When Brian Richter and his wife, Carol Quinn Richter, bought their home on Kent Island 12 years ago, they intended for the place to be just a summer residence.
But the house was too wonderful to live in for only a few months out of the year. Instead, they sold their home in Philadelphia and moved in full time almost immediately.
The sprawling two-story home with a large backyard deck, boardwalk and swimming pool complete with a wet bar became "the ultimate party house," Mr. Richter said.
The couple loved to entertain family and friends. Most weekends the house was filled with people, music and laughter. It was the family home where holidays were celebrated and where their children, Matthew and Amy Quinn, now grown, could come back and feel welcome and bring grandchildren to play.
It was Mrs. Richter who found the house, as she did every other house the family lived in over the years in Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia.
"I always felt that a house was a woman's possession," Mr. Richter said. "I could live in a treehouse and be just fine."
Mrs. Richter had a real knack for finding great homes, her husband said, and she always did the decorating. Out of all the places the family lived, the house on Kent Island was probably the best.
For Mrs. Richter, the house became more than just a home. It became her sanctuary. She spent the last two years of her life there. She died Aug. 9 at the age of 53 of secondary pulmonary hypertension, a complication of lupus.
A lung transplant might have saved her, but it never happened. "She never acted like a victim," her husband said. "When she was first diagnosed, they gave her six months. She stretched that to 2 1/2 years through sheer will. Her quality of life was good until the very end."
Now every place in the house reminds him of her and the life they shared there for 12 years. "At first, I thought, 'How in the hell can I go back there?'" he said. "But I did and I found it to be warm and welcoming. There are so many great memories here."
The story of how the Richters bought their home is one of luck and skill, he recalled.
Originally, another couple hired a contractor to build their dream home on Kent Island. The house was about a third of the way complete when the couple broke up, Mr. Richter said. "The builder was left holding the bag."
That's when Mrs. Richter made the builder an offer. The Richters would buy the home, but on one condition - she wanted extras thrown in such as crown molding, upgraded windows, nicer tile in the kitchen, a bigger deck and oversized closets.
When she called her husband at work and told him about the offer she had just made, he responded, "There's no way you'll get that." But the builder agreed. "She was a great negotiator," he said.
When the house was complete, she started decorating. She began with traditional and understated decor throughout the home, but soon realized that the house would allow her to do so much more. "With the flow of the house and the size of the rooms, you could get away with more than one theme," he said.
The family room, where the couple did most of their living and entertaining, is decorated in a Southwest theme. "Carol wanted that. You see so many ducks and boats around here that she wanted to do something different," he said.
Step into the formal living room and you might feel like you're in the lobby of a hotel in Montego Bay. The Richters once owned property in Jamaica and wanted to re-create the atmosphere in their home.
Daughter Amy's room, now a guest suite, has a Cape Cod theme. Brian's bathroom has a safari look to it. The dining room has an Asian look to it most of the time, but right now it looks a lot like Christmas. The train set from December remains on the dining room table. "Carol and the grandkids really liked it, so I left it up," he said.
Outside the home is a garden oasis filled with exotic trees and plants. Getting the landscape so green was a difficult task.
"This was a desert," Mr. Richter said. There was nothing but dirt and oyster shells when the family moved in. The Richters' son, Matthew, is a graduate of Delaware Valley College of Agriculture and offered to do all the landscaping as a gift to his parents.
"He had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. All I said was make it elegant and private," Mr. Richter said.
First, the area was researched to find the kinds of plants that would grow in the tough soil. It took more than two years of nurturing to get the land to produce. Along the way, some plants died. The yard was truly a work in progress, with each season bringing new things to the landscape.
Today, the area is magnificent. Tall trees line the perimeter of the property, giving shade and privacy. Two islands of plants and trees surround the pool area. A rock garden with a koi-filled pond and waterfall sits beyond the boardwalk deck.
"Many of the plant combinations he did are truly unique," Mr. Richter said. "He planted a black pine next to a white river birch. You would never see those two trees together naturally. It makes an interesting combination."
The landscaping took about 10 years to complete. "Now it's up to me to maintain it," Mr. Richter said. "What a great gift," he joked.
Actually, he enjoys working in his garden. "Plants don't talk back," he said.
During his wife's illness, many well-meaning friends and acquaintances would tell Mr. Richter to sell his house. One thing that she could always do was buy homes that had a great resale value. Their house was bought for $230,000 and could easily fetch up to $500,000 today.
But he resists the urge to sell.
"When something like this happens, your head tells you one thing and your heart tells you another," he said. "You know that this thing is probably not going to end well, but then she dodged the bullet so many times, you think, well, maybe."