Down by the Sea

Higgledy, piggledy the original house, erected back in the 1960s, began to grow. A room here, a garage there. Never mind the heavenly landscape. Square footage was added without thought to capturing the vistas and uncaring of how traffic would flow. As a result, when these new owners came along they had to make do with a quirky layout and rooms that felt less than comfortable.

Ten years passed. Now, with two young children, more than ever the couple yearned for a sensible floor plan incorporating open, airy spaces conducive to family living. He’s an avid wine collector, she’s a wonderful cook; they wanted a house that would reflect their interests. At the same time, they wanted to maximize their locale. Sure, they had a dock for their boat. But what about decks for al fresco meals and, maybe, a hot tub?

A friend suggested they enlist Jamestown architect Abigail Campbell-King, AIA, and life began to look up. It took Campbell-King one visit to determine the house needed a total reconfiguring. “There was no entry point, no connection of the various wings. Circulation was haphazard at best,” she says. The parents packed up, found temporary quarters in Newport and allotted the architect one year to complete the remodeling. “Family and friends were scheduled for summer visits,” Campbell-King explains. “They had to be moved in by June 1. That was our deal.”

Up went the low ceilings, in went all new windows. For the living room, that gesture alone was transforming. In its previous life, the compact room had had one two-by four-foot window. The new glass exposed an ever-changing panorama of water and sky. And adios impractical galley. In its place blossomed a lofty, state-of-the-art kitchen. Open to the dining room, and beyond the scenery, the easily accessible kitchen rests at the heart of the new, efficient design. Campbell-King, with Newport-based contractor Brian Arnold on board, created an eight-by-fifteen-foot entry ingeniously connecting the previously disjointed wings. It also gave the owners a sensible route to the bedrooms as well as to the public areas: the kitchen, dining and family room. The last has become, in fact, a versatile gathering spot. Hardly anyone remembers what it used to be: a rickety screen porch with a leaky French door. Today the generous family room provides a niche for casual dining as well as entertainment. This is the read-or-watch-television-together room. New, view-grabbing, glass doors keep the bay ever close; new skylights and wraparound windows help brighten every corner.

If a meal calls for wine, the homeowner need only make a quick trip to the fully insulated and temperature-controlled wine cellar, formerly the mundane basement. Bottles are meticulously arranged according to region, so it’s easy to find just what he wants. Wine crate ends, each emblazoned with the name of a vineyard, cover the walls giving the space a unique old-world touch that paint or even paneling could never have mustered. For years the owner had been stockpiling the wooden treasures. This was a perfect opportunity to show them off. Scores of decanters, another collection, warrant room, too. Framed maps aid neophytes hungry to learn from a pro.

When this project began, the house had a deck of sorts. A twelve-by-fifteen-foot landing pad was moored off the dining room. Such a fabulous waterside location, though, demands something more extraordinary. So Campbell-King designed a deck to mirror the dining and family room. Made of Trex, a material concocted from recycled materials, the new deck withstands nature’s rigors. The natural cedar railings seem a continuation of the dock and cleverly draw the eye out across the bay.

Still as the months rolled by, getting closer and closer to June, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The narrow lot, for instance, and CMRC regulations limited what could be done where. And when codes for the four-bedroom house mandated a new septic system, the only suitable site turned out to be the front yard. Fortunately, Campbell-King had a solution. She designed a Japanese-type garden complete with azaleas and scented with lavender as a disguise. Granite basins catch rain for the birds and stone paths lead the way. Passersby would never guess the new grove of cherry trees are a ploy to fool the eye. A large existing cherry tree sheds its petals in all the right spots, adding weight to the picture. And staged just beyond the new entry with its cedar pergola, the garden has turned out to be a plus, an oasis where a parent slips away for a few quiet moments.

Of course, there’s a story behind that pergola as well. Not only is the structure choreographed in such a fashion as to make way for the tree, it also helps subtly tie the roof lines together. Imagine, if you can, the past: a plain house sheathed in siding. Now, dressed with shingles and green trim, it’s a real New England-flavored home. Add a few stately columns to mark the entrance, and this is a house people take notice of.
If they could peer inside, dollhouse fashion, they’d see the makeover has reinvented the bedroom wing with equal aplomb. Situated over the garage, the bedrooms used to seem an afterthought. To remedy the situation, the architect flip-flopped the little girl’s room from the back to the water-facing side, nixed a sketchy attached green house and rerouted a hall. The parents’ retreat and son’s room remained in their slots. Awarded tons of closets and refurbished top to bottom, they’re barely recognizable.

A water-influenced palette—soft greens, pale blue (Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue for the walls) and white—makes the master suite ultra-serene. “I wanted a refined look,” says the wife, who teamed with Campbell-King to design a mahogany and suede-framed bed that’s as elegant as a pin stripe suit. She and the architect also shopped together for fabrics, settling on a calming solid color for the drapes and a contemporary pattern for the bed. The bed’s dark wood references the detailing on twin tiger maple nightstands.

The master bath keeps the bar high. Campbell-King devised ample storage for toiletries and a feminine dressing table. A tumbled marble floor, with a shimmery glass tile border, picks up the bedroom’s colors, continuing the marine theme and channeling light. “Water and sky change so much. Vibrant colors would detract from what’s going on outside,” Campbell-King explains.

And, more luxury, the master suite opens to a private deck. The owners can meet here for morning coffee or a moonlit cocktail. One level down, a second deck holds their hot tub.

The wife has a knack for choosing the perfect fabrics. The little girl’s room is as sweet as a cupcake, but with a décor that will grow along with her. Checks and polka-dots paired in complimentary colors balance the look. The four-poster is festooned with billowy sheers, injecting a dash of princess-like glamour.

Study how the design pays homage to the super site and how far the level of comfort has been raised, and this is a dream home. No wonder friends line up to visit. Yet more than just a pretty picture, thanks to Campbell-King, the reinvented house functions as beautifully as it looks and, for these owners, that’s the telling difference.

Styling by Nicole A. Hogarty