The Rebirth of Cool

How a 1950s bungalow got its groove back

When Kevin and Laura Kramer asked interior designer Biff Bartron to come up with a plan to make over their 1950s beach bungalow in Delaware, they anticipated tearing down the structure and starting anew. Instead, Bartron, a partner with Kevin Weinstock of BW Design Group in Wilmington, came up with a proposal that was stunning in its simplicity: Why not restore the home to its hip mid-century sensibility? His recipe for restoration: Take one part contemporary chic, add a dash of Rat Pack cool and stir gently.


When Kevin and Laura Kramer asked interior designer Biff Bartron to come up with a plan to make over their 1950s beach bungalow in Delaware, they anticipated tearing down the structure and starting anew. Instead, Bartron, a partner with Kevin Weinstock of BW Design Group in Wilmington, came up with a proposal that was stunning in its simplicity: Why not restore the home to its hip mid-century sensibility? His recipe for restoration: Take one part contemporary chic, add a dash of Rat Pack cool and stir gently.

Although the Kramers had originally envisioned a multistory modern beach retreat, they quickly warmed to Bartron’s idea. Now, they are glad that they did. “This is our refuge from the world, a place that’s manageable, intimate — and fun,” says Kevin.

There was much in the house worth saving, starting with floors of 8-inch pine planks. Massive beams support a soaring, pitched ceiling of tongue-and-groove pine. “The wood in this house is incredible,” says Bartron. “It would cost a fortune to re-create this today.”

It would have been easier and more economical to paint the beams and ceiling. But the Kramers decided to restore the parched wood, which soaked up gallons of varnish on its way to regaining a honeyed patina. Reenergizing the wood also emphasized a striking architectural element, in which the beams bisect clerestory windows at the roofline and extend under the eaves. “When you look up at the windows, it looks as if the beams are slicing right through the glass to the outside,” says Bartron.

Panels along the roofline fold down to allow breezes to waft in under the rafters. That environmentally friendly cooling method is so effective that the Kramers chose to forgo central air conditioning, relying on in-wall units in the bedrooms and great room for the hottest days. “Why add a bunch of technology you don’t need?” says Bartron.

JUST ENOUGH
THE HOUSE IS A SCANT 1,200 SQUARE FEET, including a screened porch, but the spaces become one when a series of floor-to-ceiling doors are folded back.

In the main living area, where the family spends most of their time together, a sectional sofa upholstered in soft chenille is flanked by torchères from Africa topped with asymmetrical scrolled glass shades. A clean-lined shelving unit holds toys, board games and stereo components. “There’s no plasma TV in this living room,” Bartron says. “There are tables for playing games, there’s music, there are places where people can sit and talk.”

A new, multipurpose bar serves as an auxiliary kitchen and casual dining area for the small space, a place where the kids can enjoy snacks by day and adults can share cocktails in the evening. The chocolate-brown countertop echoes the rich tones of the beams overhead. “It’s Formica,” says Bartron. “They didn’t use granite in the 1960s.”

The actual kitchen is small and utilitarian. Rather than gut it, the Kramers opted for a few cosmetic improvements, including upgrading the countertops and updating the cabinets with sleek stainless-steel knobs that Bartron discovered while he was on a shopping trip in Palm Springs. A dated linoleum floor was ripped out to expose pine planks that had been hidden underneath.

To maximize space, some home furnishings serve multiple functions. A pair of daybeds in the jot of a den serves as seating on the rare occasions the family watches television. At night, the seats become guest beds. A buffet in the foyer that defines the entrance to the house also provides overflow storage space for bottles of wine and glassware from the adjoining dining area.

A second table on the screened porch expands to seat 12. The sleek, freestanding metal fireplace, which Bartron brought in from California, allows the family to enjoy the porch well into fall. Candles grounded in sand flicker inside large glass cylinders stationed atop tall zinc bases on the table.

To extend the beachy vibe outdoors, landscaping beds were dressed with white sand instead of wood mulch. Crape myrtles offer lovely, peeling bark and lavish pink blossoms, reminiscent of California bougainvillea. Spiky yuccas were inspired by the desert, as was a dramatic, sculptural monkey puzzle tree. “It has a cactuslike feeling, yet grows in the northeast,” says Bartron. The rectangular wooden screen on posts that defines the plot echoes the existing carport and reinforces the long, lean profile of the bungalow.

“It’s a very functional house, a place where you can flop anywhere, do anything,” says Bartron. “And it’s definitely cool.”

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