“This was the ugly duckling of the neighborhood, so to speak,” says Barrington-based architect Hector I. Rios of the 1938 waterfront bungalow on the Palmer River he recently completed for Steve and Monique Gelsomino. Hector has effectively become an expert at the art of converting formerly humble summer colony homes into modern marvels. The practice is commonplace in the Ocean State, but it can be daunting.
“Essentially, my job was to reinvent the wheel here and work within the original foundation. Technically, the house was half in the flood zone,” he explains. Waterfront renovations and new construction in Rhode Island must secure special permits for work within a coastal zone.
Among such regulations, a coastal home in Rhode Island must be set back at least 50 feet from the water. In Barrington, the requirement is 100 feet, so the Gelsominos had the challenging task of working within the original footprint of the home while abiding by restrictive land use.
“We’ve never done anything like this before. It can be intimidating,” concedes Monique. “We’re both from Rhode Island – we moved to Barrington 23 years ago, before having kids. Both boys have gone through the school system and now we’re both at The Blue Kangaroo. We love it here,” she says.
The Gelsominos’ business, The Blue Kangaroo Café, is a community favorite, serving up locally sourced foods including sandwiches and wraps, homemade soups, pastries, desserts, coffee, teas and more. Naturally, Monique and Steve wanted to stay local for an easy commute and to enjoy the charming town they have grown to love, but they also wanted to enjoy a new chapter: their empty nest life.
“We wanted something relaxing, something that reflected the feeling of the water. Something that felt like a getaway, was low maintenance and easy to take care of,” explains Monique. “We definitely wanted an open floor plan and a lot of glass to take advantage of the views of the water,” adds Steve.
The original home was just 24-feet by 30-feet. “Over time, people would add as they go. It’s quite common in our area to have these summer beach bungalows that were tiny, then the owners would add a porch or another room – and a few years later, another room, and so on. This was long before building codes and zoning laws were in effect,” Hector says with a laugh.
By the time the Gelsominos bought the home in the Governor Bradford area of Barrington, it had expanded to around 1,800 square feet and included an oddly configured porch and partial basement. Technically, it contained three bedrooms, but the whole house lacked cohesion.
“It was a poorly converted space; quite uncomfortable. It was poorly thought out, had small rooms, and no good views or very little views,” admits Hector. “The only good thing was the location. In Rhode Island, it’s all about the water.”
Hector says that in a perfect world, an owner and builder would ideally knock the original structure down and start brand new. “But if we had done that, we’d have had to gone even closer to the street, [meaning] very little property to build, so we were married to the original foundation. You work with what you got.”
Hector worked closely with the Gelsominos to design a home that worked for their lifestyle. The couple wanted all of their main living needs on the first floor, including the kitchen/dining space, living area and master bedroom. Upstairs would be three additional bedrooms for their sons and any guests. As Monique and Steve enjoy entertaining, Hector designed an open floor plan and excluded a formal dining room.
“The modern day style of living is more casual, more open,” Hector says. “The dining room is basically a show room, used only two or three times a year. So that is disappearing. In this case, that’s what happened.”
Steve and Monique also credit builder Ralph Cardente of Cardente Construction in Barrington with devising solutions when challenges would arise. “He just gave us his honest opinion and was incredibly helpful, especially because we never did this before,” explains Monique. “He made everything [less] stressful. Ralph was just ‘one day at a time, one week at a time.’”
One of the couple’s favorite design aspects is the screened in porch off the master bedroom. Though the bedroom itself is actually smaller than some of the others, the captivating view gives the space a limitless feel.
As the home is located on a street that does not permit parking, the couple also tasked Hector with designing a two-car garage that blended in with the home’s architecture. “The standard two-car garage is 24 x 24: a box that can be ugly. The challenge for me was to… create a front porch with a nice entry and blend in the rooflines [of the two spaces],” explains Hector. While he successful completed the design, and Cardente the build out, the Gelsominos turned to Aquidneck Landworks in Middletown to blend the garage and driveway area, which was to accommodate large four vehicles in sum, with an eye-catching landscape and hardscape design.
Inside, Monique and Steve used their existing collection of antique and practical furnishings to give the home a personal touch. “There are a lot of sentimental and old pieces, like old chandeliers and my great grandmother’s tiny little loveseat, and things we’d pick up at a flea market,” says Monique. “Actually, a lot of the furniture one or the other of us had growing up.” Any pieces that needed updating was sent to Bothelo’s Upholstery in Bristol or Alan Bradbury Woodworking in Barrington. Classic Kitchens & Countertops in Barrington designed the kitchen, and window treatments were completed by Window Works of Swansea. The only set of draperies was fashioned by Drapery House in North Providence. The neutral color palette throughout was done by Quigley Brothers in Riverside.
Today, the home is even more than they thought it could be. Says Monique, “On the water here it’s so relaxing, so calm and so peaceful.”