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A Leap of Faith

Inside a stylish Newport estate

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Even an experienced interior designer like Linda Lee Butler could not have predicted that the architectural plan she and husband Ken Alves doodled on a piece of paper more than 20 years ago would have endured into the 21st century, but as sure as their Ledgewind estate stands, the open floor plan, spacious kitchen and room to move continue to be desirable amenities for today’s homeowner. “We bought it when we were young and stupid,” says Linda, speaking fondly of their plot of land in Newport’s desirable estate district. Even though Ken is a builder, the young couple was ambitious and put the cart before the horse, so to speak, by laying out how they wanted the home and surrounding property to look and feel before approaching an architect. “We kind of went the backwards way,” Linda admits. But with a solid idea and realistic goals, the architect was responsive (and assumedly impressed), and functionally kept Linda and Ken’s layout itact.

Ledgewind, named for the home’s location and the ocean breezes that surround the property often, was built in 1991 and is located just steps from legendary Cliff Walk, the 3.5-mile path that traces the ocean’s edge. Set back nearly 100-ft. from the road and boasting eight bedrooms, the home evokes a European impression. “From the outside it looks more like a French Normandy style, but on the inside, it’s a little more English,” explains Linda. The style not only appealed to the couple’s aesthetic, but complemented homes in the neighborhood, many dating back more than 100 years. Among neighboring properties are The Waves, a historic home built (and once owned) by famed architect John Russell Pope; Pelican Ledge, owned by Nuala and late Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell; and Land’s End, once the home of Edith Wharton. But don’t confuse “prestigious” with “pretension.” Linda admits that her priority at the time was her two young sons, evidenced by the formal dining room being used as a den and washable slipcovers de rigueur throughout. The den’s color palate, navy and white, was chosen purposely as to hide as much of a mess as young boys are capable of making. Furnishings in the room were equally chosen with active tikes in mind, including the Tibetian door-turned-coffee-table the couple picked up on a summer jaunt to the Hamptons. “They could never kill that table – and they tried!” she says, laughing. Open kitchens and dining rooms were just starting to become a trend, and they worked out well for the couple. “I wanted that with small children; less formal,” she adds. Of course, Ken reminded her to keep resale in mind, so traditional rooms were included, just reinvented.

When it came to furnishing the home, Linda is quick to point out that budget and patience played a pivotal role. “We were a young family. We looked for beautiful antiques at estate sales and antique shops,” she says. Pieces were acquired bit by bit, and those with good bones in less than stellar condition were reupholstered. As an interior designer, Linda speaks fondly of curating the home’s aesthetic. The thrill is in the hunt, she concedes, and a story goes along with many of the family’s pieces. “It took a lot of time to put it together,” she adds.

Outside, Linda and Ken left their grounds in the hands of the late Allen Haskell, a renowned landscape architect (recognized by the Smithsonian Institute). His prolific vision and impeccable perfection won prestigious clients from the Kennedys to European royalty. Linda’s mother knew Allen, which led her and Ken to seek him out. “We didn’t know when or what he was going to do — you just had to trust him and go for it,” she recalls. “He was a character. He just said, ‘I’ll let you know’ and hung up!” Days later, Linda and Ken peered out their window to see Allen and a crew pulling up in the driveway. The end result was astonishing, and two decades later, the design endures. An English knot garden, one that is lined with hearty boxwoods, frames pale pink roses that bloom each summer, in addition to trees including a European beech and red maple. “Those trees are 21 years old and just huge. He knew what he was doing. The garden has set the tone for the entire property. I used to cut those roses for Thanksgiving – that’s how long they lasted.”

As the couple has downsized to a home in Portsmouth, Linda and Ken expect to soon add Ledgewind to a page in their family history. It’s a sentimental transition, but with new adventure ahead, Linda can’t wait to see what’s in store. “It’s all positive, or as my kids say, it’s all good.”