David Schueck and Al Schyman’s North Wilmington Cape Cod a Cozy, Contemporary Downsize
Strategic lighting, a subdued, neutral palette and bright pops of accent color make a fixer-upper feel like a new house after a structure and décor makeover.
Owner David Schueck sits at the piano in his living room.
Photo by Ron Dubick
As David Schueck surveyed his expansive, 3,500-square-foot house, he experienced a revelation: He and his partner didn’t really need that much space. Why not move to a smaller home that would be a better fit?
“It was a lovely house but it didn’t make sense for us,” Schueck says. “All those huge rooms and all that furniture was just too much.”
Schueck figured the couple could live comfortably in about 2,500 square feet. He immediately launched a search for what he was certain would be their dream home, a jewel box that would sparkle with smart design and stylish details.
“We didn’t know where we were going,” he says. “We only knew we wanted smaller.”
In fact, the trend toward more efficient homes is growing as buyers gravitate toward properties that require less fuel to heat and cool and less physical energy to maintain. In a National Association of Home Builders survey, 59 percent of builders reported they were scaling down from McMansion proportions in response to consumer demand.
Schueck and his partner, Al Schyman, went house hunting with a meticulously defined wish list. Because they enjoy entertaining, they wanted a home with good flow and a well-equipped kitchen. A first-floor master suite was optimal, but they were willing to compromise on small guest rooms. They also required one room large enough to accommodate a grand piano for Schueck, who teaches piano and voice in addition to operating David Schueck Design Services.
Sizing Up Smaller Homes
The couple looked at more than 100 homes before making an offer on a Cape Cod on a sylvan street overlooking parkland in North Wilmington. The location was great but the house was dark and dated, with a warren of passageways and doors.
“I couldn’t see it, but David could,” Schyman says. “He has that special gift for seeing the potential in a home.”
Deciding just what to move to the new house required taking careful inventory of furniture, accessories and art. They pared back by posting larger pieces on Craig’s List and selling smaller items at yard sales.
“If you no longer need something, sell it or give it away,” Schueck advises. “Don’t clutter up your home or your life with possessions that no longer work for you.”
In the new house, he set about designing interiors that would showcase the couple’s best possessions, including a tall chest Schyman bought when he was working in Hong Kong and the lithograph of tigers that once hung in the office of Schueck’s grandfather. Also on the must-keep list were a Chippendale sofa—a classic piece he has reupholstered three times—and a clean-lined pair of contemporary black leather chairs.
“If you go with simpler things, you can always make them work,” he says.
Schueck’s influences are diverse and timeless. He is a devotee of Billy Baldwin, the Baltimore-bred decorator whose laid-back elegance captivated such clients as Cole Porter and Jackie O. He admires Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect who embraced the purity of the prairie, and Thomas Chippendale, the 18th-century London cabinet maker who also designed the rooms around his artfully carved pieces.
To attain the airy, inviting interior he envisioned, Schueck came up with a plan to open up the foyer by removing several doors. All he needed to restore the luster of the high-end cherry cabinetry in the kitchen was a little elbow grease. But the wall between the kitchen and the adjacent family room had to come down.
“I didn’t like cooking so far away from my guests,” he says. “I felt like a servant.”
He began the renovation process by interviewing four contractors. Schueck then went another round with the top two contenders before making his final choice.
At the top of the budget was money for a new roof and windows. After all, if the house wasn’t protected from the elements, all those improvements to the interior wouldn’t last long.
Painting the walls throughout the house yielded gallons of instant improvement. Dark wood flat-panel doors received a fresh coat of white paint.
“For walls, I like neutrals: sand, gray, some pale yellows,” he says. “Then accent with colors, pops of green or red, and add more color with plants.”
Tailored drapery panels frame the windows in the master bedroom. The homeowner removed the flashy gold canvas behind a framed Chinese wedding necklace and remounted it on a neutral backdrop that doesn’t compete with the intricacy of the piece. Serene hues on the walls and carpet establish a tranquil mood.
“Soothing grays and blues, floaty, relaxing colors,” he says.
Schueck has been interested in art and furniture since boyhood. “My grandmother would take me to auctions and teach me how to buy good furniture,” he says.
He was 7 years old when he spied a small wooden table at a sale. It was painted bright red but young David was struck by its sturdy grace. His grandmother encouraged him to bid on it—“and we won it for $25.”
The table was a fortuitous find. Beneath layers of paint, he discovered the original walnut finish. The piece is now in the master bedroom.
“I have taken that table with me everywhere I have ever lived,” he says. “There is always a place for it.”
Modern and Light
To give the Cape Cod a more contemporary vibe, he installed recessed lighting in the foyer and replaced sconces and chandeliers throughout the house. Out with gold and brass. In with nickel and stainless steel. “Modern and light,” he says.
He beautified a hall bathroom with a few nips and tucks rather than a full face lift. White, institutional floor tiles were ripped out and replaced with concrete for a fresh, urban sensibility. An aging double vanity was rejuvenated with a thorough sanding, followed by primer and taupe paint. The rich color and flawless finish make the piece look expensive rather than repurposed.
“I did some of the prep work but I hired a professional painter for the actual application,” he says. “I’ve found the only way to achieve that perfect surface is to leave it to the pros.”
Schueck took down a large, counter-to-ceiling mirror illuminated by a strip of Hollywood-style bulbs. He replaced them with sleek lighting sconces and a smaller beveled mirror more in keeping with the scale of the room. The big mirror now has a new home, mounted on the wall in a home gym.
The couple removed wood paneling from the walls in the family room, but retained the built-in cabinetry. Bricks salvaged from an addition built by the previous owner, found stacked in the basement, were incorporated into a new patio.
“We still have four bedrooms, only they are smaller,” Schueck says. “We found that we truly could live with less space—and live well.”
GET THE LOOK
For a look that is eclectic but cohesive, mix old and new objects, but choose wood tones that are in the same range.
Display only your best and most meaningful pieces of art. Too many objects contribute to a sense of clutter.
Maintain a healthy balance. Avoid placing all your large objects on one side of the room. Consider floating your sofa rather than placing it against a wall.
- Paint is the easiest, most economical way to establish a mood. But be judicious in painting an accent wall as it will automatically establish a focal point for the room.