A Place Like Home

“A home away from home” is how many guests think of the Bellmoor Inn and Spa in Rehoboth Beach. The historic property incorporates the renovated 1930s-era Dinner Bell Inn, where guests would convene in the courtyard each evening when the matriarch rang the bell to signal that dinner was ready, as well as a new four-story addition built by the Moore family in 1999. 

“It was all beautifully done,” says award-winning designer Amanda Friend, “but this well-loved holiday destination was in need of a refresh and an update.” Perhaps the most daunting aspect of the project was the need to create a design that would appeal to young families and also be well received by established clientele who loved the Bellmoor just the way it was. 

As if that wasn’t challenge enough, Friend needed to source materials and furnishings that were not only beautiful but that also would hold up to the hard knocks of hotel use and meet commercial regulations. “‘Fire retardant’ usually means ugly,” she says with a laugh. 

Friend, who grew up with sketchpad in hand and was designing floor plans when her childhood peers were drawing stick figures, has spent decades designing thoughtful and visually stunning spaces that reflect the passions and personalities of her clients. She studied fine art and studio art as well as French and classical music, and all of these disciplines tie together and inform her work. “You can see history as it happens through art, music, and French culture,” she says, “and I love to pull from that when I’m working on interiors.” 

At the Bellmoor, she began by observing the way guests used the common rooms—the lobby, the library, the sunroom, and the breakfast room. She spent time in every room, assessing what she’d need to redesign the spaces to accommodate the guests and bring fresh life in a way that would stand the test of time. 

And then she set her guiding principle. “I didn’t ask, ‘What’s available that would meet these stringent criteria for durability?’” she says. “Instead, I asked, ‘How do I make what I want available?’” That critical distinction led her to find companies who were willing to work with her to make the seemingly impossible possible. Ultimately, her determination resulted in a design that sacrificed nothing and earned accolades from House Beautiful Magazine, which voted the Bellmoor the Best Designed Hotel in Delaware in 2018. 

A Pleasing Palette

“With lots of hunter green, reds, and golds, the rooms were quite dark,” Friend says. “It didn’t feel like the beach. But it’s possible to convey that subtly, almost subconsciously—without resorting to shells or seahorse motifs.” She chose a fresh palette of varying shades of blues, sea mist colors, ivories, and taupes, and hand-mixed the colors herself. “I wanted to avoid stark, cold whites, dirty grays, and yellowed tints,” she says. “The perfect shade of pale beige is almost the color of a sand dollar.” When a custom finisher sprayed the paint on the dark-stained wall panels, “It brought such wonderful light to the rooms,” Friend says. The paint color in the elegant and inviting library is Porcini, a deeper tone of taupe that gives the warmth of the “library feeling.” 

When Friend started talking to fabric companies about what she needed, she found an invaluable partner in Kravet Fabrics. “They were wonderful,” she says. She selected the patterns she wanted for the drapes for the guestrooms and common rooms, and they custom printed them on fire-retardant fabrics for the entire hotel. She used lots of Sunbrella fabrics as well. “They’re solution-dyed, completely stain resistant, and extremely durable,” Friend says, “but they’re made with a soft hand so they can be used for upholstery. And a kid’s wet bathing suit on a sofa is not a problem.”

Pieces of blue and white porcelain in various shapes, sizes, and patterns, as well as gorgeous brass light fixtures by Visual Comfort that are a sleek, modern take on the traditional chandelier, harmonize and balance the rooms and also serve to bridge the historic with the more contemporary aesthetic.

Something Old, Something New

It was important to Friend to preserve as many original elements from these rooms as she could make work with the overall theme. She knew that guests enjoyed doing puzzles at the large table in the sunroom, for example, so she integrated this table into the newly designed space. She also hired a carpenter to build shelves out of crown molding so the puzzle boxes could be propped up, face out. The narrow shelves fit well in the light, airy room. The common rooms were finished first, Friend says, and as she continued work on the guest rooms and suites and the Bellmoor’s completely refurbished meeting facilities, she was happy to see there was always someone at the table doing a puzzle. 

The Bellmoor’s impressive collection of Audubon prints, which is the largest on the East Coast, used to be on display everywhere throughout the hotel. “While there are fewer on the walls now, we’ve kept some, along with some bird carvings, as well as familiar pieces like the old globe so kids can find where they are,” says general manager Benjamin Gray. These elements preserve the history of the Bellmoor and are at home in a space that’s modern and inviting. Cozy nooks for sitting and relaxing flow naturally into more open configurations of sofas and chairs for gathering and socializing. “It’s a comfortable, warm, and happy place,” Friend says.

Together with the custom fabrics and fittings, this attention to detail and to preserving and continuing such time-honored pastimes makes people feel special, Friend says. “Those who don’t want things to change can still appreciate the thoughtfulness and intentionality of the process.”

“Today’s travelers are focused on the experience, so there’s been a palpable shift,” says Gray. “They’re looking for amenities like faster wifi and charging stations.” The newly designed Bellmoor retains its charm and commitment to excellence, Gray says, while offering modern sophistication. Guests can still play chess or checkers in the lobby—and they can also watch movies on large, state-of-the-art flat-screen TVs in their rooms. Whether they choose a cozy guestroom in the older part of the hotel or one of the luxurious 1,000-square-foot suites, the goal, say both Friend and Gray, is to make people feel at home.

Spine-Side In

The Bellmoor library is full of books that have been collected over the years for guests to read. The design challenge, says Friend, was that they were “worn, used, loved, old, new, different sizes, different colors, softcover, hardcover, kids’ books, adult books, and all so completely different from each other there was no design consistency—except that they look the same from the fore edges.” So she decided to use this feature to her advantage. “I used the books as architectural elements to fill the bookshelves,” she says. The effect, which is interesting and light-hearted, says, “You’re here at the beach on vacation, so have fun!”

Written by TARA S. SMITH


Photography by ROBERT RADIFERA


Katie Groves