In Milton, a 19th-Century Treasure
Roi Barnard bought the R.L. Lacy House—which was built by a stately ship captain in 1820—almost 30 years ago. Since, he's preserved many of the home's existing bones but also added several elegant and eclectic touches.
Photos by John Lewes
In the master bedroom, a stenciled border of swags, birds and berries dates back more than 50 years.
In 1988, Roi Barnard was searching for a getaway from life in Washington, D.C. He started in Lewes, the historic village that was on its way to becoming a trendy arts and beach community, but prices were already outpacing his aspirations.
“I was looking at spending at least $200,000 for a place in Lewes—a ton of money back then—and I didn’t want to spend that much,” he says. “Then someone asked, ‘Have you ever been to Milton?’”
Settled by English colonists in 1672, the community on the Broadkill River was originally known as Head of the Broadkiln. In 1807, the town became Milton, named for the English poet John Milton.
For Barnard, the location was paradise found. He was smitten by the town’s largely unaltered examples of period architecture, from fanciful Victorian houses to inviting Arts and Crafts bungalows. He enjoyed the friendly locals, as well as the proximity to beach life.
He and a partner paid $68,000 for a Federal-style house and two lots. It was the first of five properties he would buy over the years in Milton and by far the most expensive.
“I just fell in love with the town,” he says. “It’s blossomed into a long-term relationship."
Facade of the R.L. Lacy House
The R.L. Lacy House was built by a prosperous sea captain in 1820, when Milton boasted a bustling shipbuilding industry and seven granaries. It is one of nearly 200 sites in the town that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Its attributes include an expansive, three-bay front porch, six-over-six double-hung windows and a distinctive red standing-seam pulled-metal roof.
“The sound of rain on the roof is magical,” he says.
Barnard, who has devoted most of his professional life to running a beauty salon, set about prettying up the property with such additions as a white picket fence.
“This is probably the only home you will ever see that has a chandelier in the garage,” he says.
He took a hatchet to a ceiling that had been added over the summer kitchen on the back of the house, curious as to what might be above. He was delighted to uncover distinctive beams and trusses bearing centuries-old adze marks and peg joinery.
“It’s almost Elizabethan, with all the beautiful timbers,” he says. “They are way too lovely to cover up.”
The summer kitchen is now a spacious guest room with a private entry, “so people who come to visit us have a place of their own.”
When he bought the house nearly 30 years ago, Barnard was impressed by such features as the stately central staircase, ornate plaster medallion in the foyer and elegantly reeded mantel on the parlor fireplace. There’s also a fireplace in the formal dining room, which mirrors the parlor on the opposite side of the house.
“I could see that the bones were there,” he says.
A stately fireplace in the dining room lends a formal feel that is perfect for the decor.
The house also has remarkably abundant and sophisticated closets for its age. Barnard opens a dining room cupboard equipped with more doors to additional storage space.
“There are closets inside of closets,” he says. “Shipbuilders take advantage of every little bit of space.”
From the beginning, he has furnished the house with old pieces he bought at estate sales, secondhand stores and antiques shops. He found a few choice pieces on trash day, including the horseshoe-shaped desk in the study.
“I would get up on my bike and ride around at 5:30 in the morning to see what people had put out on the curb,” he says. “If I found a treasure, I would go back with a truck and pick it up.”
Barnard has long collected the works of noted artist A. Brockie Stevenson, known for pure and precise renderings of Americana. Stevenson’s interpretation of a farmhouse hangs in the parlor of the Lacy House.
“I did his hair for 40 years,” he says. “He never paid for a haircut, and I always got the first copy of a print before they were shown in a gallery.”
Barnard does not cook, so he decided not to renovate the kitchen.
Pieces of the past
Years ago, Barnard bought an opulent gold-leaf cabinet with painted insets of musicians, made around 1850 to hold sheet music. He knew that he liked it, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
“It’s just right in the dining room,” he says. “It’s perfect for storing napkins and all the little odds and ends for the table.”
That includes a Victorian-era fly catcher, a glass beaker filled with sugar water to attract insects that might annoy diners.
“The tatted cover is so the ladies at the table don’t have to look at the struggling flies,” Barnard says.
His longtime partner, Joe Thompson, discovered the elaborate crystal chandelier over the dining table at an antiques store in Alexandria, Va.
The original shaded oil lantern, embellished with faceted drop crystals, was moved to a former porch that now serves as an informal dining area. The space retains its distinctive tongue-in-groove wood ceiling. Vintage ladder-back chairs are paired with a rustic table crafted by a local artisan. The dry sink was handed down by Barnard’s grandmother.
Looking back, he thinks one of the best decisions he made in the house was to leave many things alone. He thought about gutting a dated kitchen, but only briefly. “I don’t cook at all, so it didn’t make sense for me,” he says. “The only change I made was installing a hot water dispenser.”
Sturdy cabinets provide storage. A compact range is a display space for teakettles. The dining area is large enough to accommodate a bar cart.
In the master bedroom, a stenciled border of swags, birds and berries dates back more than 50 years. Barnard occasionally touches it up, but opted not to paint or paper over the design.
The master bath, with its claw-foot tub and vintage sink, is awash in Victoriana, but it is a recent renovation. “This house cried out for a bathroom that looks like it could be in a grand old hotel,” he says.
The portrait that hangs in the foyer is a Victorian-era composite photograph that depicts his father as a boy of about 10 posing with his father, a young man in a dapper suit.
“Actually, my grandfather died when my dad was only 2 years old,” he says. “It was a custom of the day to superimpose someone in a photograph of someone who had died so you could imagine what it might have been like if they lived.”
Also among the memorabilia is a bill of sale from 1850, when the house was sold for $350. Capt. Lacy is buried in Milton, not far from the home he built.
“I go over and talk to him every once in a while,” Barnard says. “I tell him things are just great at his house.”
GET THE LOOK
Enhance the authentic flavor of a historic home with locally sourced antiques and furnishings made by area artisans. / Embrace architectural elements. When Roi Barnard discovered beams and trusses beneath an old ceiling, he decided to make the old wood the focal point of the room. / Introduce whimsy. A brass chandelier is an unexpected accent in the garage. Vintage chamber pots are decorative accessories in guest rooms. / Reimagine and repurpose pieces. An ornate antique cabinet made to hold sheet music now stores napkins and other table settings in the dining room. A seldom-used kitchen range is a display place for teakettles. / Be mindful of your home's history. Before you start gutting rooms, contemplate what should go—and what is best left alone.