It’s not easy to describe the home of Zig and David Shields. The house has a distinctive style that evokes the Arts and Crafts era, along with New England influences and contemporary touches.
The shingle-and-stone house sits on a rolling property right on the edge of the Delaware state line. From the moment you enter the front door —painted a shade of purple to match the leaves of the plum trees planted along the circular driveway —you’re struck by the originality of the home’s design and decor.
“I’ve never used a decorator,” says Zig Shields.
Instead she has relied on her own instincts to guide her choices, mixing modern design with Arts and Crafts-inspired furniture. She has collected unique handmade pieces over the years that often serve as the “artwork” for a particular space. In fact, the purchase of a cherry console table years ago was the catalyst for building the house.
Given Shields’ love for handcrafted furniture, it’s not surprising that she was drawn to this type of design. “The Arts and Crafts movement was a way of rejecting the industrial age—machine-made things versus handmade things,” she says. “Most of the ornamentation in the house is handmade, which is the beauty of it. There’s hardly any ornamentation here that isn’t functional.”
A library and dining room flank the front center hallway that runs the length of the house, ending at a curved stone wall in the back. With ceilings more than 11 feet high and transom windows adding height to the room, the house is light-filled and open in feel. Cherry paneling was used throughout the house.
The vibrant color scheme in the library began with a mustard-yellow leather sofa. “I saw it in a furniture store in Philadelphia 30 years ago and just had to have it. I thought, ‘It’s a work of art,’” Zig recalls.
Hung above the sofa is a large painting by Emily Bissell Laird done in a palette of yellows, reds and blues, echoed by two tomato-red area rugs strewn with whimsical stars. “I love the colors and repetition,” says Zig of the painting. “I tend toward patterns rather than realism.”
The foil for all this color is the warmth of wood. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves enclose a library alcove that has as its center-piece a table by New England furniture maker Thos. Moser. “It’s one of our favorite places to eat in the winter,” says Zig. “You end up sitting there for hours.”
The formal dining room is striking and nontraditional. A square Thos. Moser table sits under a domed ceiling with recessed lighting. The dome is sponge-painted in shades of sunset yellow; the walls are sponged in more muted yellows. Hanging from the dome’s center is a modern chandelier with graceful curves that look like cranes. The curved looping design is repeated in the pattern of the rug.
The center hall leads back to where the Shieldses spend most of their time: the kitchen, family room and a terrace overlooking meandering Burroughs Run below. Zig and husband David, a land conservationist at the Brandywine Conservancy, will celebrate their third anniversary this year. “This is the part we like the best about winter: We can put our chairs out there and watch the creek go by,” Zig says.
An avid outdoorsman, David keeps the freezer well stocked from his hunting and fishing trips. The couple enjoys cooking together, so the kitchen has plenty of workspace. Granite counters form a u-shaped configuration, with an island in the middle. Just opposite is another u-shaped work station with storage and bookshelves.
A sitting room next to the family room was designed with a curved rear wall built of Brandywine blue stone. An adjacent terrace overlooks a pool below with a Japanese-inspired pool house. Rows of Kousa dogwoods are planted nearby. “Everywhere we look we see nice vistas,” Shields says.
Although the house has five bedrooms and six and a half baths, it has a more intimate feel than many of the large homes being built today. “It’s funny how people say they feel so serene when they’re in this house. They can’t put their finger on it,” Zig says. “I think it’s because there isn’t any junk. I like things put away. You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do.”
The house was designed by John and Cynthia Orcutt, a husband-and-wife team from Portland, Maine. Cynthia and Zig were best friends growing up in Delaware. A visit to the Orcutts was the catalyst for choosing the shingle design so typical of New England cottages. Zig and her former husband collaborated with the Orcutts to design and build the house in 1996.
“It isn’t really a typical house for anywhere,” John Orcutt says—even with the New England influences.
This is particularly true in the front of a house sited to create a welcoming arrival. The porch has a curved, shallow arch with tapered columns. A recessed cut-out above the porch frames a second-story window, and the gable side of the pitched roof faces the front. “It was designed to give the house individuality,” says Orcutt.
A Harvard-trained landscape architect, Cynthia Orcutt designed a turnaround driveway lined with plum trees. At first, working on the design for her best friend had her concerned. But it ultimately had a good outcome. “Typically, architects go to the opening and never see the home again except in a magazine,” she says. “I’ve spent many hours in this house. It’s been incredibly rewarding.”