Amy Crain Sternberg Renovates a Home in Wilmington

Making Herself at Home: A local architect breathes new life into an old fixer-upper.



At a Glance

Who Amy Crain Sternberg
What Georgian-style house
Where Wilmington

 

A good architect has the gift of X-ray vision, the innate ability to see through walls.

So when Amy Crain Sternberg, a third-generation architect, looked at a glorious but time-worn Georgian-style house in a leafy Wilmington neighborhood she could visualize not only the existing structure but what it could become—if only a few walls were rearranged.

“I thought it was a fabulous old house, a strong old house,” she recalls. “Because of my background, I was not deterred by the thought of doing renovations.”

Indeed, the property offered many pluses. It was constructed in 1917, an era when natural resources and craftsmanship were at their zenith. Stout walls are balanced with large windows.

“This house is filled with light,” Sternberg says. “There is not a single dark room in it.”

The facade is Flemish-bond brick, set in a distinctive pattern in which the headers are fired black to contrast with red brick runners. An intimate portico with a terra cotta floor is an open-air oasis in the city.

Inside, Sternberg was delighted to see the home’s original architectural details remained in place. An elegant staircase curves gracefully from the foyer to the third floor. The fireplace in the formal living room is framed with an Adams mantel, embellished with reeded columns and carvings of urns and swags.

Sternberg was captivated by the lovely arched moldings that surround expansive Palladian windows.

“It was years before I put up draperies,” she says. “I had to find something that wouldn’t cover the windows because I love them so much.”

Ultimately, she would design her own window treatments, pairing floor-length stationary panels on either side of each window in the dining room and living room, topped with a deep swag. She approached the task with an architect’s eye for detail, drawing meticulous renderings.

“My brother suggested I frame them,” she says.

 

The master bath includes twin vessel sinks crafted from stone. Photograph by Thom ThompsonROOM TO GROW

When Sternberg and her husband, Craig, a doctor, bought their home in 2002 they were just starting life together. They were taking on a lot of house, more than 5,000 square feet, but were confident they would put that space to good use. He had two teenage daughters the Sternbergs hoped would spend lots of time with them. She expected frequent visits from her parents. And they planned to add to the family with a baby.

“If everything went as we hoped, we would need all that room,” she recalls.

Happily, life progressed according to plan, with the couple sharing their home with extended family. Seven years ago, they welcomed a son, Charlie.

But to make the house the home they envisioned, they needed to renovate it—a job they completed before they moved in. Sternberg did all the drawings, prepared a budget and served as her own general contractor.

“If you are going to buy a house and renovate it, you have to make certain you have a budget that covers the work you will have to do, as well as the purchase,” she advises. “If you can only afford the house, you will be living with small projects for years.”

 

A local artist helped Sternberg transform a powder room into a work of art. Photograph by Thom ThompsonARCHITECTURAL DESIGN

At the time of the renovation, Sternberg was working at an architectural firm in Baltimore with her father, designing schools and houses of worship.

“I grew up in a very contemporary house, a round house,” she says. “I was very excited by the prospect of taking on a home that is more traditional, yet making it our own.”

The living room is a vibrant blend of classic—witness the grand piano and the twin sofas flanking the fireplace—and contemporary—a large, unframed canvas extolling the virtues of milk and the chrome swoosh of an Arco lamp, the funky, functional 1962 brainchild of Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, designers for the Italian lighting firm Flos.

A blown glass chandelier, passed down by Sternberg’s grandmother, sparkles over the dining room table.

“I love bringing together pieces from the family with the more contemporary art I’ve collected,” she says.

The grated elevator, a built-in thermometer and a servant’s buzzer no longer function. But Sternberg kept them because they are part of the home’s story and speak to its past.

“They are charming and unique,” she says.

A warren of three small rooms is now an expansive kitchen and gathering area, where Charlie and his mom can work on art projects and everybody can read or talk.

Opening up the space required the removal of a load-bearing wall. The architectural solution was a microlam beam, fabricated of laminated wood in micro-thin layers that bond to provide structural support.

To give the space a vintage feel, the Sternbergs installed a pressed-tin ceiling. But they also incorporated amenities appreciated in the 21st century, including granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Tumbled marble on the backsplash is rustic yet refined. Porcelain tile pavers on the floor have the look and feel of natural stone, without the high maintenance.

“The tiles are great for upkeep,” she says, “and they don’t show dirt.”

 

A blown glass chandelier, a family heirloom, dangles over the dining room table. Photograph by Thom ThompsonBRINGING ART HOME

To transform a powder room into a work of art, Sternberg turned to Lisa Dadone-Weiner, an artist from Chadds Ford who created a floor-to-ceiling mosaic incorporating such elements as a dangly Howdy Doody earring, sea shells, Charlie’s cast handprint, Sternberg’s great-grandfather’s tie chains and a tiny vase that was a favor at her wedding.

“Amy wanted to use Charlie’s toys and little mementoes from her family,” Dadone-Weiner says. “She wanted the mosaic to be fun, but still meaningful to her personally.”

