A guest cottage—removed, but close enough for breakfast, and with all the amenities—keeps everybody happy. And when the guests depart, there it is, this charming, versatile retreat waiting for you to use as a studio, an office or simply a hideout.
From the drive, this sweet 300-square-foot building shaded by maples looks tiny enough to stick in your pocket. But sojourn to the lawn and the perspective changes. “This structure grew over time,” explains Jamestown architect Ronald DiMauro. “That’s the great thing about these buildings. As your needs change, they can change too.” Originally, the owners recruited the architect to come up with a potting shed that would mimic the style of their handsome Narragansett house. When children and grandchildren fell in love with the little building, it was clear some additions were needed. Only steps away from the beach, complete with screened porch and outdoor shower, it’s a perfect summer destination. “Look at the garden,” says DiMauro. “The owner designed it and it’s beautiful.” But visitors don’t always adhere to the season, so this jewel is insulated and heated too.
Have a Seat
Elevating the allure, the interior keeps the flavor. Unfussy wicker furniture with pretty floral cushions—think classic summer home not granny—and white wainscoting (a perfect note of freshness) complement walls the color of a new leaf. Sun pours in through a trio of simple double-hung windows paying homage to the main house. Floors, in the tradition of many a Rhode Island getaway, are painted muted gray. And—no guest cottage should be without them—books abound. Of course if a geranium warrants repotting, there’s still an area for messing about with plants on the porch. But now, making it just that much better, there’s room for the gardener to have company while she works.
Another pair of DiMauro’s clients turned to him for a dream home, but their sprawling Newport site conjured up more than just one superlative house. To reduce the project to a more human scale, DiMauro, along with project architect John Tumino, envisioned a beguiling compound: main house, multicar garage with sail loft and guest cottage. The last went up first, providing the owners a cozy place to live while their house was constructed. No ordinary annex, though, this gem is as hospitable as a four-star hotel. From the exterior brick courtyard with its pristine arbor dripping roses to the open living-kitchen area, it’s all about charm. With a nod to New England’s salty vernacular, the architects incorporated a host of nautical details. A porthole in the entry door is just one flourish of many that gives this small house big character.
To maximize the building’s use, the bottom floor has been turned over to the husband for woodworking. The sophisticated shop makes way for machines and tools of all variety, while the 620-square-foot top floor is devoted to guests. The elevation translates into sweeping views, including a carefully planned rear garden with picturesque bridge, and at the same time deepens the sense of privacy. “Visitors climb the stairs and find this airy space all for them,” says DiMauro. “It makes for a wonderful surprise.” To temper the newness and conjure up an old-time, informal ambience, the architect finished the walls with simple planking cleverly spaced an eighth of an inch apart and covered the floors with reclaimed chestnut. Gleaming teak counters, sealed ship fashion with half a dozen coats of Spar varnish, are easy on the eye and a breeze to maintain. There’s also a one-burner cooktop, should anyone be so inclined, and a fridge. Concealed behind wainscoting, the appliance takes on pantry-like appeal. No surprise, too, the bedroom is dreamy, and the bath has forfeited a humdrum vanity for an antique bureau. “The wife has a great eye. When your client is involved, it makes an impact,” says DiMauro.
Architect Ronald DiMauro recently launched the Cottage Collection, a line of affordable stock building plans for buildings ranging in style and size from storybook to deluxe. Depending on the building you choose, figure on spending anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for a complete set of DiMauro’s plans.
With plans in hand, the next step is a contractor. Ask DiMauro to recommend a few, or ask for reputable names from friends. Your contractor can help you decide how best to site your cottage—south for sun or east for morning light?—and also make sure you have the correct permits.
Construction costs will vary widely according to the amount of detail and materials involved, anywhere from around $8,000 to $12,000 for a small building, $25,000 to $75,000 for a mid-size and $75,000 to $100,000 for the grandest. “You can go crazy with a guest cottage and add a lot of custom touches. Or, you can scale back and keep it simple as can be,” DiMauro says. For more information on the Cottage Collection, go to rondimauroarchitects.com.