Happy Days at Hotel Blue
Despite illnesses, financial setbacks and negative press, the colorful owners of the Lewes hotel are there to stay.
Photograph by Kevin Fleming
Scott and Donna de Kuyper’s romance hasn’t been easy.
When it comes to beach accommodations, Hotel Blue in Lewes bucks the norm. Forget pastels and seascapes. The lobby boasts modern sofas with pops of blue and abstract art. Guestroom ice buckets and bathroom sinks change color, and the furniture is more CB2 than Pottery Barn. This urbane deviation from the nautical norm isn’t surprising given that owners Scott and Donna de Kuyper are free spirits who are familiar with the road less traveled.
Sitting in a Hotel Blue suite, the de Kuypers are proof that opposites attract—at least on the surface. Petite, with a cascade of glossy waves, Donna played Marmee in Clear Space Theatre Company’s “Little Women.” Scott, who sports a shaved head and goatee, was a dirty detective and a formidable Mob-like henchman in local filmmaker Rob Waters’ movies. In person, he’s quick to smile and crack a joke.
The de Kuypers “couldn’t be more perfect for each other,” says David Button, artistic director of Clear Space, who’s known them for 15 years. “They balance each other out in an amazing way.” But their romance, which started in seventh grade, hasn’t been easy. There were missed opportunities. When they finally fell into step, they encountered illnesses, financial threats to their business and negative national press when Scott was arrested during a protest. Yet together and apart, the de Kuypers are resilient. “They are what every successful couple is: best friends,” says Waters, who’s known them nearly 10 years. “They support each other no matter what life throws at them.”
They met in biology class in Birmingham, Mich., a Detroit suburb. Donna and her family moved from Ambler, Pa., when she was 10. Scott, born in the Netherlands, moved to Michigan at age 3 when his American mother left his Dutch father. She remarried a widower with four children, but it was no “Brady Bunch” scenario. “They hated me,” he says.
Scott fell in love with Donna when she walked into class wearing a plaid skirt, knee socks and braids. “I never fell out of love with her,” he says. But their attraction was limited to stolen kisses at parties. “Scott was way too cool to have girlfriends,” Donna says. He was also an alcoholic by seventh grade, he adds. His lifestyle didn’t mesh with that of the future prom queen. Still, she hoped he’d ask her to the ninth-grade dance. He didn’t. Friends tried to play matchmaker at a dinner party, but Scott never showed.
When it wasn’t football or wrestling season, the athlete was also MIA in class. He was suspended after plunging into the pool during a girls’ gym class. At age 17, he moved to Holland to live with his father. Back in the U.S., he earned a political science degree from Northern Michigan University, where he also studied film. A series of successful careers followed. However, his work ethic didn’t dampen his penchant for alcohol.
Donna was accepted into the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, but when she landed performing jobs, she left school to work on cruise ships and in Nashville recording studios. By age 25, she was married and living in Los Angeles. The marriage hit the rocks, and Donna wondered how Scott was doing. She sent a letter to his old address, where his stepsister lived. Three months later, the letter made it to Scott, who, coincidentally, was living in L.A. with his divorced mother.
He read Donna’s letter on his 90th day of sobriety. “That means you’re really sober,” he says. Both were battle weary. She’d lost weight during the divorce, and he’d gained weight after becoming sober. They sat on the beach, smoked cigarettes and, because the newly sober often crave sugar, they popped Junior Mints. Two years later, in 1990, they married.
Photograph by Carolyn Watson
Donna de Kuyper (as Desiree) is pictured with Jeff Haslow (Fredrik) during a performance of Clear Space Theatre Company’s “A Little Night Music.”
Scott flipped houses and sold hand-painted clothing; Donna worked in video production. All that changed when they visited her parents, who’d retired to Lewes. They fell in love with the area and relocated here. But three days after arriving, they got two phone calls: Scott’s father had died and his mother learned she had breast cancer.
Serendipitously, she’d taken a job with a travel agency in Philadelphia, which allowed the family to spend time together. An independent career woman, she was a role model for the de Kuypers’ daughters, Montana and McKinnon, now 23 and 21, Donna says.
As for the de Kuypers’ careers, they briefly ran the Star of the Sea condos in Rehoboth Beach. Donna was executive director of the Delaware Music School for seven years, and when her daughters were old enough, they joined her in local theater productions. Scott, who sold his L.A. properties, purchased property along the coast, including the aging Angler’s Motel, which he razed. “It was the opportunity to design condos, commercial space and a hotel—how amazing is that?” he asks.
It was a good life. They visited the beach daily, and the girls biked around historic Lewes. Then in 2003, three months after Scott’s mother died, he felt a pain in his throat while sparring with a karate partner. He had two thyroid cancers, one of which was Stage IV. The treatment: eight doses of radiation and four maximum doses. He was so ill that friend Matt Haley, the well-known restaurateur who died last year, asked him: “Are you lying to me, man? Are you dying and not telling anyone?” Scott replied, “This is what the cure looks like.”
The diagnosis wasn’t the end of their challenges. Their health-care premiums soared, and PNC Bank sold the hotel’s mortgage to a private group, which called in the loan. “The bank froze our assets, which would have easily covered the loan call,” Scott says. The de Kuypers were poster children for the “occupy” movement, a protest against social and economic inequality, Donna says. Certainly, Scott was no stranger to advocacy. His mother founded a Detroit chapter of the National Organization for Women, and he’d accompanied her to meetings.
Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17, 2011, in New York. On Oct. 15, Donna, Scott and McKinnon went there to march. A detour funneled protesters into a barricade of police on motorcycles and horseback. The crowd panicked. Donna and McKinnon shrunk against the wall. Scott was pushed into the fray. He was charged with resisting arrest and trying to yank off the chief of police’s badge, a charge he vehemently denies. He woke up bruised in a jail cell. For two days, Donna didn’t know where he was.
The original charges were eventually dropped, but Scott still had a February 2012 court date. He left Lewes at 2 a.m. after working and napped at a rest stop. At the courthouse, security found an unloaded gun and ammunition in his backpack. “Scott doesn’t remember doing this, but he must have thrown our legally registered, unloaded, two-shot snake gun into this backpack,” Donna wrote in a letter in the Cape Gazette newspaper—her response to the local and national press. Anyone who knew Scott was aware that his memory had faltered due to cancer treatments, she wrote.
New York City’s strict gun laws were unbending. Sentenced to a year on Rikers Island, Scott slept in a room with 50 bunk beds, placed roughly 11 inches apart. Back in Lewes, Donna found support in the theater community. Her daughters, she says, were “little women” who showed “great strength of character.” After eight months, Scott returned to Lewes. “It was challenging coming back labeled a violent criminal for life and still is,” he says. The good news: He was cancer-free as of the fall of 2012, and Hotel Blue had refinanced with another bank.
In the spring of 2014, he played the henchman to friend Haley’s Mafioso-like character in Rob Waters’ short film, “The Interview.” Donna that summer starred in “The Full Monty.” “She has a natural instinct,” says Button of her talent. “She always adds value.”
Acting is therapeutic for both of them, but so is the hotel, whose popularity has grown steadily via word of mouth. Though time-consuming, the business was ideal when the children were young. For years, they lived in an onsite condo. With the girls grown, they’d like to travel more, but the hotel, for now, is still demanding. Nevertheless, they don’t plan to leave the hotel business—or Lewes—anytime soon.
“If you own a piece of the beach,” Scott says, “you should never sell it.”