On the second story, Sternberg reconfigured the square footage to better suit a
modern family. She borrowed space from a long, narrow awkwardly configured bathroom to add a closet to a bedroom. She found a niche for a second-floor laundry room.

To create a true master suite, she gutted an outdated bath and repurposed the space as a walk-in closet. A fireplace flue jutted into the large bedroom. She disguised it by enclosing the flue with more storage, including specially outfitted shelving for shoes.

“I wanted to hide the flue; and I wanted additional closet space,” she says.

The bed is a sculpture of sorts, with metal tendrils wrapped around the four posters. The inspiration for the room’s soft, springy palette is a bedspread, sewn from silky, celadon fabric embroidered with flowers.

“I never thought I was a green person. Then I saw this beautiful fabric,” she recalls.

What was formerly an adjoining sitting room is now a sumptuous master bath, with twin vessel sinks crafted from stone and a jetted tub. The room is spacious and serene, with stone pavers in earthy beiges. There’s no need for a door on a shower that is reminiscent of a romantic grotto in the South Pacific.

“We were in Tahiti on our honeymoon and there was an open shower very much like this one,” she says.

On the third floor, there’s more space for guests and a playroom for Charlie. Sternberg retained the original cupboards in what is now a den to store toys and games.

“The built-ins were very high quality so it was an easy decision to keep them,” she says. “They work perfectly in this room, the place where my guys like to hang out, watch sports and play Wii.”

After completing the renovation, Sternberg began designing projects for other families, coming up with plans and solutions that help others to maximize their joy in their homes.

“Finding ways to make the most of space feels very natural to me,” she says. “If you need someone to show you the true potential in a home, call an architect.”

 

 

Get the Look
  • Show your artistic side. Amy Crain Sternberg has been shopping at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore for years, discovering such one-of-a-kind pieces as a four-poster metal bed and vividly colored glass bowls.
     
  • Respect the past. Sternberg’s renovation retained the old thermometer and buzzer built into the living room wall, as well as a vintage elevator. Built-in cupboards now provide storage for games in a third-floor den.
     
  • Get sentimental. Throughout the house are French-style figurines and furniture collected by Sternberg’s grandmothers. Her young son’s artwork decorates the playroom. She made several whimsical dollhouses to share with young nieces.
     
  • Make it your own. The homeowners’ wish list included an open kitchen and gathering space, a guest suite for visitors and a second-floor laundry room.
     
  • Think things through. Research your budget before you start a renovation. And look to the pros to help you make the wisest use of your resources.

 

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Cost: free

Where:
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum admission

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View map »


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Website »

More information

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Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum admission

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View map »


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[Un]Ravel, a show of photographs by Joshua Meier, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 3-24, 2017. An opening reception to meet the artist will be held on Friday, Feb....

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
820 N. French Street
2nd Floor, Carvel Building
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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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
Website »

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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Website »

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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
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Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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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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JOHNNY WINTER ALL STAR BAND The Johnny Winter Band has been wowing audiences everywhere with incredible music played by Johnny's band and guest artists. Join Paul Nelson and The JW Band in a...

Cost: $20 ADV + $22 DOS + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Now in its 8th year, the PAWS for People Conference/Annual Meeting is designed for those who love their pets, are pet enthusiasts or who want to learn more about the world of Pet Therapy. This...

Cost: $45 through 2/14; $50 after that date; $5 discount for PAWS members.

Where:
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: PAWS for People
Telephone: 302-351-5622
Contact Name: Clarice Ritchie
Website »

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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-9111
Website »

More information

The Wilmington & Western Railroad's Hockessin Art Festival is a fundraising effort to benefit the railroad. Over 25 artists will be displaying and selling limited-edition...

Cost: $3 for art show admission; $5 for train fare (children under 2 are free)

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
606 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE  19707
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Sponsor: Wilmington & Western Railroad
Telephone: 302-998-1930
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Are you interested in learning more about what volunteer opportunities the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation has to offer? Consider attending our Volunteer Open House at our shipyard in Wilmington, DE from...

Cost:

Where:
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
1124 E 7th St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

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


Website »

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DCM Guests will experience, engage in, and take home different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathmatics) activities run by Science Ambassadors from the Charter School of Wilmington...

Cost: $8.75

Where:
Delaware Children's Museum
550 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-425-4890
Contact Name: Joe Valenti
Website »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Build a hydraulic-powered machine while learning about pressure, water, and power. Families work together to solve science mysteries and engineering challenges. Activities are included in regular...

Cost: Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under and Hagley Members: FREE

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
Website »

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An evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball. Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to celebrate the lifesaving work of...

Cost:

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Website »

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Join us for an unforgettable evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball.  Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to...

Cost: $175

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: American Heart Association
Website »

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We are a mixture of some of the best and hardest working musicians in the Philadelphia area specializing in a mashup concept, fusing the music of The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead....

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE
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Mo Lowda & The Humble is a three piece Indie-rock group from Philadelphia, PA. The band has created a unique musical style combining various genre's ranging from garage rock to jazz fusion;...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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