Building From the Ground Up

Designing a summer home on the Bay


Hank Coleman grew up the youngest of four children. He describes his mother as being creative, a trait she inherited from his grandmother; both Janes of many trades. “She never discouraged us not to do anything,” says Hank, “so we grew up thinking we could do everything.”

The home Hank shares with his wife Jackie on Warren’s Kickemuit River attests to his ability to do just about everything. In what some might consider a gender role reversal, Hank has been what Jackie describes as the “creative director” of the home, while she is best defined as the CEO. Finishing each other’s sentences, it’s clear the two have been a team for decades, and that building, designing and perfecting this home wasn’t their first rodeo. Before learning about Hank’s ability to handcraft Roman shades, upholster cornices or handpaint a delicate mural to give a room a custom touch, you need to know a little more about this charming couple.

“He was my patient,” Jackie says laughing, when asked how she met Hank. “I was in my senior year of nursing school. He just was everything I wanted – and that was before I knew he could do all this.” The two raised their family in Cranston but had a summer home Hank built in Warren where they enjoyed quiet living close to the water. After the kids were just about out of the nest, the couple decided to sell the original summer home and build on the same plot of land closer to the water’s edge. “I was a social worker before I retired, but I did do some moonlighting,” Hank says modestly. Moonlighting is an understatement. “For several years he had his own self-improvement company on the side,” Jackie chimes in proudly. “Kitchens, living rooms... he could draw plans and just build.” So in 1990, Hank was hardly intimidated at the prospect of building a new home. Designing plans within the perimeters of Rhode Island’s state agencies which issue safety requirements for waterfront building, Hank and Jackie conceived a blueprint that built up instead of out. Three levels of comfortable living were mapped out; each strategically fashioned to take advantage of the water view. Multiple decks were included to add extra living space, to entertain and to accommodate a pool. “We pretty much knew what we wanted,” explains Hank.

The design was undeniably out of character with the surrounding community, but that didn’t bother the couple one bit. “We’re kind of like an island because we’re so close to the water. Our house doesn’t belong in the neighborhood at all. It’s almost like on a point,” says Hank. “Once you come into the house, it’s your own orientation... the focus is toward the water,” adds Jackie. Once construction on the three-bedroom, approximately 2,000 sq. ft. home was completed, it was time for Hank and Jackie to really get to work. The two collected dozens of fabric and paint swatches to create the design scheme in each room. The kitchen, living room and dining room are all on the bottom floor with a color palette inspired by an Oriental rug the two treasure. Shades of blue, green and taupe flow seamlessly into one another, with accent pieces adding addi
tional pops of color.

Since its original design, the kitchen has been remodeled a second time, again with all new custom cabinetry courtesy of Hank. The new design maintained an island just for Jackie. “I always love my islands; it’s where I do all my work,” she says. Though the couple does entertain a bit, especially for heir annual Fourth of July party, Jackie is quick to point out she’s not an expert cook. “I only have this kitchen because it came with the house,” she laughs.

A breakfast area is framed by sliding glass doors out to a deck so Hank, Jackie and their guests can start the day surrounded by fresh air and water views. The formal dining room features hardwood floors with detailed trim, the expansive windows are dressed with billowing drapes (made by Hank), and the seafoam green walls boast an eye-catching floral pattern and painted by, you guessed it, Hank. “It took about a week,” he says casually. “I outlined it with chalk first.”

The couple’s pièce de résistance is the master bedroom with en suite bath. It shares the middle floor with a guest bedroom, full bathroom and laundry room. The master was the last room the two designed, as they wanted to take their time and take in the colors and patterns they were considering in all types of light. Lightly striped walls anchor the room which embraces a formal but warm aesthetic. Hank constructed the room, sewed the Roman shades in the bedroom and bath, and designed, built and upholstered the draped cornice. “You name it, he did it,” Jackie says emphatically. “The only thing he didn’t do is make the carpet!”

Furnishing the house might have come easier to the couple than most. “We love antiquing,” Hank tells. “Back in the heyday, we would think nothing of going to Ogunquit or Kennebunk for the day,” adds Jackie, who says the two still hit the road regularly.

Collecting antiques and aged pieces with great structure that just need some TLC is a shared passion, so when the opportunity presented itself last year, they decided to share their talent and skills with the Warren community by opening East Bay Antiques on Turner Street. “You keep decorating and after a while, you run out of places to put it all,” laughs Hank. “We like to find pieces that have good lines but need upholstery or paint.” “So far, the business partnership is working out well,” says Jackie. “In other words, it keeps Hank out of trouble.”