In Tiverton, A Vacation Home to Last Generations

A couple of West Coast transplants re-establish their roots on Fogland Point.
Photography by Tony Luong.

Most of us who nest and play here have a ready-made pitch when asked what we believe to be the best stretch of coast, but with 400-plus miles to choose from, there’s room to debate. Erin Elliot’s pitch is simple: “Tiverton is the reason we’re in Tiverton,” she says. “The location is really special.”

Those familiar with Fogland Point would likely agree that Elliot’s answer to why she and her husband chose here to build — of all Rhode Island coasts — requires no additional explanation. And, those unfamiliar with this area’s preserved spaces, its picturesque walking trails, pet- and family-friendly sand on which to sprawl and reliable Sakonnet River breezes are also what make this particular area a short-list contender. As ideal as this section of coast is, it somehow remains untouched by so many nesters and players that it bears a uniquely quiet, communal and almost private feel.

It is these things, and familial ties, that continued drawing Elliot and her husband, Dave, here. Some thirty years ago the New England natives chose a very different Bay Area to start their family. While California became home turf for the Elliots and their children, Erin’s sister settled in Tiverton, and summer vacations at Fogland became a tradition for the sisters and their families. During those summers, a simple, seemingly unoccupied house repeatedly caught the Elliots’ eye from the water. Year after year it sat quietly without coming on the market. About eight years ago a bit of research revealed that, although the house wasn’t for sale, it wasn’t lived in either. A private offer was made and accepted.

The Elliots saw the purchase as an opportunity to establish a family home on their native coast. They wanted a place that they could eventually pass to their grown children, a home where future generations could continue to experience Fogland summers. But the dated ’60s ranch that occupied the property was undersized, ailing and clearly incapable of fulfilling that vision. In short, the house would have to be replaced, a process that began with Peter Twombly, who was, says Elliot, “the one and only choice for us from the beginning.”

Estes Twombly Architects’ self-described style of “quiet modernism” and its reputation for masterfully reinterpreting traditional New England aesthetics appealed to the Elliots. The couple wanted a site-conscious design that would blend into the landscape rather than impose on it. “That was in the very front of our minds,”

explains Elliot. “It wasn’t about the house; it was about arriving in the house and having your eye go outside.” In fact, the Elliots prioritized the site’s natural beauty, from both an interior and an exterior perspective. “We wanted to keep a low profile on the outside. We didn’t want to be those people who build a monstrous new house on the water.”

From an architect’s perspective, the location, while beautiful, posed its share of environmental challenges. To start, the build site was an open field, a former pasture that faces due west, meaning the home would endure hours of sun exposure in the afternoon and evening. Although such an orientation makes for memorable sunsets, it also creates practical dilemmas: Reflections off the water would be harsh and heat exposure brutal on both the residents and building materials. In addition to the sun, wind was also a consideration for Twombly. Fogland is something of a mecca for windsurfers and he was mindful of how that natural element could affect the homeowners’ comfort when using outdoor spaces.

Energy efficiency and durability were also considerations for the Elliots during the design process. While they didn’t insist on achieving net zero, they wanted to minimize the home’s environmental footprint and to consider its long-term impact. Twombly says they truly wanted this new house to be one that would endure physically and stylistically for generations.

And, without question, Twombly’s final product does more than deliver, says Elliot. “The house far exceeded our expectations.”

According to Elliot, Twombly’s inspired design begins with his “magnificent” arrival sequence. The property’s quarter-mile-long driveway is flanked by thick, marshy growth, which slowly thins along the right side, revealing a large open yard along the eastern side of the house before the home itself is revealed. “Approaching the front door, the full landscape view is a little obscure and then — boom — it’s there,” she says.

The new house is located on its predecessor’s footprint. Visitors are welcomed in a south-facing entry court featuring a meticulously crafted fieldstone wall intended to imitate historic stonework in the area. Cleverly, the wall also defines the front door and serves as a wall for the screened porch. “In addition to providing a bit of privacy to the porch from the driveway, it keeps headlights out of your eyes when cars pull up at night,” says Elliot. “That screened porch is the best place to have coffee in the morning or cocktails in the evening.”

A mudroom to the right of the entry door leads to the garage and boathouse, while straight ahead and to the left brings one to the great room. In this space, a cathedral ceiling combines with ample windows to create an open, airy common area for sitting, dining and entertaining. Shiplap details on the ceiling, fireplace wall and stairs add cohesiveness; wide-plank eastern white oak floors play along. “Peter is brilliant about repeating design elements,” says Elliot of Twombly, and these clean, horizontal lines that carry through the great room are evidence.

The home’s three bedrooms are grouped together — two downstairs with the master upstairs — with a den in a two-story wing along the northernmost edge of the house. In keeping with the Elliots’ desire for the house to maintain an unimposing profile from the water, the bedroom wing is the only two-story section of the house. Off the master, a covered deck features views and protection from the elements. Like Twombly’s other design decisions, the choice to situate the bedrooms in this way was strategic. Not only does the bedroom wing have added height, it is perpendicular to the house’s central artery, creating an overhang on the west and east faces. The height and positioning of the western overhang creates a natural barrier that protects the downstairs terrace from northern winds.

Other elements, besides wind, had a hand in driving Twombly’s design. As previously mentioned, the million-dollar view is due west, but so is the harshest afternoon sun. Regardless, with a location like this, a waterfront terrace is a must. Twombly gave the Elliots a bluestone terrace accessible from both the great room and the screened porch. Although the terrace is protected with a reinforced deep overhang, the afternoon sun can still be too much to bear on the hottest of days. When such is the case, the screened porch offers more shade without sacrificing much of a view. If the sun is still too strong, or if evening has fallen and both privacy and sea breezes are required, one more trick remains: louvered panels can be drawn over the glass. They are the perfect way to shutter light but admit fresh air.