July-August 2011 | CHARMING INDEED




A collaboration of some very talented and creative people converted an old hotel into a beachfront palace

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Stephen Cherry

You’re not at the Mathers’ Fenwick Island home very long before you feel your blood pressure begin to drop. It happens right after you catch your breath. But it didn’t start that way. It required razing what had been the Sea Charm Motel, a sturdy three-story building built circa 1959 that had even survived the legendary nor-easter of 1962 with only minor cuts and bruises, metaphorically speaking, during its storied run. But while the Sea Charm ultimately succumbed to the collective charm of Cindi and Denny Mather in 2009, its spirit lives on to this day in the breathtaking oceanfront Shangri-La they created in its wake.

The project was often a gut-wrenching nail-biting labor of love that required not only inexorable patience but some rather outside-the-box thinking by a team of brilliant professionals that included Cindi Mather herself.

“Cindi literally handed me her specifications on a cocktail napkin,” reported architectural designer and senior associate Christopher L. Pattey of the esteemed Becker Morgan Group in Salisbury, whom the Mathers had hired previously when they were contemplating renovating another property in Fenwick.

“It took over a year from the time they had acquired the Sea Charm Motel before we got the approval for all the variances necessary to preserve the motel’s original footprint and create the kind of structure with the ocean frontage she and Denny had envisioned.”

Part of recreating that footprint within the practical dictates of a purely residential living space meant setting the structure farther back from the street. To achieve this, Pattey created a Charleston-style courtyard (using the existing motel's ground-floor concrete wall, as dictated by county variance), which preserves privacy without paranoia thanks to glassless window openings with ironwork crossbars that look out onto the street. The tumbled look of the eight-foot-high Country Rubble stone entry façade from Eldorado Stone complements the naturalistic theme perfectly.

Views, meanwhile, are almost everything to the Mathers and to Pattey, which is why the latter designed the home with an east-southeast orientation, offering both a panoramic gallery of ocean views and long-distance perspectives that make you feel as though you’re peering into forever. (As if on the Mathers’ cue, dolphins could be seen breaching the water surface during our tour.)

Of course, the 5,000 sq. ft., four-level home has all the standard rooms one would expect, yet there were specific needs Pattey had to attend to in the fulfillment of the Mathers’ mandate. They include things such as his-and-her offices (where Denny can keep his sports memorabilia from personal acquaintances Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken, Jr.); an exercise room; a craft room (where Cindi maintains her prized 3’x3’x5’ rolling Victorian doll house); an elegant library/music room, done masterfully by woodworker Maynard Esender of Frankford; and an eco-friendly geothermal climate-conditioning system throughout the house. It also meant building a handicapped-accessible bathroom, in order to accommodate a dear friend of the family, whom they very much want to be fully at home whenever she visits them.

But if incomparable views are paramount, so, too, is the desire to hang around awhile to enjoy them.

“There is a whole lot of steel in this structure,” said Pattey, “including the strategic placement of a series of I-beams, which, along with the structure’s other stress-bearing features, gives the house the ability to withstand winds of up to 155 miles per hour.”

In addition to incredible wind resistance, all that steel is pivotal in the support of what Pattey refers to the Mathers’ “undulation” of rooms. Most typical construction involves
the “stacking” of rooms, one directly above another, in which each room acts as structural support for those above it. But the Mathers’ house is very unstacked and actually more like a jigsaw puzzle according to Pattey, which meant that the necessary
structural support be would have to be transferred elsewhere if the home was to feature the staggered room arrangement and durability that his clients had sought.

The unorthodoxy of the project both in detail and as a whole is why Pattey and the Mathers give kudos to structural engineer Jim Baker of MacIntosh Engineering in Georgetown, Del.

“To have realized all our crazy demands with such efficient perfection, Jim and MacIntosh must be engineering geniuses,” said Cindi, a sentiment with which Pattey certainly concurs.

Constructed with painstaking skill by Steve Smith of Summer Hill Custom Home Builder in Ocean View, the home’s street-side façade is traditional New England coastal, insinuated with an old cottage feel, while the waterfront side boasts the bright oversized windows consistent with more contemporary architectural design philosophies. The gray-shingled and white-trimmed coastal-vernacular elements punctuated with blue-steel standing-seam accent roofs further implant the overall nautical ambiance.

And speaking of nautical, it seems completely fair to say that the Mathers have “all decks on-hand” considering a dizzying swirl of 12 porches and decks in all shapes and sizes that bridge the home’s interior spaces with the great outdoors. Some are
intimate; others are sprawling. Some are open; others are screened in. Some even feature custom chestnut-brown Ipe handrails.

When it came to the interior, Cindi, who has great design instincts herself, wasn’t taking any chances, so she brought in Annapolis designer Cindi Armacost of CA Interiors, who had helped the Mathers with two previous homes.

In addition to 4,000 sq. ft. worth of amazing reclaimed wide-plank pine on the floors, the two Cindis teamed to incorporate elements of the Sea Charm itself into the fabric of the home. The great room’s built-ins, for example, use wood from the motel as back panels, which Armacost had custom washed to confer a bluish hue, and there’s a neat drop-leaf table that was crafted from original motel wood. A second-level bedroom
features a sand-fence headboard that came compliments of the erstwhile hospitality venue, as did the ceramic-tile border that appears in one of the upstairs baths. The wainscoting of the first- and second-level staircases, meanwhile, was designed by Armacost and uses 1"x 4" lumber and panel molding, painted white to look like old cottage-style homes, while the aqua sea-glass tint of the crystal chandelier hanging over the dining table was added for simple elegance and to accent the traditional cherry refinished dining furniture brought from the Mathers’ city home.

The open kitchen boasts lovely glazed birch cabinetry in butterscotch with rich granite countertops and aqua sea-glass backsplash, while the master suite upstairs includes an evocative porthole opening in the wall that separates the suite from its foyer/entranceway, giving an ocean prelude as one approaches the space without necessarily encroaching upon the privacy of its occupants — just one of Pattey’s many inspirations. The room adds a volume ceiling and views from three vantage points that simultaneously stimulate and calm you.

A small apartment in itself, the master-suite walk-in closet sports a crystal chandelier and sunny cupola, which allows for ambient light in addition to an interesting architectural detail.

Ultimately, Armacost is absolutely correct when she notes that the home is teeming with interesting finishes but not so much as it’s teeming with heart and soul.

The Mathers’ home may also be seen as part of the 20th annual Bethany Beach Cottage Tour, produced by the Friends of the South Bethany Library, on July 27-28. For tickets, visit www.beachandbaycottagetour.com or call 302-537-5828.

There are no comments. Be the first to post a comment.