Home & Design: A Japanese-style house with pagoda roof in a traditional beach town

June 27, 2014

In Rehoboth Beach, Del., foursquare, bungalow, Colonial Revival and Cape Cod-style homes line streets with names like Cedar, Kent, Pennsylvania and Pine Reach.

On one street, though, is a departure: A pagoda rises between a bungalow and foursquare, signaling a distinctive Asian-style home accented with ceramic tiles, pine wood-style Azek trim and bamboo screening.

It started with a skylight.

Jim and Mary McIntire of Falls Church have owned a home on this North Shores lot, a few blocks from the beach and along the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, since the 1970s. They bought the original single-story cottage from friends and spent summers there with their two sons and three grandchildren. Jim, 76, a retired financial adviser, transformed the yard with flowers, vegetables and shrubs.

Jim loved the place, but he wanted a skylight.

“We have skylights at home, and I wanted to put a skylight in the old home we had,” Jim said. “Mary said no.”

Her reasoning?

“They are not fail-safe,” said Mary, 74, who worked as Jim’s administrative assistant. “It would be our luck that it would leak when we aren’t there. I fought it. ”

In 2012, when the McIntires decided to tear down the cottage and rebuild on a raised foundation after a flood, Mary finally agreed to have a skylight — but only if they could prevent direct sunlight from hitting the floor. A 15-by-30-foot skylight, which receives light indirectly through rows of small, square side windows in a simplified pagoda-style roof, was created to do just that. The skylight became the 2,200-square-foot home’s central element, and everything else was designed around it.


The skylight, around which this house was designed, receives light indirectly from windows in the pagoda-style roof. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

The McIntires don’t claim a special affinity for Japanese or Asian culture, though they have traveled to Japan and China. They say the house is a combination of interesting architectural styles and design ideas they’ve seen in books and on their trips.

“I didn’t have a picture of it in my head when we started,” Jim said. “I’d draw it with the help of our architect and improve on it. ”

Jerry Embleton, of J.L. Embleton Construction, spent five months with his crew working on the interior trim and other parts of the project — including 130 hours building the railing around much of the exterior. It was “challenging but enjoyable work,” Embleton said. “The framework of the home is so different than what you’ll find in this area. The roof, everything. But it turned out really well, and feedback has been really positive.”


Among the other Asian-inspired details is the bamboo screening around the raised home’s pilings. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

As construction progressed, Jim found other ways to add Asian elements. Inspired by bamboo fences, Jim chose to conceal the home’s elevated foundation with bamboo imported from China. The stalks, ordered from Cali Bamboo, were painted, sealed and attached around the exterior. Some stalks were even fashioned into a garage door.

Japanese-inspired porcelain tiles from Canada, attached with a screw at the end of each eave support, were also Jim’s idea. Each tile is different, he said, and there are more than 200 of them.


Japanese-inspired porcelain tiles cover the roof. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

“Jim is the details guy,” Mary said. “He has an eye for it.”

The front door, with sloping lines etched into the wood much like the lines of the roof, was also Jim’s design. After sketching it, Jim tasked Dover Windows and Doors in Greenwood, Del., with creating the solid wood door. It took three men and a forklift, he said, to haul it into place and fit it into its frame.

Other exterior elements of the house include a back, elevated patio and an outdoor shower — a beach home staple. The McIntires use the 3,000 square feet below the home for storage and garage space. They plan to turn part of it into a playroom for their grandchildren.

The McIntires have done away with some traditional beach house components. Although they used a floor plan similar to that of the original cottage, they replaced the screened-in porch and the kitchen, dining and living areas with an open floor plan and added two rooms in the back. Each of the four bedrooms has its own bathroom.


Some of the pan-Asian items in the interior. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

The interior also has some Asian touches. Japanese-style watercolors, painted by Jim’s mother, decorate the walls of the master bath, and red, ceramic samurai fighters serve as table-lamp bases in the main living area.

Mary took the lead on the furniture and paint design, with the help of Delaware-based design firm J. Conn Scott. An old stained-glass window from the cottage served as a platform for the palette of golds, yellows and reds. The roof beams inside the home are orange with a red tint. On one wall of the living area and in the hallways, the McIntires used a woven wallpaper for texture and a subtle note of red.


The home retains a stained-glass window from the original cottage. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

Nevertheless, the interior has a beach-house feel. The McIntires moved their wicker patio furniture indoors, and the two guest bedrooms and master bedroom all have the bedding and furniture from the original cottage.

“You don’t walk in and there are cushions on the ground,” Mary said. “We didn’t want to do a whole redo of the interior.”

The new home also carries a nod to the McIntires’ fondness for the locale. There are paintings from artist Jack Lewis, who spent his life in Delaware and died in 2012, just shy of his 100th birthday. The couple’s dining room table and bathroom vanities are from Old Wood, a Harbeson, Del., store that turns reclaimed wood into floors, cabinets and furniture. An Old Wood cabinet with colorful metal drawers graces the grandchildren’s bedroom.

The house is not quite done. The small room attached to the master bedroom, meant to be a home office, is still unfinished, and the construction destroyed the yard and Jim’s gardens. But, the way Jim and Mary see it, designing, building and decorating a house is all about knowing what you want and exercising patience.

“We both like to decorate and improve,” Jim said. “We’re able to do it more so than our boys. We want them to end up with it.”

Margaret Ely is a producer and writer in The Washington Post’s Local Living section.

E-mail us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.
For more articles, as well as features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit The Washington Post Magazine.
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Margaret Ely is a digital editor for Lifestyle. Previously, she was an intern for the Post’s Metro section.
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