An architect puts a new spin on the classic shingled Rhode Island beach house. The result? A modern stunner that meets new flood requirements and takes advantage of its gorgeous seaside setting.
By Michael Cannell
1 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
Cape Cod Mod
The design of this Charlestown, Rhode Island, beach house honors the farm buildings and Cape Cod-style summer cottages that have inhabited the nearby rockbound peninsulas for hundreds of years. “It’s inspired by that old coastal architecture, but the two-building design is an updated take,” says architect James Estes, who designed the smaller wing (situated parallel to the shoreline) for cooking, dining, and living and the larger, two-story structure for bedrooms, and then linked the companion structures with a glassed-in breezeway. Estes' two-building twist on the classic shingled barn ensures that nearly every space in the house takes advantage of the site's killer salt pond views.
2 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
"We had always imagined spending summer days in a tranquil setting," says owner Bob Shanfield of his family’s search for the perfect coastal getaway. "We saw ourselves on a pond, a quiet place on the New England waterfront where we could fish, kayak, clam, swim, and paddleboard with our children and our friends." But even against such a storybook backdrop, adds his wife, Francine, "We wanted some modernity blended into the local traditional architecture we love."
3 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
The Waterfront Spot:
A grassy lot that stands yards from Ninigret Pond, a tidal body protected from the ocean by a barrier beach. Oysters and quahogs populate the shallow waters, and kayaks bob along its serpentine shoreline.
Get the Look: An open floor plan and 8-foot picture windows (adjoining a sliding door to the deck) ensure the living areas have uninterrupted views of the pond. The shiplap paneling is painted Cloud Cover by Benjamin Moore. Round, coppercoated sconces cast light in all directions: “When you have sconces that only point down, it’s easy for high ceilings to get lost at night,” Estes says. “Fixtures like these light the whole room.”
4 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
Artful Sitting Area
Light floods the contemporary, loft-like interior, and syncs well with the "faded, barefoot palette," says designer Anne Hardy. "During summer, the light is filled with the blue of the water and green of the grasses. We wanted to bring some of that inside," she says, adding that the natural harmony adds warmth to the sunny rooms.
In place of a traditional fireplace for chilly evenings, the team opted for a more modern freestanding direct-vent heater. Outdoors, a stone fire pit helps keep the deck cozy.
5 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
A law that required a new house built in this flood zone to stand 8 feet above ground. Most of the historic barns and cottages of old Rhode Island nestle comfortably on the rocky shore, so one of the biggest challenges for the architect was giving the house a sense of belonging within the landscape and among its older neighbors. In addition, notes Estes, "it's difficult to make the entrance interesting and notable when the front door is so high off the ground."
Get the Look: A floating vanity and a soaking tub give the master bath a spa-like feel that syncs with the serene pond setting.
6 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
The Design Solution:
Breaking the design into two structures to create as low a profile as possible—keeping the living spaces on a single story and ensuring water views from all rooms. To solve the riddle of the noteworthy entryway, Estes designed a partially enclosed stairway leading up to a glassed-in breezeway that connects the two wings. "It has a sense of arrival and frames an amazing view," he says.
Get the Look: The wood flooring throughout is ash. The powder room sink is Vermont soapstone.
7 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
The Character Boost:
A time-tested New England pairing of cedar shingles and white trim, along with wide horizontal poplar boards that panel the interior walls. "We had the carpenters leave gaps between them," Estes says. "We wanted them to age well by swelling and shrinking with the seasons."
Metal rods and tie beams are exposed in the rafters, just as they would be in a working barn.
8 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
Nautical Drop Spot
The cottage’s white cedar shingles and vinyl AZEK trim are designed to last 30 years in the punishing salt wind. "Theoretically," architect James Estes says, "the house has no exterior upkeep." On the ground floor, AZEK trim enclosing the storage areas mimics the nautical vibe of the shiplap paneling throughout the interiors. A beachy welcome mat and casual sand-feet-rinsing station provide the perfect drop spot for flip flops on the way in from the beach.
9 of 9Photo: Annie Schlechter; Styling: Barbara Schmidt
The Connection to the Outdoors:
Two decks for enjoying the breeze. One, directly off the kitchen and dining room, was designed for grilling and dining, and one off the living room serves as an open-air extension of the great room. "It faces south, so it gets good light and warm sun even late in the day, when the air is cooling off," says Estes. The railings on the south-facing deck are crafted of steel wire, horizontal boards, and metal uprights.