Tour a Classic Shingle-Style Home in Watch Hill
August 22, 2023
In coastal Rhode Island, a vacation home for a pair of siblings proves the classics never go out of style.
Text by Fred Albert Photography by Read McKendree
Taylor Swift may be the most famous resident of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, but it’s architecture that first put this coastal enclave on the map.
Like Newport to the north, Watch Hill rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century as a summer playground for affluent East Coast families. But instead of building gilded marble mansions, they opted for rambling Shingle-style “cottages,” establishing a housing pattern that continues to this day. So when a pair of longtime summer residents decided to build a vacation home for their two adult children next door to their own waterfront retreat, there was little question what style it would be.
“They always wanted to have a sort of family compound,” acknowledges architect Arthur Hanlon whose firm, Shope Reno Wharton, tailored the 9,100-square-foot home for the couple, their son and daughter, and their respective partners. “Everybody really chimed in, which was challenging on one front, but great,” he says. “It was truly a joint effort.”
Working with Corinne Acampora on the interior design and Michael Coutu on the landscape design, Hanlon sited the house to maximize the sweeping coastal views. A sinuous skin of yellow-cedar shingles hugs the walls and roof, swooping, flaring, and arching over dormers, porches, and bays. “Shingle has a lot of dexterity and depth,” observes builder Adam Parker, who framed the house in engineered lumber (instead of conventional two-by-fours) to ensure it remained plumb in the face of punishing coastal weather.
The traditional exterior conceals a contemporary floor plan designed for entertaining, with communal spaces that flow into one another. These are supplemented by more intimate rooms designed for conversation or contemplation. “There are usually so many people here, it can get very lively and boisterous,” concedes the daughter, a mother of three. “So there are times when it’s nice to have a little escape.”
Not surprisingly, the clients wanted the decor to have a coastal look, so Acampora leaned into a palette of blues, greens, and sandy colors, using durable performance fabrics whenever possible. “We wanted to be able to live in the house and enjoy it, and not worry about wear and tear—while still having it be beautiful,” says the daughter. To add visual interest, the designer introduced texture through woven chairs and sofas, and used embroidered fabrics on pillows and even the backs of bookcases.
Leathered-granite counters add surface appeal to the kitchen, where white cabinets alternate with natural oak, and some of the doors are fitted with polished nickel mesh. Other fixtures and fittings are fashioned from unlacquered brass, which acquires a weathered patina in the salty air. “We love mixing metals as it gives more of a collected feel,” says Acampora.
Primary suites for the brother and sister anchor each end of the house, while a luxurious bunk room surmounts the garage, wrapping sleeping kids in celestial curtains and ceilings covered with wallpaper clouds. Coutu, assisted by landscape architect Michael Picard, screened the house from the road with a blend of deciduous and evergreen trees. “They didn’t want to do your typical Watch Hill privet hedge,” Coutu explains. Native plants weave through the yard, playing off the untamed perimeter in a dulcet duet that Taylor Swift herself might appreciate.