Haven: Modern design, natural elements make home their dream

George Marrone with his dogs Sophie and Sasha in the living room. Themid-century-modern house was built in 1959 by an artist. January 23,2013. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
George Marrone with his dogs Sophie and Sasha in the living room. Themid-century-modern house was built in 1959 by an artist. January 23,2013. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 11, 2013

George Marrone loves midcentury modern design - so much so that convincing the less-enamored, who may find it relatively soulless, is a personal goal.

"I find people often feel modern design is sterile and impractical," says Marrone, 40. "I hope to show that it can be warm and inviting."

In one particular Wilmington dwelling, cozy and feel-at-home exist for three good reasons.

First is Marrone's design aesthetic. Yes, you will find the sleek, minimalist look that characterizes midcentury modern throughout the house. But the Mad Men decor doesn't hold complete sway: Decades-old steel canisters sit on the kitchen countertop, close to a near-ancient Singer sewing machine. A Moroccan-style rug lies in a sitting room, and grass-cloth wallpaper hangs in the master bedroom. Splashes of color add layers of dimension to all the neutral tones.

"I like to mix it up," Marrone says.

Second is the house's architectural design and location. Its many windows showcase a natural setting that includes a good-sized creek, mature trees, and privacy galore.

And third, the home's original owner, artist Carolyn Blish, chose natural building materials that add to its warmth: built-in teak cabinets in the family room; thick, wide oak treads on the staircase; Douglas fir ceiling beams; flagstone steps descending from the front door down into the living room; and oak floors everywhere.

Marrone, a health-care professional, and his longtime partner, Michael Nocera, a financier, have emphasized these natural materials as much as possible.

The couple weren't looking to move when Marrone happened to find the 4,300-square-foot open tri-level online. Once he spotted it, he had to see it.

Once he walked through, he had to buy it: "As a kid in the '70s, I secretly wanted to live in the Brady Bunch house."

But what Marrone and Nocera saw that day nearly four years ago is not what a recent visitor saw. Their Realtor said most prospective buyers couldn't stomach the aesthetic crimes that prior owners had committed.

"They couldn't get past what it looked like, but the bones were so fantastic," Marrone says.

To wit: the green shag carpeting, which even covered the oak treads. And that was just for starters.

Lucky for those prospective buyers that they weren't around when Marrone and Nocera started tearing out the seven layers of linoleum on the kitchen floor and scraping the paint off the brick on one kitchen wall. Both were lavender.

And then there was the 50 feet of Corian, on the countertop and backsplash. Nocera ripped that up on his own.

"That was really tough, as George had to work that day," he says.

Marrone paid his dues: He installed recycled glass for the backsplash and white quartz for the countertops.

As for the floor, the couple installed cork. And that lavender brick is now white.

Impressive is the symbiotic relationship that Marrone and Nocera have created between the house and the 1½-acre parcel on which it sits. Though Blish, an earlier owner, astutely put in as many windows as possible, Marrone and Nocera have arranged for the outside to come in.

There are few window treatments. Two panels flank the floor-to-ceiling windows by the front door, and that is for security alone, Marrone says.

Some curtains, for privacy's sake, are in the bedrooms, as well. But they are wide open during the day, even in winter.

In the master bedroom, two huge plates of glass open up to tall trees and the creek.

"It's like being in a treehouse in the summer," Marrone says.

On the house's lower level, you can barely take a step without seeing a tree, water, or the outside patio. (In a bit of a flip, Blish installed an inside barbecue grill near the dining room, annexed to the fireplace.)

Marrone does have a near-convert as a result of his please-love-midcentury-modern efforts: Nocera.

"I have opened him up a bit more . . . while he has broadened my perspective on traditional elements and modern art," he says.

Nocera agrees.

Marrone, he says, has his "own sense of style . . . and he incorporates it all together."

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