Nancy Chace was a creative spirit long before making a home at historic Sea Rose Cottage in Bristol with her husband Rick and their two young daughters. Despite her impressive resume (she was the co-executive director of a non- profit organization), painting has always been her true passion.
After buying the two-family home in need of considerable TLC and starting their family, Nancy was inspired to merge her MBA background with her creative talent; she talked to her husband about making their first floor a studio, workshop and retail space, and the second floor their living quarters. The cornerstone of the business was to sell Chalk Paint, decorative paint by British artist Annie Sloan. Among decorative painters, the product has a cult-like following for its idyllic finishes. “For the most part you don’t have to scrape and sand, and there are a whole lot of finishes you can achieve with the paint,” Nancy explains. “Annie Sloan has been an artist and designer for more than 30 years.” The paint’s his- toric color palette is inspired by the 18th and 19th century. Sloan has written over a dozen books on how to create artistic finishes, and Nancy has studied under the Brit, so when she became the first in New England to carry the paint and also its exclusive Rhode Island distributor, the vision for Sea Rose Cottage became clear. “When the opportunity came along, I recognized it. When I saw no one was selling the product in New England, it was the perfect opportunity,” she says.
Located in a limited commercial district, the two began renovations slowly on the 1897 charmer. “This house needed so much work,” she says with a sigh. Awkward additions built throughout the first half of the 20th century created a disconnect within the house. “When we bought it, it had three sides of shingles and we realized it had clapboards underneath. The porch was rotted, garage door was rotted – we didn’t make changes because they were pretty, it was so you didn’t fall through the porch.” Inside, space was the biggest issue. “I had a designer come through and say, ‘Nobody wants this kitchen.’”
The couple turned to Newport-based architect James Asbel to turn the unwieldy layout into a new, fresh space that made sense. But they didn’t simply turn over the task to Asbel. Instead, Nancy became an active player in the redesign.
“Nan was the conductor from the get go,” says Asbel. “When I first arrived, she had a ring binder full of historic information about the house and detailed photographs of it as well. She had already met with the historic district administrator and put us on their radar as cooperative and knowledgeable pending applicants.”
“I loved it – I was fully engaged,” Nancy describes. “I picked out the cabinets, the floors, the fixtures, the tiles; I had charts on the walls. Loved, loved, loved it – loved
the whole thing.”
This was not a strictly historic restoration project, Asbel points out. “The central challenge with old houses for remodel, and Nan and Rick’s was not unique in this regard, is to introduce a more open flow of spaces while at the same time reintroducing warmth and character lost through previous interventions over the years and often to bring unity to accu- mulated additions. These were certainly all a major part of the challenge here.” All of the obvious challenges were compounded by the historic district requirements made to maintain the historic integrity of the neighborhood, but that was fine in their eyes. “It’s to protect the town, so we appreciate it,” says Nancy of the stipulations.
Asbel removed the wall between the dining room and the stairs to achieve a needed sense of openness and communication in the house. “Having to detail this new sculptural element gave Nan an opportunity to identify and introduce significant stylistic elements of her own taste, which were relatively contemporary with the period of the house, while not necessarily original to the house,” he says. Paired with opening the adjacent dining room wall to the newly remodeled kitchen, the three spaces “come together as the central commons of family life.”
Downstairs, the space simultaneously presents itself as a studio and retail space for both the Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan and Nancy’s finished painted pieces. It also affords area for Nancy to host creative workshops, where she uses her Certificate in Decorative Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design to teach the art of decorative finishes. “I get satisfaction out of teaching people how to paint furniture and their achievements,” she explains. “You share the creative spark; it’s nice to share that.”
Like many busy moms and business owners, Nancy is constantly juggling one thing or another, joking she is the “chief cook, bottle washer and one armed paper-hanger.”
“I’m trying to do it all,” she says. “For me, it’s working and meeting a lot of like- minded people with similar interests. It has its own momentum.”
Last month, the business celebrated its one-year anniversary, a meaningful milestone for Nancy. “I’m having fun. It’s like flying a plane while you’re still building it – taking a risk and going with it. One day it will fully be what I want it to be, and in the meantime, I’m plugging away.”