Inside a glamorous South Bethany beach house

Written by Jura Koncius

SOUTH BETHANY, Del.

Tucked behind a sand dune in this popular summer getaway is a beach house that’s dressed for a party. Roseann and Pat McGeehin’s oceanfront haven has a touch of glamour not often found in shingled houses on pilings, which are a staple on the Delaware shore. Designer Barry Dixon reached to the sky, sand and sea and dipped into Roseann’s well-appointed closet for inspiration for the colors and mood of this stylish 3,100-square-foot retreat. “I am one of those people who likes to dress up no matter what,” Roseann says. “I like my house to look that way, too. We did not want our place to look like the typical beach house, we wanted it to be something totally different.”

A beach house in South Bethany

Roseann and Pat McGeehin wanted a beach house that was festive, comfortable and welcoming to family and friends.

Dixon delivered, conceiving a vast great room with a wall of windows and seating areas furnished with lavender and pale blue lounges and ottomans; several places to dine and linger over a glass of wine; and a sleek SieMatic galley kitchen lined with cabinetry in a driftwood finish. The powder room sparkles with shaved mica wallpaper, reminiscent of the inside of an abalone shell. Upstairs in the master suite, a sculpted Waterworks soaking tub offers a Hollywood-style ocean view.

Every detail was carefully thought out, from the riveted gunmetal steel fireplace surround to the globe lamp made of coconut shells hanging over the breakfast bar. The washed, reclaimed oak floors don’t show the sand; decks on both floors capture ocean breezes.

“They wanted the house to be modern, happy, colorful and a bit avant-garde,” says Dixon, who designed the original house the McGeehins built on the same lot 20 years ago, as well as their homes in Potomac and Palm Beach. As for colors, he drew from “the watery blues of the ocean to the violets of sunset,” he says. Purple happens to be Roseann’s favorite color: She collects lilac Fiestaware and wears violet eye shadow.

“They wanted the house to be modern, happy, colorful and a bit avant-garde.” Barry Dixon

The McGeehins are into fitness. Roseann, a former Montgomery County math teacher, co-owns Rehoboth’s Body Shop fitness center, where she teaches Zumba classes. Pat, a certified public accountant who is a senior managing director at FTI Consulting, comes to the beach to relax with morning runs and pickup basketball games.

Roseann McGee on her favorite couch in the main room. Roseann McGee on her favorite couch in the main room. (Andrew Hensler For The Washington Post)

Pat and Roseann, both 58, grew up in Hazleton, Pa., and married after college. They first came to South Bethany in 1993, renting a house a few doors down. They were immediately charmed by South Bethany’s small-town atmosphere. They decided to buy land and build. On a local house tour, they discovered the work of Dixon, then of Washington, now of Warrenton. Dixon worked with them on plans for the house and its furnishings in a modern, casual style: sectional sofas, pop art, stone floors, bright colors and a stainless steel kitchen.

As years went by, the McGeehins spent more time in South Bethany and enjoyed hosting family and friends there. They were entertained by the shifting panorama out their windows, families arriving with armloads of coolers, tents and umbrellas. Says Roseann, “Cities pop up in front of us.” They found themselves savoring late afternoons at water’s edge. “We spend a lot of time sitting in a circle of about eight or 10 friends,” Pat says of their beach chair hours. “We relax and basically solve all the problems of the day. This is probably my favorite time.”

Barry dixon’s color picks See the paint palette designer Barry Dixon selected for the McGeehin home.

In 2004, Roseann bought the gym. And about seven years ago, the McGeehins and Dixon began to explore a makeover of the house with Christopher L. Pattey, an architectural designer with Becker Morgan Group in Salisbury, Md. “We wanted to update it and to have the house be much more open and airy and more focused towards the ocean,” Pat says.

There were lots of building restrictions because of the proximity to the water. When it was determined that the footprint could not be expanded, plans focused on getting a better flow, updating the kitchen and bathrooms, increasing storage and fortifying the house from storms. The main floor would be opened up and a powder room added. Upstairs, three bedrooms would go down to two, leaving room for a larger master bath, and two walk-in closets. (Hers is actually a dressing room.) In 2009, it was finished.

Designer Barry Dixon, who outfitted the 3,100-square-foot retreat. Designer Barry Dixon, who outfitted the 3,100-square-foot retreat. (Courtesy of Erik Kvalsvik)

Dixon was inspired by the waterfront setting for the interiors. With no wet dogs or sandy children in residence, he was adventurous in fabric and wall-covering choices. He kept mostly to solid color blocks, not wanting patterns to distract from the view. Lots of storage compartments and closets were added. “She’s a mathematician and he’s an accountant,” Dixon says. “They love order and geometry in their interiors.”

As you enter through a teak front door handcarved with a concentric circle pattern, you are drawn into the main living space. To the left is the kitchen and dining area topped by a chandelier made of recycled glass orbs. To the right, a round sea grass rug defines a living area, with lots of chairs, ottomans in shades of pale blue and purple, and a Christian Liaigre sofa in pale purple cotton velvet.

Organizing a beach houseRead tips from reporter Jura Koncius on how to organize a beach house.

One of the favorite seats in the house is the lavender Ellipse chaise, which Dixon designed and had made by Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth. Seating height was adjusted to allow for the best views of the ocean. “I wanted lots of small places to have conversations, because if it’s raining, everyone ends up in here,” Roseann says.

Dixon designed the main-floor bedroom in honor of Roseann’s mother, Helen Eroh, a frequent guest. It’s the only room with a lot of pattern. He made it appear larger by upholstering the walls and ceiling in a mulberry linen damask print. Her room is connected by a bath tiled in blue slag glass to a study that has a sleep sofa. This area can be closed off as a private apartment.

The beach home of Roseann and Pat McGeehin designed by Barry Dixon. Pictured is the standalone bathtub in the master bath and one of the dual vanities. The beach home of Roseann and Pat McGeehin designed by Barry Dixon. Pictured is the standalone bathtub in the master bath and one of the dual vanities. (Andrew Hensler For The Washington Post)

Upstairs, the master bath shimmers with iridescent mosaic tiles from Rockville’s Architectural Ceramics, covering floors, walls and walk-in shower. The master bedroom has a custom silver leaf sleigh bed topped by a triptych print of an antique octopus engraving, created by Natural Curiosities. The pale blues, greens and golds in the upstairs guest room and bathroom were inspired by marshes on South Bethany’s bay side.

Roseann loves giving tours of her dressing room (it has lavender carpeting, of course), a space organized with the precision of a fine boutique. “I love order. Remember, I’m a math teacher,” she says. The flip-flops are stacked by color, dresses organized by style; chunky bangles and necklaces hung in rows; gladiator sandals lined up. Meanwhile, Pat’s much smaller closet still has empty shelves. “I’ve got to put something on those or she’s going to take them,” Pat says.

The house works for all seasons. Two fireplaces, heated floors, and plum and charcoal cashmere throws create a cozy winter haven. That’s when Pat and Roseann have the beach to themselves. “I love coming down the stairs in the fall, putting on my fireplace, grabbing a cup of coffee and stretching out on that lavender chaise,” says Roseann. “Pat and I love looking at the ocean at all times of the year. That’s total relaxation.”

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