If the courtyard that greets visitors to Denny and Cindi Mather's beach home in Fenwick Island, Del., looks like the entrance to a motel, that's because it once was.
The walled courtyard with foliage, fountain and an arched wrought-iron gate that opens to the road was there when the couple purchased the Sea Charm Motel and the property it sat on in 2008.
They purchased the former motel with the intent to tear it down and build their dream home. Since they wanted to build a home larger than what would have been permitted on a vacant commercial lot, they had to keep part of the motel to satisfy the variances. And so, in July 2009, they began demolishing the Sea Charm, retaining only its grandfathered-in wall, which lines the periphery of the lot, and its street-side courtyard.
The Mathers moved into the 5,000-square-foot beach home last August. Strikingly imposing from the street level, the home could still easily be mistaken for a Victorian seaside inn of a bygone age. The first-floor tiled foyer, where a guest book to sign sits on a library table, and the hallway leading to a sand room with two enclosed outdoor showers, appear as though lifted from a grand home along an oceanfront boardwalk.
Cindi Mather leads the way to an elevator off of the foyer, bypasses the second level temporarily, and opens the lift's door onto the third-level living area, where fine architectural design and views of the Atlantic Ocean create a gorgeous sight.
The open space features large picture windows built into angular walls that, from certain perspectives, give the appearance of being on a ship's deck with water on three sides. A wrap-around deck on this level runs the 42-foot width of the home and part the way of its 50-foot depth.
The couple enjoys an open great room, kitchen and sitting area on the oceanside of the home, where every chair and bar stool swivels to enjoy various views. Painted walls of aqua and beige share space with wood paneling and built-ins painted a soft cream. Furniture is neutral in upholstering, with brown and beige prints.
"Just because we live at the beach, we didn't want to overdo it in beach-y interior décor," says Cindi Mather, who worked with CA Interiors, LLC in Annapolis and its principal interior designer and owner Cindy Armacost to decorate her home in shades of tan, white, aqua and brown.
Traditional furniture is elegant, but comfortable with many accents, both built-in and free-standing, recycled from the Sea Charm Motel. This includes a drop-leaf table made from the motel's fir beams and the paneling on one wall of the great room.
The rear of this level contains dining room, office, library, craft room, powder room and a music room. (Cindi Mather is music director at St. Matthew's by the Sea Church in Fenwick Island.) Floors here and throughout the home are fashioned of reclaimed southern pine of varying widths.
A climb up the paneled staircase to the home's fourth level reveals a master suite with yet another picture window at the foot of a four-poster king bed.
"I think this is my favorite room in the house," says Cindi Mather. "I look straight out at the sunrise, the beach, the ocean and the movie that is summertime…with families coming and going."
An exercise room, a boutique-sized closet, and her husband's office make up the rest of the level.
The second floor is reserved for guests. Four bedrooms, each with its own covered balcony, accommodate the couple's family and friends for visits to the beach. There is also a cozy family room with a fireplace and deck on this level.
In a house filled with five bedrooms, three fireplaces and a dozen decks and patios, it's no surprise that the couple is a bit overwhelmed by their beach fantasy.
"This wasn't even something we dreamed about," says Denny Mather, a 61-year-old real estate agent. "The idea of waking up and seeing the ocean was beyond a dream."
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Making the dream
Dream element: The Mathers' oceanfront home in Fenwick Island, Del., is built on the site of the former Sea Charm Motel. Its corner location allows for spectacular ocean views, while the property includes beachfront to the dunes. "This is a dream come true, the second chapter of our lives," says Denny Mather.
Dream design: Built in 2009-2010, the four-story Victorian-style home's exterior features multiple picture windows, many tucked into its angular nooks and under fourth-story gables, offering direct ocean views and beach views.
Dream interior: Cindi Mather's collection of elegant Lladro angels decorates bookshelves and mantels throughout the home. Family photos of herself and her husband and their two adult sons, Jim and Christopher, hang on walls and sit on tables in almost every room.