A Home with a Lasting Legacy
May 16, 2018
The top-to-bottom renovation gets a coastal Rhode Island home ready for generations of family fun.
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Nat Rea Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
Houses roosting along New England’s coast have much to contend with. Along with time’s usual wear and tear, there’s the unsympathetic weather with its salty gales and damp days. This handsome Newport-area getaway is a fine example of Mother Nature and the clock having their way. Built back in the 1990s, all its attributes aside, the building was aging. True, the family had summered blissfully in the house for almost two decades, but looking down the road to when their three college-age kids have children of their own, the owners wanted a smart makeover, not only on the exterior but also inside to dispel the dated look, boost functionality, and ensure longevity.
As luck would have it, they couldn’t have enlisted a more compatible architect for help. A principal of Shope Reno Wharton, Arthur C. Hanlon has a deep affection for the sea. He took to the shore-side home from the start. There are waves, after all, lapping practically at the base of the sweeping lawn. And what better vantage point for watching a regatta than the third-floor tower? It’s an airy perch the family reaches by an engaging staircase Hanlon has reinvented “to make the journey fun,” he says.
As alluring as the ornamented oak staircase is, it’s only a small part of the dramatic transformation. Hanlon—along with builder Russell Greenhalgh—reworked the entire skin of the house. An impressive series of roof rafters and eye-catching brackets were added, establishing what the architect calls “a new language.” Seldom-used second-floor walk-outs were removed, and in went a slew of windows to better capture the breathtaking views all around. “It was a huge woodworking project, and we loved it,” says Greenhalgh.
While all that was transpiring, landscape architect Katherine Field was busy adding swaths of color and natural grasses to merge the site with the shore. The bluestone path she devised leads to an infinity-edge pool next to which Hanlon set a double-height pool house with NanaWalls that melt away to welcome the outdoors in. Complete with a soaring stone fireplace and a cache of comfortable furnishings thoughtfully chosen by interior designer Sharon Cameron Lawn, it’s the sort of spot young adults naturally gravitate toward.
Of course, like everyone else, they eventually head for the kitchen. With that in mind, Hanlon skillfully commandeered footage from an existing covered porch so he and Cameron Lawn could deliver a glorious kitchen with a bounty of custom cabinets and a grand island topped with leather-finished sequoia-brown granite. The kitchen merges with an inviting family room that has a fireplace ensconced in a wall of antique stone that once graced a Corsican monastery. Everywhere there are views. The ingenious Cameron Lawn—“she’s fabulous,” proclaims the wife—nabbed a wooden screen and had it fitted with foxed mirror. As a result, anyone seated with his back to the room’s parade of windows sees a subtle reflection of sky and water. Pale sofas embellished with nailhead trim flanking a Manuel de Santaren–inspired coffee table initiate relaxation.
And a similar kick-back tenor resonates in the serene living room, too. Cameron Lawn cleverly reworked the owner’s existing sofa and love seat to give them a modern silhouette. There’s an arresting metal sculpture by Rhode Island artist Peter Diepenbrock above the limestone-faced hearth—a present from the wife to her husband when a new business venture launched—and one more generous coffee table to afford a landing spot for drinks. The focus here is on the ocean. Behind the seating area are the room’s show-stopping accents, or what Hanlon refers to as “jewel boxes.”
In one corner, an oak cabinet filled with the wife’s collection of Italian Solimene dinnerware helps define the dining area, where a stunning table meticulously crafted by another Rhode Island artist, Jeff Soderbergh, stands ready to seat a multitude. More than twenty for dinner is a frequent occurrence in this cheerful home, but that’s never a problem. With the insertion of an extra piece, the artful dining table and an adjacent game table (also by Soderbergh) easily marry. A striking chandelier with hand-blown glass shades from Cameron Lawn’s bespoke furniture and fittings line, domic*isle, casts light over every feast. “The shades are like water bubbles extending the view,” says Cameron Lawn.
Tucked in the other corner is a posh oak-paneled bar—the pièce de résistance when it comes to hosting a get-together, casual or otherwise. Guests slide onto ostrich leather–covered stools for wine or a beer with the game. A tiny pass-through provides a portal for serving those individuals who understandably refuse to abandon the deck, which Hanlon has also given a congenial reshaping by softening the angles and widening the steps.
Up on the second floor, the star of the makeover (which also included a redo of all the baths) is the owners’ sanctuary. Plump chairs clad in a sumptuous fabric from Robert Allen’s Beacon Hill collection (the sole fabric line used by Cameron Lawn throughout the house) park beside a Hollywood-type arched window. Nearby, there’s a carved bed on dainty legs to foster dreaming. “I think there’s a lyrical nature to the bed and a handsome nature to the chairs that gives the room a correct he/she balance. Not too feminine or masculine,” Cameron Lawn says. The master bath, with its elevated tub and glass shower, is obviously equitable as well for both partners.
So strong is the owners’ affection for the house and the community, they’ve never considered spending the warmest months anywhere else. Thanks to the recent renovation the place has become a year-round destination. “This is our family’s emotional center,” says the wife, who played a major role in every design decision. “Now it feels more like home. We’re as happy to be inside as we are out.”
Of course, the fabulous setting only enhances the precious time spent with friends and family. If the proximity of the water entails dealing with some harsh elements, in the end, no one really minds
Architecture: Arthur C. Hanlon, Shope Reno Wharton
Interior design: Sharon Cameron Lawn, Sharon Cameron Lawn Interiors
Builder: Russell Greenhalgh, Chopmist Hill Woodworks
Landscape design: Katherine Field and Associates