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Bringing In the Outdoors in Middletown

Architect Jim Estes blends coastal and contemporary vibes for a stunning home just steps from the beach

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Jim Estes of Estes/Twombly Architects embraces an aesthetic some would consider the most distinctive and easily identifiable throughout Rhode Island and the Northeast. The firm describes it as “quiet modernism based on traditional methods and material, with a sensitivity to local site and climate conditions.”

The home Jim designed for a client in Middletown, just steps from Sachuest (or “Second”) Beach, is no exception. Jim originally intended to renovate an existing home on the property but, after some investigation, concluded, “It was a goner.” The greatest challenges for the client and architect were the busy road in the front of the lot and the stream and wetlands towards the rear, from which, according to DEM requirements, the house needed some distance. The solution was a series of layers using both architectural elements and landscape features to filter out noise and views of the street, creating a private oasis. Per New England tradition, a stone wall was the first “line of defense,” backed up by a privet hedge. The house is bookended by the garage on one side and an extensive porch and trellis on the other, creating a courtyard that separates private and public spaces.

The home’s contemporary feel with subtle hints of its coastal environs features an open floor plan merging the living, dining and kitchen spaces. The terrace purposely creates seamless indoor/outdoor living, as do the floor-to-ceiling windows, framing the landscape in an artful way, and the screened-in porch, allowing sunlight to pour in. Exposed steel beams add a utilitarian feel without compromising the house’s warm, welcoming atmosphere. Upstairs there’s the master suite, with access to a tower-like work space, and two guest bedrooms which welcome family and friends regularly.

Like all of the firm’s projects, Jim says, this one aims “to break down the indoor/outdoor barrier” – to fit into and take advantage of the local landscape and the sunlight. For those seeking an architect for a new home or a renovation, his advice is to “do homework” and take a look at the other projects the architect has designed. “The critical point,” he says, “is defining what you want.”