A Classic Rehoboth Cottage
One thing I’ve always liked about Rehoboth is its eclectic vernacular. There isn’t a common look or style to the town’s houses and I appreciate that people have the opportunity for self-expression. It keeps things from becoming dull and repetitive. However, I’d love to have a super power to realign and change windows without owners noticing….
I’m particularly fond of cottages built in the first half of the 20th century when people thought of their places more as respites than investments. One of my favorites is a modest white cedar shake cottage with a swimming pool, green and white striped awnings, blue hydrangeas, and a yellow door leading onto a screened porch. Sounds like an ode to summertime, doesn’t it? Well, this particular cottage is where educators Bo Lauder and Pete Weiss and their French bulldog, Pork Chop, spend quiet, languid summers once Manhattan’s private schools let out.
The three-bedroom cottage in the Pines neighborhood was built in 1926 and expanded upon in the 1930s to add a larger kitchen, the third bedroom, and a second bathroom. Bo purchased it 20 years ago when he was Upper School Principal at Sidwell Friends School in DC and was visiting Rehoboth on weekends. On one of those weekends 12 years ago he met Pete, and then eight years ago the couple adopted Pork Chop.
“When I bought the cottage, it was covered in asbestos tile and the ceilings were low, so I changed all that,” Bo says. “I updated the bathrooms, added a swimming pool in the back yard, and converted an old one-car garage into a separate guest suite.” It doubles as Bo’s summertime office.
Pete, the cook of the couple, mentions that the kitchen still has the original 1930s cabinets, copper hood over the stove, and red Formica countertops. During the renovation, they were never tempted to go open concept, even though the cottage is on the small side. As Bo explains, “I like corners and walls because they create all sorts of spaces for furniture and art.”
That they do. The couple enjoys contemporary art, specifically work by Gene Davis and Ellsworth Kelly, two artists known for their bold use of bright colors, geometry, and hard-edge shapes and lines. Their artwork is featured on just about every wall. The other dominant design element in the cottage is bamboo furniture, which I’m a fan of. It is everywhere!
“Truly, we never noticed how much there is until you pointed it out,” they both admit with a chuckle. Bo then goes on to talk about his love affair with bamboo. “My first piece was a small table purchased at a Sidwell Friends auction. Then I started buying pieces that caught my eye, mostly in the Oriental style. Bamboo doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it adds a certain panache, and it helps blend the cottage aesthetic and the contemporary art collection.”
Bo even likes the bamboo that has spread over from the neighbor’s property, an attractive nuisance he battles constantly. “I learned from my grandparents back in Alabama about the need to remain vigilant. They had a patch of bamboo they set on fire every few years in order to control it. I fear one day my whole garden will be overrun with bamboo.”
It’s a good segue to the garden. I ask about its design aesthetic and Pete quickly answers “more” and that causes Bo to give him a playful and dismissive wave of the hand and me to laugh. But in a way, Pete is right because cottage style gardens by their nature tend to be crowded with personal favorites and experiments and this one is no exception.
Classics like boxwoods, rose of Sharon, hydrangeas, daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, irises, and marigolds mix and mingle with eccentric specimens like the potted lime tree and the Chinese umbrella tree and wild poinsettia Bo grew from seeds he gathered. Cottage gardens may look casual and effortless, but they take a lot of work to get that look. It’s a labor that head gardener Bo considers one of the great joys of summer living in Rehoboth.
As I sip a glass of wine look to the west and admire a collection of potted boxwoods on the back steps, I can’t help but wonder what next summer will bring. Will the cottage remain a summer respite or will it be overrun, another casualty of red-hot development in Rehoboth? Time will tell….
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James.