Farmhouse at Norman Bird Sanctuary Gets New Life

Architects restored the Paradise Farmhouse at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Rhode Island while preserving its historic character.


Courtesy of Foster Associates

October’s magazine features our annual Design Awards and in the spirit of winning ingenuity, we just had to give a nod to another worthy project. Hearts sing to see an ailing eighteenth-century New England building like Paradise Farmhouse brought back to life. The oldest structure on the Norman Bird Sanctuary’s gorgeous 325-acre property, the house — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was once home to Mabel Norman Cerio. The bird sanctuary (NBS) was established at her bequest in 1949 and named for her father. Its happy reincarnation provides the nonprofit accommodations for all kinds of events, from overnight educational seminars to lunch tours.

Best of all, the farmhouse, while gaining a complete top-to-bottom overhaul with modern systems and amenities, has maintained its antique character. Architectural details like moldings, mantels, floors and hardware were preserved thanks to savvy designer Michele Foster, principal of Portsmouth-based Foster Associates and her team (architect Chris Cote and intern Kristen Goldsmith) and also to architect Mauricio Barreto of Bristol’s Urban Design Group.

Having worked together for almost two decades revamping a number of NBS’s buildings, including its raptor facilities, the two firms tackled this one with Portsmouth’s J. G. Construction in phases over a six-year period. Awkward, more recent additions were removed from the old house and another flat roof addition updated with a more appropriate form. Today, the house has a grace that suits its lovely coastal setting. The robin's egg-blue front door — Mabel’s original color choice — couldn’t be any more welcoming.

Inside, spaces successfully balance the old/new line too. Foster Associates, who were also charged with the interior design, wisely kept it simple with contemporary sustainably sourced materials along with furnishings and finishes that will withstand use. The approach allows, Foster explains, “a clear reading of the architecture and the history of the house.” Almost Shaker-like, the airy, sun-filled rooms let what’s outside take center stage.

Clearly living up to its name, Paradise Farm has become a kind of heaven on earth that we can all enjoy.

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