Haven: House with a colorful history

Jimmy Ruiz looks toward the water from the living room. A waterfront site was important to Ruiz and his partner.
Jimmy Ruiz looks toward the water from the living room. A waterfront site was important to Ruiz and his partner. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)

HAVEN | "You can see the water almost everywhere" from their Ventnor Heights house.

Posted: August 31, 2014

On a Saturday afternoon two years ago, Matt Capucini navigated his 33-foot Formula through Ventnor Heights' back bays, where Shore life is good. From Memorial Day through the warmth of autumn, there's a steady flow of action: swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, plus parties spilling onto large decks.

It was exactly what Capucini and his life partner, Jimmy Ruiz, were looking for.

They had traveled from their vacation home in Rehoboth Beach to see a bayfront property for sale. Capucini, who grew up on the Ohio shores of Lake Erie, desired a waterfront site for their boats, which include a 15-foot Whaler.

Besides that, they wanted to purchase a second home closer to their first in Glenside. The drives to the Delaware coast - particularly for Ruiz, an obstetrician at Abington Memorial Hospital who often works long hours - were becoming relentless.

Although they liked the house they had come to see, they had doubts. Just as they started to leave, they saw a charming two-story blue house across the bay for sale, with seven boat slips and a sizable side yard - a rare yet valuable perk for their three dogs, Button, Gizmo, and Grey.

"We both got very excited," says Capucini, 50, who was already imagining it as their retreat. Ruiz, 42, who hails from Staten Island, agrees. "We knew it had the main features we wanted."

In all likelihood, old-timers in Ventnor Heights will always know this as the Van Duyne (pronounced Van Dine) property.

Cathy Van Duyne's family has a long history in this community. Relatives run a construction company and are builders of lifeguard boats. Her paternal grandparents bought the property in 1935, initially keeping a barge on it, then a houseboat. They sold it 10 years later.

Her father, John Van Duyne, vowed to reclaim it, if and when it ever went up for sale again - and did in the early 1980s. He built the existing structure in 1998 for his retirement, but died before moving in.

Capucini and Ruiz, who have been together for six years, moved in as tenants almost immediately and waited while the Van Duynes settled riparian rights with the State of New Jersey. They assumed ownership in May and honored the architecture and heritage of the property while appointing it with their own tastes.

"Matt and Jimmy really cared about the house. They didn't want to tear it down. That was really important to us," says Van Duyne, who became friends with the couple.

The two-story building is small and narrow, but they have worked within its 1,200-square-foot footprint, incorporating the inside with the outside.

The centerpiece is the family room, with its dramatic knotty-pine ceiling and windows that span the room, overlooking deck and water.

Though the furnishings are primarily neutral, bold pops of blue anchor the upholstery and rugs across the five main rooms, where nostalgia is a major theme in the decor.

Early-20th-century water skis stand in the all-white kitchen. Hand-painted tiles of crustaceans and fish designed by Van Duyne's sister Susan are interspersed on the backsplash.

The guest bedroom, or "Crew's Quarters," as a brass sign reads, has vintage crimson-colored rowing oars (an official color of Harvard, Ruiz's alma mater) and a trash-picked mirror from Van Duyne.

Capucini, a grant officer for the federal government, is a talented craftsman. He sews, tiles, paints, and does woodworking. He tailored the striped curtains that frame most of the windows, which would look equally fashionable at an island resort. Hanging on a wall is an ornamental bamboo pole adorned with 20 vintage fishing reels he created as a nod to the Van Duynes, who for many years chartered the Florence, a fishing vessel.

While the first floor often pulsates with activity, the second-floor master suite (the Captain's Quarters), with its sitting area, is their sweep of calm, and Ruiz's favorite area.

"It's centrally situated. You can see the water almost everywhere," he says.

Tastefully scattered through the house are trunks and model sailboats and canoes, largely purchased from eBay.

For Labor Day, the twosome, whose entertaining is locally legendary, will host family and friends. Meals will no doubt be buffets of lobster and steak. Or Ruiz and his mother will prepare Caribbean specialties of rice and beans, the native cuisines of his parents, who are Ecuadoran and Puerto Rican.

"I think when people hear the backstory of our house, they find it as interesting as we do," Capucini says. "It's a great place."

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