We found a stunning site on the coast of New England, a development company dedicated to preservation, and one of the country's most talented interior designers. Then we brought them together with a common goal: Build a home that inspires us. Wow, did they succeed!

By Elizabeth Raines Beeler Cathy Still Johnson and Abigail B. Millwood
August 12, 2008
Jean Allsopp

Welcome to the 2006 Coastal Living Idea House in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Our brand new home displays a unique blend of architectural innovation and classic style. Sit back in your favorite chair, kick off your shoes, and join us for a tour. Ideas and inspiration await you … just read on.

Drive into Carnegie Abbey, site of our new Idea House, and wind down roads capturing broad views of Narragansett Bay. Continue past stone walls dating to the Revolutionary War, rolling pasture land, and a bridge where a monument commemorates the Battle of Rhode Island. With a setting so steeped in history, developer O'Neill Properties felt obligated to preserve and enhance its heritage and beauty.

Established by British entrepreneur Peter de Savary, a club here―including a golf course and equestrian center―won national recognition. "He had the vision," says developer Brian O'Neill, president of O'Neill Properties Group. Though Peter initiated the plan, Brian's development team fulfilled and expanded it to create an adjacent residential area.

Georgian-style homes grouped together near the front gates give way to grand, shingle-style houses on marina-side estate lots. As members of this private community, residents share a 350-acre backyard. "And the best part is, they don't have to rake it, mow it, or shovel snow. They just get to enjoy it," says Steve Corridan, New England regional partner for O'Neill.

Stewards of the Land
O'Neill Properties Group specializes in rehabilitating environmentally damaged sites. "It was a blight on Rhode Island," says O'Neill's Steve Corridan of the abandoned aluminum factory that once stood here. "It took a lot of cleanup to remove the old tower and concrete foundations, but it has been good for the community and good for the environment." Commitment to stewardship didn't end there. A water-recycling system―the first approved for Rhode Island―irrigates the golf course. And the developers will add 5,000 plants to the property every year. The Idea House itself features composite building materials that don't deplete natural resources.

Design Tip: Consider mood and ambience when choosing exterior lighting. The Idea House team opted for fixtures with a warm copper finish. They look great during the day, and their glow at dusk rivals even the most glorious sunset.

You're Home
Every house needs an easy-to-find entrance―who wants to run around searching for the doorbell? At our Idea House, a gleaming mahogany door under a gently curved portico says, "Welcome home." And the expansive views of Narragansett Bay just inside say, "Stay awhile."

Design Tip: Crafted wood details add instant character and warmth to interiors. The wide-plank, old-growth walnut treads on the staircase contrast with painted risers. Instead of plain balusters, the architect specified a classic geometric design from the early 1900s.

Pull up a Chair
Bright, airy, and casually elegant, these interiors reflect fine New England style. Blue tones take center stage for a look that's classic and crisp. Dark mahogany furniture with navy and white fabric adds yacht-like appeal.

Our Idea House interior designer Lynn Morgan created two seating areas in the living room: one defined by the fireside sofa; another, by club chairs in the bay window. Accessories underscore the nautical theme: photographs of sailboats, pieces of artificial coral, and a seashell mirror on the mantel.

Design Tip: Blend the blues. Layering shades and tones of one color will give a space unity and depth. Says Lynn, "Think of mixing sea glass. It's a mélange of colors, but it all works."

Upholstered armchairs surrounding a rich wood table with wood inlays set an elegant tone in the dining room. Lynn added informal coastal flair by lining the display shelves with beaded board.

Who ever has enough storage space? Lynn customized the wet bar off the dining room with cabinets, drawers, and our personal favorite-an under-counter wine fridge.

Design Tip: Make any ordinary object extraordinary by customizing with color. Lynn inked in the trim on the lamp shade over the dining room table with a simple navy marker.

The kitchen is the hub of this floor plan. Architect Marcus Gleysteen made sure there would be plenty of room to gather and entertain. An island outfitted with a counter bar accommodates extra company. Best of all, even the chef can take in the view. Blues fill this space, as well. Cobalt appliances make a statement against white walls and cabinetry, and pale aqua coats the island. An oval dining table fills the bay window and provides space for a leisurely family breakfast or for perusing the Sunday Times.

Design Tip: Combine style and function. The designers chose a deep sink and a faucet with a pullout sprayer-great for cleaning those big lobster pots. Use woven baskets in place of drawers to store everything from dish towels to oven mitts.

The family room picks up on fall's landscape with rusty reds, light browns, and goldenrod yellow. A stacked-stone fireplace, referencing the stone walls throughout Carnegie Abbey, makes this a favorite interior gathering spot. Windows overlook the ocean, the porch, and a private putting green for anytime practice.

Design Tip: Choose interior and exterior furniture and finishes for durability. Soft, stain-resistant ultrasuede covers the family room sofas. "Some of the workmen came in with dirty hands and left fingerprints. With a little soap and water, the spots were gone," says Lynn. Outside, teak and stainless chaise longues stand up to bright sun and salt air.

