Patti Hurd’s Home in Northern New Castle County, Delaware
Feeling Right at Home: The Hurds had lived in nearly a dozen different homes before they found the perfect fit.
Patti Hurd moved 12 times in 35 years of marriage—each time her husband, Peter, received a new assignment from the DuPont Co.
Their last move—call it lucky 13—was purely a love match.
“For the very first time, we were moving by choice,” she recalls. “We found the perfect house.”
Over the years, the Hurds had lived, variously, in a newish, semi-detached starter home, a tiny, two-bedroom Tudor, a 150-year-old Ontario cottage, an Arts and Crafts bungalow, a French-style chateau with a sunken living room and more than a half dozen other properties great and small.
The home that won their hearts in 2010 is a two-story brick house nestled in a pastoral pocket in northern New Castle County. Built in the 1970s, it’s traditional, with a twist—a soaring, two-story entry turret topped with a dramatic, circular wood plank ceiling.
“I walked in the door, looked up and it was game over,” Hurd recalls. “Then I went from room to room and there was not a thing I didn’t like.”
In all, the house encompasses 4,600 square feet—and is configured so that the owners can enjoy every inch of it.
“This is the way a house is supposed to work,” she says.
On the first floor, the foyer is large enough to accommodate a dining table for large parties. There’s also a formal dining room, with adjacent
storage closets that provide easy access to china, silver and serving pieces. In addition to a stately living room, there’s a family room with built-in bookcases, a plus for the Hurds, who are unabashed bibliophiles. A large kitchen is open to both a breakfast area and a sunroom, with a vista of a tract populated by deer.
Upstairs, there are abundant closets, a home office and three bedroom suites, each with a connecting bath and anteroom that can be used for multiple purposes. In one suite, the anteroom is interpreted as a dressing room. In another suite, the anteroom accommodates a child’s bed.
“It’s ideal when our son comes to visit with his young family,” Hurd says.
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Throughout the house are unique architectural details. A grand, sweeping staircase leads to a second-floor gallery. Windows are accented with stained-glass inserts in jewel tones.
In the family room, there’s a beamed ceiling. Walls are sheathed in exquisite walnut paneling. Underfoot are pegged, wide-plank oak floors. An opulent carved frieze with lion’s heads is incorporated into the mantel.
“It’s very warm, very inviting, the place to read a book and enjoy a cup of tea,” Hurd says.
A massive oak kas, or Dutch armoire, is embellished with lavish moldings. Traditionally, a kas was used to keep linens and other household items. The Hurds have pressed it into service to store wines.
“It weighs a ton, literally 2,000 pounds,” she says. “When we move into a new house, it tells us where it wants to be.”
A Moving Experience
The Hurds have not hesitated to buy things they love simply because the pieces are large and difficult to move. They have learned from experience that just about anything can be packed up and shipped to a new location.
“It isn’t that complicated,” Hurd says. “You hire the container—and the delivery man swears at you under his breath.”
Hang on to the furniture and accessories that resonate with you and your family, Hurd advises. But don’t be afraid to sell or donate items that no longer suit your practical or aesthetic sensibilities. After all, individual tastes change over time.
“Thin down every time you move,” she says. “If you haven’t used it in five years, don’t keep it.”
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The Livable Living Room
Like many traditional homes, the house has an expansive formal living room. The Hurds appreciated the room’s crown moldings, built-in cupboard and elegant fireplace. Plus, it was the ideal setting for the grand piano they bought from the previous owner, who used the home as a weekend get-away.
But it was the one room in the house that didn’t have a clear function.
“I have no idea why people have living rooms,” she says. “They just sit there and look pretty.”
The solution was to designate the space for specific activities, such as Hurd’s regular mahjong game with friends.
It’s also a striking setting for art. The Hurds, natives of Canada, collect paintings by the contemporary artist Heather Horton, who hails from Ontario. A painting of a hiker in a woodland setting hangs over a sofa flanked by chairs. A fresh, modern portrait of a woman at rest on a wood floor is juxtaposed with a classical mantel with reeds and carvings.
“Contemporary art is even more dramatic in a traditional space,” she says.
Fun and Fanciful
Hurd always has had an eye for whimsical accents. When she was a teenager, promoters put up a poster for an ascendant troupe of performers called Circ du Soleil in her father’s feed store in Ottawa.
“After the show, they were going to tear it down,” she says. “I said I’d keep it because it’s colorful and cute, never dreaming that Circ du Soleil would become world famous.”
The poster is now part of the eclectic art mix in the kitchen. It’s a fanciful, ever-evolving blend that might include a stately crystal vase teamed with a pink sock monkey. There’s a grouping of bird cages in the sunroom and a carved, wooden Thai spirit house in the family room. A colorfully painted elephant is positioned on a table behind the sectional sofa.
As the couple relocated from various homes in the United States, Canada and Europe, Hurd developed a decorating drill, of sorts.
“Colors have to be neutral,” she says. “Furniture has to be able to go anywhere because you don’t know what the configuration of your next house will be.”
In this house, Hurd has indulged her passion for color.
There are no white ceilings, either. In the kitchen, the ceiling and walls are both painted the warm gold of curry. The Caribbean-tinged blue on the ceiling in the living room is called Jamaican aqua. It reminds Hurd of the summer sky.
In the dining room, crown moldings, chair rail and built-in cupboards with classic, broken-arch pediments are white. The walls and ceiling are painted tomato red.
“It makes for a very intimate room,” she says. “People sit around the table after dinner and talk for hours.”
The table is crafted from panels of quarter-sawn oak, cut to show off the wood’s intricate graining, banded with carved moldings. The chairs are embellished with carvings reminiscent of Dutch masters depicted by Rembrandt. The intricately carved hutch has doors with stained-glass panels.
Hurd bought the furniture during a shopping trip to the Netherlands when the couple lived in Germany. She appreciates the age and craftsmanship of the pieces, but soon learned that opulent antiques had fallen out of fashion in Holland. Fortuitously, that meant prices had fallen, too.
“The Europeans are all about modern furniture,” she says. “The old carved pieces and antiques are a dime a dozen.”
Over the years, she has learned to trust her instincts, following her own sense of style instead of the latest trends. “If you like something, buy it,” she says. “When you go back, things are never there.”
Get the Look
- Think big. Don’t be put off by a piece solely because it’s super-sized. If it’s beautiful and functional you will find the right space for it.
- Don’t hide away your pretty things. Enjoy them. Silver that is handled often doesn’t tarnish. And you will set out your crystal and fine china more often if you store it in a readily accessible location.
- Embrace your whole house. Patti Hurd enjoys playing mahjong with friends in her formal living room.
- Bring the outdoors inside your home. Hurd collects birdcages and displays them in a sunroom. She also found a home for a Thai spirit house in her family room.
- Maintain a sense of humor. Nothing enlivens a formal space like a sock monkey.