor guestroom, whose recessed window offers a stunning view of the river.
The third-floor’s sloping ceilings, heavily painted wood floors and basic fireplaces imply that this area was for servants and-or children. In contrast, the other two floors feature high ceilings, ornate fireplaces and the original finished pine floors, which due to a previous owner’s penchant for carpeting are in fabulous shape.
Wirt and Dewey added crown molding and they also affixed chair rails to areas where they’d evidently been removed. It was no easy task. The walls are so hard that contractors finally used cement screws to secure the moldings.
The couple also renovated the modestly sized kitchen, adding oversized cabinetry and gleaming granite the color of gray flannel. But they had no urge to break down walls and flow into the river room, where they often have meals before the window.
“Neither of us are fans of large kitchens,” Dewey says. “For a two-person household, how much kitchen space do you need?”
They did, however, tackle the backyard with gusto. This is primarily Dewey’s domain, and his preference for a formal garden is plain.
Two white benches, each accompanied by two flower pots, face each other. White picket fencing opens to steps that lead to a raised yard. An iron gate marks the entrance to an expanse of manicured grass alongside the river, which is jointly maintained by neighbors. Though purchased in Cape Cod, the antique gate originally hails from Philadelphia.
You get the sense that each of these antiques store finds is a treasure, and Wirt seems to experience the excitement of the hunt all over again when he talks about them.
But perhaps no treasure is quite as dear as the house.
“The first week we moved here, it was foggy,” Wirt recalls. A low, resounding bellow woke him up with a start. “It was the foghorns on the river,” he says, visibly pleased at the memory.
For both Dewey and Wirt, it was clearly the sound of music.
GET THE LOOK
- Formal gardens are defined by symmetry. John Dewey achieved the effect by placing benches precisely facing each other and making plantings in two perfect rows.
- A place with a water view calls for nautical pieces. Gary Wirt proudly displays paintings of old ships and half-full models in prominent places such as the mantel.
- Antiques and reproductions can mix. In Wirt and Dewey’s living room, a mid-19th century grandfather clock stands near a mahogany secretary built in the 1930s.
- Colonial homes call for colonial decor. Start with the walls. Williamsburg colors do the trick. Then listen to the house. It will tell you what it wants. It was perfect for Wirt’s collection of tea caddies.
- Enjoy the hunt for decorative items. Great finds make great conversation pieces and ample excuses for good stories.
Page 3: Getting it Together | A professional organizer can help you put everything in its place–and make it look really, really good.