A Crafty Family Turned a Quonset Hut into a Beautiful Vacation Home
A little love and creative vision turned a neglected ammunition shed into a sustainably built abode.
Photography by erinmcginnphotography.com
Designed for American soldiers during World War II, the unassuming Quonset hut has never drawn raves for its looks. And being left unoccupied for years — aside from the possum family that had moved in — simply added insult to injury for this Tiverton example, a dilapidated former ammunition shed.
“Any structure for us that’s weird or a bit different captures us,” says Blair Moore, whose family firm, Moore House Design, bought and rescued it from demolition about five years ago. “The only other interested buyer wanted to bulldoze it.”
By combining the steel corrugated building with a onetime upholstery shop next door, the Moores created a 2,600-square-foot, conversation-worthy residence that presides over almost an acre of mature trees and farmland.
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The renovation took the family about two years to complete and the goal was to do it on as tight a budget as possible. Previous owners had squared off the hut’s rounded interior walls, making it easier for the builder but significantly reducing the amount of living space. The Moores removed those angles to reveal the hut’s dome structure and sprayed the surface with insulation foam. It was then sanded and mixed with plaster and popcorn paint to simulate a rough finish. The floors came from vintage sources on Craigslist. “We pieced them together and stained them a similar color,” Blair says. All the custom shelves and paneling are fashioned from old fences that had been discarded from the set of PBS’s “The Victory Garden.” The windows were pulled out of old houses in Newport. The only new materials are the insulation, the faucets, bathroom fixtures and some of the lights. “It was an experiment for us to see how little we wasted and to buy as little as possible,” she says. “In the home-building business, we see so much waste. We wanted to create a cohesive, functional, beautiful space and be 100 percent sustainable. We got to 97 percent.”
The living space, which includes four bedrooms and two baths, sprawls over two buildings that are connected by an entryway the Moores added. When tackling interiors, Blair often works with designers whose aesthetics are an eclectic blend of vintage and modern. In this case, though, they opted for more of a mid-century man cave look, with bold, dark colors and strong tactile lines layered with vintage rugs. The floor bricks were a dumpster discovery, and the wicker pendant lights were another Craigslist find. With the low ceilings, the choice of Benjamin Moore’s “Onyx” in the living room gives it a library feel, Blair says. “It makes it feel warm and cozy rather than something it’s not.” It’s important to work with the architecture of the house, not to fight it, she says.
The house is full of unusual details that create visual interest. In the living room, a shelf in one of the built-in bookcases hides a lever and a secret door, behind which lies a kids’ hideout with four bunk beds. On the floor above, the gallery-style hallway, lined with cedar shakes, leads from the master suite down to a view of the living room and echoes the cedar shakes on the outside of the house.
Blair is the oldest of three and came to the United States from Australia with her family about ten years ago. Her parents were constantly renovating when she was a child. “We were always living in some place that was undone, and when it was finished, we’d move.” Her father is a creative visionary, she says, and her mom manages guest stays at various rental properties, including this one, at moorehousefamily.com. Blair, who has degrees in marketing and advertising as well as design, oversees construction and the overall vision of the business. She gently rejects the notion that Quonset huts are, ahem, ugly. “No way,” she says. “A designer finds and creates beauty in anything. You want to feel the history of this structure.”