Photo by Morgan Howarth
When looking for an easy beach getaway, Chevy Chase homeowners Louisa and Steve Hollman knew exactly where to drop anchor. Louisa had been going to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, every summer since 1974, when she was 12. When the couple had kids—they are now 28 and 25—they rented small apartments at the beach, and the little ones would sleep in their Pack ’n Plays in a hallway outside a bedroom. “I remember Max was born in July, and we took him a month later in August,” Louisa says.
In 2012, the couple bought a vacant lot on the banks of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal with the intention of building a vacation home. One night shortly thereafter, Louisa was out for dinner at Wild Tomato in Cabin John, and she ran into Anthony Wilder, whose design firm Anthony Wilder Design/Build had worked for the Hollmans in the past. “I was so very excited about the new property, so I just blurted it out,” says Louisa, an executive at a nonprofit organization.
Soon Wilder was retained again—this time to help the Hollmans realize their vision for a summer retreat on a property overlooking some 5,000 acres of wetlands in Cape Henlopen State Park.
“The homeowners and my team bonded over the work of Robert A.M. Stern, who is renowned for his coastal homes and was the inspiration for this house,” says Wilder, who collaborated on the project with his architect Sean Mullin and kitchen and bath designer Shannon Kadwell, as well as with builder Randy Burton of Burton Builders in Lewes, Delaware.
After visiting the heavily wooded third-of-an-acre lot, they made architectural plans for a house that would be completed in 2014. They would build a five-bedroom, 51/2-bathroom, 4,200-square-foot Cape Cod-style summerhouse with cedar shingle siding, gambrel rooflines and even a bell-shaped turret.
“It was important to me that you could walk up to the front door and see straight through the house to the water beyond,” says Steve, a D.C. lawyer and native Washingtonian who grew up vacationing along the Northeast seaboard. A columned porch leads to a front door flanked by windows, and the entry foyer spills onto an open plan main floor with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors everywhere.
“When the house is opened up, there’s always a nice breeze in here,” Steve says of the connected living, kitchen and dining areas separated by custom-trimmed cased openings. “It’s so delightful having the canal right there, our little local roadway, with boats back and forth, and beyond that the birds in the wetlands and the sunsets.”
The views are unobstructed. An example is the floating staircase with oak treads on steel risers that’s set off to the left of the entry and leads upstairs. “To maximize the scenery, we built the house as a 20-foot ‘box’ from left to right, with appendages that come out of it. It was deliberately kept this way so that every room had a view, plus access to either a private or public balcony,” says Mullin, the architect.
One of the appendages is the tall bell-shaped turret, which serves as a visual anchor of sorts and a welcome beacon to the home. On its first level, there is a mudroom; the second level has the master bathroom; and the third level holds a home office, with a 360-degree panorama.
“It’s like a crow’s nest but enclosed,” Wilder says. “The views are serene and go on forever. You can see the wetlands as well as the ocean.”
When it came to furnishing the house, Louisa says, “I wanted a peaceful, uncluttered, coastal-inspired interior that was also very livable, as we often have company, whether our kids and their friends or extended family.”
Though the Hollmans visit the house year-round on weekends, sometimes with another couple, it has become a summer magnet for the Hollman family. (At the height of the season, it comfortably sleeps 12.) Steve’s mother, a no-nonsense New Englander, allegedly said of the architectural plans, “Gosh, it’s very nice, but do you really need all that?” The comment contributed to the house being named Tout Cela, “All That” in French.
Charlotte Safavi is a freelance writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.