Just off the living room, a hallway leads to a private study and adjoining bath. (This room could also serve as a downstairs guest suite.) Buttery walls and woven wood shades enhance the warmth of a leather armchair. A desk provides ample work space. Forget about preparing your taxes here; settle into the armchair and work on your great American novel instead.

Design Tip: Try the stylist's trick: "I judge scale by looking at a room through a camera," says Lynn, a freelance stylist and former magazine editor. "When proportions look right through the lens, you know you've got it."

An earth and sea palette makes the master bedroom a calming retreat―the perfect spot to unwind after a day on the water. Lynn selected a handsome sleigh bed dressed in a striped duvet with coordinating sheets. Linen shades soften darker tones and mimic hues from the ocean beyond. French doors open onto a private balcony, providing a spot to enjoy the bay breezes. 

Lynn chose luxurious, sophisticated materials for the master bath. Thin borders of pale-blue glass tile frame subway tile around the tub. A pair of custom-made wooden vanities look like treasured family heirlooms, and both sinks and the tub are crowned with slabs of gleaming Carrara marble.

Design Tip: Keep it serene. Louvered fabric blinds close for privacy, yet diffuse soft light. A silent ventilation system guarantees you'll hear ocean, not hum.

Bunk Up
People with beach houses can expect lots of company. Twin beds are a must for at least one guest room. Lynn brought cottage style to this feminine space with whitewashed beds accented with bright quilts. This and the other two upstairs bedrooms have balconies, providing friends and family with private retreats.

Design Tip: Pick one type of material and use it to unify all parts of a room. Here Lynn chose cotton quilts, cotton pillow coverings, and a cotton rug for a look that's soft and natural.

Sail Away
Classic navy and white set the tone for a guest room any sailor would love. The bed nods to shutter style while the quilt calls to mind cotton madras shorts. A pond yacht and sailboat painting add extra nautical appeal.

Design Tip: Decorating themes work best in private spaces such as this boy's room. Here, schooners and Adirondack chairs establish a coastal look.

Artful Advice
Lynn offers these tips for choosing art to hang throughout any house.
• Work in harmony. Whether you chose artwork or furnishings first, be sure to select pieces and colors that complement each other.

• Settle on a theme. All of the art in this house―paintings, photos, and prints―reflects Newport's coastal heritage.

• Consider scale. Find pieces that fit your space. Be sure to measure before making a purchase. Many galleries offer consultations and lend pieces on approval.

The garage apartment, decorated with painted furniture and bright accents, provides a secluded getaway for guests. Ask your own friends: They'll agree that nothing's more appreciated than a private bed and bath plus a counter and sink where you can brew your own coffee in the morning.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect Marcus Gleysteen turned to iconic New England architecture for the 2006 Idea House. "It was very important for the house to fit in. We wanted it to look like it has always belonged, like it was here before anything else," says Marcus.

Sited to capture views of Narragansett Bay, the house embraces its site with all rooms pointed to the sea. "It's as though a magnet was pulling the house toward the ocean," he says.The spaces are purposeful and livable. "This is a big 'small house,'" Marcus says. "Though we looked to the region's historic vernacular, it has all the advantages of a contemporary home."

Though the Idea House celebrates classic shingle style, our builders and architects incorporated technological advances to make it unabashedly modern.

Garage storage and surfaces: Easy-to-clean wall panels support adjustable shelves. Flooring made of polypropylene tiles is stain resistant.

Music: A sophisticated sound system runs through the house. Download all your CDs and customize playlists.

Climate control: The energy-efficient heating and cooling system also removes dust and particles from household air.

Security system: A flip-down screen above the kitchen desk displays a clear image of the front door, so you'll know you have guests even before they knock.

Housekeeping: A central vacuum makes cleaning easier. Fiber cement shingle siding: "It looks like the real thing and will hold paint longer than real wood," says builder Michael Behan.

Exterior trim and beaded board: The builders appreciated the versatility of PVC composite board. "You can heat it and bend it to fit different forms," says Lou Frederick, project superintendent.

Decking: A composite made of reclaimed wood and plastics, this decking doesn't deplete forests like wood products do. And it won't split, rot, or warp.

Get Outside
A generous porch overlooks the bay and connects first-floor rooms to the outdoors. "This is a three-season house. The interior and exterior relationship was a very important consideration during planning," says Landworks' Matt Mrva.

A side yard and putting green let homeowners get in a practice shot before heading over to the club's Scottish links-style course. Designed by Donald Steel, the course was ranked No. 3 in Rhode Island by Golf Digest.

Special Thanks: We are proud to showcase your products in our magazine. Thanks for being such an important part of our project: Andersen Windows, Laurie Bell, Andrea Bonfils, Builders' Supply CT LLC, Caron's Beach Cottage, Chatham Sign Shop, Circa Lighting, Elizabeth Eakins Inc., GarageTek; Grohe, Harvest of Barnstable, Anne Jayson, Michael Kahn, Kitchen & Bath Details, Kramer & Dey, Linda and Pedro's Tailoring & Alterations, Ocean Offerings, Tjasa Owen, Pub Sign Shop, Karen Robertson, Seashell World, Seaweed Designs, Inc., Shearwaters, Sherwin-Williams, Sunbrella, Swift Morris Interiors, Valerie Wall.