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It makes sense that two people as captivated by water as Bill McGee and John Roman would end up in Lewes, Del., a quaint town at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Delaware Bay and the Lewes-Rehoboth canal. 

And yet, early on, Lewes was not on McGee and Roman’s radar. For years, the longtime Baltimoreans vacationed at the southern Delaware beaches, ultimately purchasing a condo in Bethany that they planned to use as a weekend retreat and retirement home.

“We really enjoyed our house in Bethany, but realized that the resort didn’t have the kind of year-round community we wanted when Bill retired,” says Roman, a native New Englander whose love for the sea is reflected in his collection of seascapes and marine art.

What drew them to Lewes five years later was not only its historic quaintness and nautical heritage— a bit like Nantucket, they agree— but its community and cultural activities, good restaurants, bona fide local politics and many recreational opportunities, including a 12-screen movie theater. What sustains them is the fact that each morning they can walk in the sea air either at Cape Henlopen State Park or on the boardwalk in Rehoboth. “Lewes has some of the best ocean beaches in the region, part of a 4,000-acre state park that boasts the highest dune elevations between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras,” says Roman. “It’s a beautiful national treasure.” 

When the pair decided on Lewes, they looked for an already-built home but couldn’t find one with all the features they wanted: an open-floor plan on one level, a screened-in porch; a fireplace, two master bedroom suites, a home office and a manageable yard for gardening. “We didn’t want to build a house, but decided the only way to get what we wanted was to build,” says McGee, an interior designer who retired in 2002 after 30 years with Alexander Baer and Associates. “We selected a builder’s model with good bones, then customized the interior to suit our needs.”

Compared with building an addition onto their former home in Ruxton, Roman says the seven-month construction process on the Lewes house was “a pleasant experience.”

McGee and Roman describe their house, a 2,000-square-foot rancher located in a development called Pilottown Village, as “modest,” though the interior,  decorated with antiques and walls of leather-bound books, looks anything but. The changes made to the builder’s model included enlarging the foyer and great room, converting the third bedroom into a library, downsizing bathrooms to allow more closet space, and enlarging the screened-in porch. A large master bedroom walk-in closet also houses a home ofoffice from which Roman telecommutes to the Praxis Advertising Agency in Baltimore. 

The spacious great room with its 14-foot peaked ceiling and skylights contains several seating areas, including four swivel lounge chairs positioned around an upholstered ottoman in front of the fireplace. A tobacco-colored chenille sofa and several pull-up chairs allow comfortable seating for 12 when entertaining.

Although the house is supposed to be a retirement home, neither McGee nor Roman have slowed their pace. Together with friend Charlie Haldeman, they’ve opened a store that specializes in antiques and decorative accessories for the home, as well as fresh and silk flowers and unusual containers. The two businesses, Circa Home and Charles Haldeman Florals, share a 1,200-square-foot retail space. McGee and Roman merchandise a second location at the Lewes Mercantile Antique Gallery, a small consortium of dealers in the historic downtown area.

McGee and Roman hope their store attracts tourists visiting the Lewes-Rehoboth area, or folks on their way to the Lewes-Cape May ferry— the ones who don’t know enough about Lewes’ charms to buy a home and stay.

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