Rehoboth memories spur couple to become second generation to buy there

June 22, 2012

Walking along the boardwalk in Rehoboth, Del., most of us see beach on one side, beachy shops on the other. But when Russell Canard strolls the boardwalk, he sees his childhood.

Those memories include the family cottage where he spent every summer, just south of Rehoboth proper, on an ocean block of the Dewey Beach community of Rehoboth by the Sea. And they include an old boardwalk joint, the Beach Luncheonette, where he made french fries and burgers from age 14 to 19. Those were casual summers spent surrounded by family and friends, the sound of the surf always in the background. Summers seemed long back then, plenty of time, as he hit college age, for a part-time job at the famous Rusty Rudder restaurant in Dewey Beach and hours spent learning to surf.

Russell’s wife, Emily, grew up sunning herself and playing paddleball on the wide, flat beaches of South Carolina (“They go out so far,” she says), which she visited with her North Carolina family. She and Russell, both 34, agree that this is the kind of summer they want to re-create for their children: 2-year-old Palmer, and her little brother or sister, due to make an appearance in September. The Chevy Chase couple weren’t yet shopping for a beach house in 2009, “but when this house came on the market,” Emily says, “Russell thought we would be mad to pass it up.”

The house is special in a couple of ways. Well, three, actually. First, Emily says, “Our friends say it’s the closest you can get to camping and still be indoors.” Second, it’s not far from the Dewey house Russell’s parents bought in 1977 for $50,000 and still occupy, though the younger Canards paid roughly 10 times more. (And it’s only a couple of streets from one of Russell’s sisters and her family.)

Finally, and paradoxically, it’s also special because it’s not unique: It’s one of dozens of houses built by Wilmington-based DFD Inc. in Rehoboth, Bethany and Dewey during the 1960s and ’70s. Says Thomas Fooks, the F in DFD and still in the development business at 84, “We bought the land starting in 1958.” But, he adds with a chuckle, the houses “didn’t go like hot cakes then.”

These were simple all-cedar modular homes. Russell Canard says: “Walk along West Street [in Rehoboth by the Sea] and you’ll see all four models the builder offered. There was the Crow’s Nest and the Beach House ...” Rehoboth real estate agent Bryce Lingo jumps in: “... the Atrium and the Courtyard.”

The Canard house is a Beach House, essentially a raised platform with two pavilions facing each other across a skinny breezeway. One pavilion runs the length of the platform; the facing one is about half that length, leaving a large corner of open decking that proved perfect for the screened-in front porch  the Canards now have. The roofs tilt upward in A-frame fashion, coming to a point high above the breezeway.

The layout is quite practical: Living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom are in the main structure; across the breezeway, the other pavilion contains two small bedrooms with access to a second bath. When the Canards first bought the house, “it was a revolving door,” Emily recalls. There might be seven people sleeping in the place, a couple of them on the living room sofas. Happily, their friends all started having children about the same time Emily and Russell did. Now, the the house works well for the Canards and one other couple. “The other couple can take the ‘salmon room,’ ” Emily says, “and put the baby next door.”

The Coral Gables salmon room is one of the guest bedrooms, next door to the Jamaican Aqua room (the color names are from Benjamin Moore paint). “I wanted to do something fun but not cheesy-beachy,” Emily explains. The colors work together because they all seem to have the same intensity. Emily reserved yellow — Provence Creme — for the master bedroom. There are other beachy touches, starting with a couple of painted East Coast surfboards decorating the living room (in addition to the half-dozen in the storage shed — and yes, East Coast “shapers” design their boards specifically for East Coast waves, in case you were wondering). There’s also a sign that reads “What Happens at the Beach Stays at the Beach.” In summer, the house is surrounded with hanging baskets of orange and purple petunias, to help conjure the seaside-resort atmosphere. Maybe Emily will grow another banana plant this season.

The living room — in yet another blue, Caribbean Mist — with its comfy white slipcovered sofas and its wood stove, has an area occupied by a long wood dining table. “We’ve eaten there maybe three times since we bought the place,” says Emily, who worked in event management before little Palmer became the main event. Meals are usually taken either at the picnic table on the rear screened-in porch — the Canards extended the roof line to add that porch last summer — or at the big round table on the front porch. The latter has “become known as the Round Table,” where friends will sit and eat and talk till 2 a.m., says Russell, who works in commercial real estate.

Russell’s last name is French for “duck,” so friends call the house the Duck Inn. The name has stuck; Russell’s just looking for the right piece of wood on which to paint a house sign.

But the parrot tiles dotting the ceramic backsplash in the tiny kitchen are a legacy from the former owners, who left a lot of belongings. Says Emily: “It’s like they picked up their toothbrushes and walked away. They left linens and kitchen utensils, the furniture.” It all came in handy at the start (“We’re still using their utensils and pots and pans,” Emily says with a laugh).

As for the future: The genius of the Beach House design, Russell points out, is that the front porch area is so large that the couple can tack on another bedroom to the guest rooms already there. But for now, this is a three-season house for a growing young family, where Mom and the kids will eventually be installed for whole summers, with Dad swooping in on weekends for his beach fix. Even during the winter, Russell likes to don a wet suit, grab one of the surfboards from the shed and hit the beach.

“I just cross the [Bay] Bridge, and it all lifts off my shoulders,” he says.

Nancy McKeon is a former Post editor and frequent contributor to the Magazine. To comment on this article, send e-mail to wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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