Designer Ellen Sarafian: President of Dezins Unlimited in Wilmington, Answers the Call of the Wilde

Ellen Sarafian delights in the art of period restoration—even Oscar Wilde’s digs.


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So you find yourself having acquired a Colonial home in New Castle—or Gothic Revival farmhouse outside Viola, or a big Victorian in Lewes. Its original features are in disrepair, missing or hidden by renovations. You want to restore it in a manner faithful to its time and place, but you don’t know where to start.

First, contact the Delaware Historic Preservation Office and its Historic Preservation Research Center. Then consider calling a designer like Ellen Sarafian.

“That’s my forte,” says Sarafian, president of Dezins Unlimited in Wilmington. “We do all kinds of design, but there are very few who specialize in period restoration to original integrity.”

An art and design major at the College of Boca Raton, Sarafian learned period restoration by doing. During eight years in Dublin, she worked with other designers, antiquities dealers and the Irish Georgian Society—including the society president and founder himself, Desmond Guinness of the famous brewing family—on the restoration of Oscar Wilde’s Georgian-style childhood home in 1994. Once condemned, the building now hosts students from The American College, displays shows of work by artists esteemed enough to be included in the National Gallery, and is occasionally the site of embassy functions.

“We researched every molding, every floorboard,” Sarafian says. “I am relentless about research. I am always learning.”

Her restorations have gone so far as moving entire homes, including one of her own. She bought what is known as the Stephenson Farmhouse from the owners for a dollar, then moved it from its original site on U.S. 9 between Lewes and Georgetown to Shipcarpenter Square in Lewes. It is believed that the last two slaves in Delaware once lived in the attic of the farmhouse, which is the kind of history that elevates the idea of a restoration from an aesthetic decision or lifestyle choice to something of an obligation.

“You see these properties around here all the time,” Sarafian says. “Some are on the National Register of Historic Places, so they can’t be destroyed.”

So back to the beginning: Where do you begin with a restoration? You will need the kind of knowledge only a pro will have, so you may not want to attempt a total DIY job. “Things can go horribly wrong,” Sarafian says. But with some basic knowledge you can plan to re-create the architectural elements, colors and furnishings.

Colonial homes, Sarafian says, featured simple woodwork and paneling. Muted reds, greens, slate blues and beiges were the prevalent wall colors. Chair rails and shutters were functional, not merely decorative. Floors were of random-width boards that were pegged, not nailed. Furniture was large and durable, made of oak, ash, mahogany, teak or cherry. Many were storage pieces, such as cupboards for dishes, linens and clothes. Wealthier owners hung tabbed curtains or drapes of silk or brocades.

Federal style houses are symmetrical, organized around a center hall and stairs, with rooms to the sides. Windows are arranged in straight lines. Doors are often capped with a fan window, flanked by flat columns and shaded by a decorative architrave. Floorboards are, again, of various widths.

Wealthier owners often covered their windows with silk or damask drapes, swags and garlands. Straight lines define the furniture. Hepplewhite and Sheraton were the dominant styles. Wooden inlays were common. Interior doorways were often arched. Handwoven Oriental and Aubusson carpets were common. Wall colors were richer than early Colonial hues: golds, deep creams and slate blues. Blue especially was a status symbol. Some walls were covered with flocked paper.

An Eastern Shore farm home like Sarafian’s would likely have had wide, random-width flooring that was pegged, not nailed. Exposed beams would have been true supports, not a decorative conceit. The palette would have been earthy, with occasional shots of something special like Wedgewood blue. Furnishings such as Queen Anne chairs and Porringer tables were still common. “There was lots of wood, not much upholstery,” Sarafian says. “Furniture back then was a real art. There was lots of attention paid to details.”

As for those Victorians, “They were very, very expressive—ornate furniture, ornate architecture,” Sarafian says. Exteriors featured interesting pediments and gables and, sometimes, the hallmark gingerbread. Exterior colors were bright. Furnishings ran the gamut from Colonial pieces handed down—or collected as antiques, a new pursuit in that era—to mass-produced “revivals” of famous styles to more exotic styles that became accessible though foreign trade, including “Oriental” pieces. Fabrics for upholstery and window treatments tended toward thick, heavy wovens and velvet. “Everything was over the top,” Sarafian says.

Owners of historic homes—and those who want to create the feeling of history in a newer home—can find faithful reproductions of just about anything. Makers such as Brunshwig & Fils and Scalamandre specialize in vintage wallpaper patterns. Companies such as Farrow & Ball re-create traditional paint colors, and even though you can find approximations or entire lines of classic colors at the local Sherwin-Williams, “‘There’s a certain hue to a true period paint,” Sarafian says.

Fine furniture makers such as Kindle assemble pieces that are virtually indistinguishable from their forebears.

“It’s expensive, but it’s absolutely magnificent furniture,” says Sarafian. “Even Desmond Guinness used it.”

As for true originals, “You won’t find them at some roadside antiques mall,” she says. She’ll occasionally drive to randomly picked small towns in the region to scout, just out of curiosity, but she sources the best pieces from reputable dealers, often overseas.

A designer can also help balance the owner’s desire to maintain fidelity to the styles and trends of the period to modern lifestyles.

“No one wants to be cooking soup over an open fire,” Sarafian says. “You need appliances, so there has to be a balance. Of course, it depends on the client and how deep they want to get into it.”

And for those who want to go deep, there’s no telling what rewards await.

“At the Wilde house, we found some of Sir William Wilde’s surgical instruments,” Sarafian says. “That was amazing.”


 

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

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100 Station Ave
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17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
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Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

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200 Water Street
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Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
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Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
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301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Telephone: 302.354.6726
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Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
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Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
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Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

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Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
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Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
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View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
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View map »


Website »

More information

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

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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More information

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
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

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Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
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Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

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Dover Downs Hotel
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Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
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Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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