Exploring the West Side’s Colorful Historic Homes

Creative couples are flocking to homes with good bones on Providence's West Side.
house

Lang and Morra’s dog, Ruffy, holds down the fort against the backdrop of their cottage’s fiery orange paint, a color choice inspired by trumpet vines growing in the garden. “I don’t like to get rid of things,” Lang says. Her decor is a mix of antiques and family finds, like the wood stove and tin ceiling tiles behind it, her grandmother’s rocking chair and the figurehead propped up in the corner that was found on Block Island. Photography by Tony Luong.

URBAN ADVENTURERS

The West Side cottage owned by Kari Lang and John Morra, a fiery orange confection with scalloped shingles and a picket fence, looks as if it was plucked straight from an English village and plopped down among the neighborhood’s boxy three-families. Truth be told, it wasn’t long ago that it would have looked more at home across the pond than in its urban surroundings. But not anymore. Take a stroll down any of the neighborhood’s streets and the whimsically painted Victorians with their tidy gardens tell a new tale: that the West Side has become a place where creatives with a penchant for restoration and an eye for design come to nest.

“I think people and place are completely intertwined,” says Lang. “Many of the people who come here are attracted by the architecture, but they also want to put their own spin on their homes.”

If one person was to be credited for the changing look of the neighborhood, it might be Lang, who has been executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA) for twenty years. The nonprofit works tirelessly to preserve and promote the community. Over the years the group’s work has included teaming up with the Providence Revolving Fund to renovate the neighborhood’s Victorian homes, planting community gardens, adding decorative lighting to Westminster Street to promote small businesses and foot traffic, and hosting numerous community events annually.

Lang’s connection to the neighborhood runs deep. She bought her 1872 house around the same time that she began working with the WBNA.

“I saw the strong bones of this sweet little house,” Lang, who has a graduate degree in historic preservation, recalls. “But not only that, the people and place immediately resonated with me.”

She and Morra have spent the past two decades transforming the house. Over the years, their work has included reslating the roof, refinishing the floors, adding a dormer to the upstairs bathroom and cabinets in the kitchen, remaking the window boxes and having bronze screens made for the windows. Everything speaks to a different era, from the wooden pull-flush toilet to the retro upcycled kitchen appliances to the wood stove in the living room. A former outbuilding that once shared land with a partially burned-down house, it’s now one of the West Side’s many jaw-dropping examples of Victorian architecture.