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Gilded Age Grandeur

A piece of Rhode Island's architectural history is preserved

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Granted, in real estate it’s all about location, location, location. But for buyers on the house hunt, to get the home they want – within their budget – it can also be all about “playing the game” and mastering a good poker face. John LaRochelle first noticed the jaw-dropping 9,000 sq. ft. Victorian-style mansion in the real estate section of The Providence Journal. He put off looking at the home, which John wasn’t sure would act as a residence or investment property, for quite some time, but couldn’t quite shake the unique 1895 Barrington manse.

“When I finally [looked at it], I told the person I was with not to let on to the realtor how nice we would likely think the property was,” tells John. “Once inside, however, I was so amazed by its beauty, I exclaimed, ‘this is a treasure!’” In other words, he was so excited, he just couldn’t hide it. And it’s no surprise.

Lavish turn-of-the-century details including ornate moldings throughout, hand-painted stained glass windows, stunning hand-carved hearths, striking archways, original fixtures and breathtaking views were just the beginning.
“There are entire rooms of mahogany walls, stained glass windows, every floor in every room is a hardwood styled in a fashion unique to each room,” explains John. “There are sliding mahogany pocket doors throughout the first floor... leather wallpaper, hand-carved fireplaces, original electrical light fixtures embossed with ‘Edison, patent.’ There are working servant’s bells with different tones for each. Gold-leaf details, handmade cherubs crafted into the walls and ceilings and two-foot thick fieldstones throughout the first floor.”

Though grand, the home was functionally a fantasy. True, one would concede it’s easy to get seduced by such a rare Gilded Age gem and its distinct beauty, but the sheer monstrosity of the mansion, comprising 14 guest rooms and 20 beds, would require an equally special owner. In most cases, your average 21st century Joe has little need for a billiard room, sitting room, music salon, and of course, staff quarters. On top of it all, the 121-year-old home wasn’t exactly in turnkey shape. The seemingly countless windows would need to be replaced, eventually a new roof would be needed and if they wanted to replace the outdated pink exterior, that would be a yeoman’s project as well.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. “After taking it all in, I thought of ways that I could make it work, including renting the property out to families who could enjoy the experience of an occasion together under a beautiful Victorian setting,” explains John.

During its heyday, the home belonged to Le Roy Fales who served in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1896 to 1900 representing the city of his birth, Central Falls. Fales’ manufacturing career soared at The Fales & Jenks Machine Company, which his grandfather, a visionary machinist, had founded in the 1830s. Fales managed other business interests as well, and the family name became synonymous with manufacturing in Rhode Island. He moved to Barrington in 1900 and enjoyed the sweeping water views and close proximity to Barrington Beach. It’s easy to imagine Fales receiving distinguished guests in the mansion’s Congressional Room. With its captivating original hand-painted leather wallpaper emblazoned with stately crests, an ornate hand-painted ceiling, hand-carved hearth with a bold mantelpiece and stately stained glass windows, the room offers a palpable air of aristocracy. Today, period furniture is perfectly placed almost as an homage to the mansion’s past.

“The home needed some care and upgrades,” confirms John. “We replaced windows and did some other repairs every year that we have owned it. The big ones occurred a couple of years ago: a new roof and new shingles made the entire exterior like new. The house transformed when the natural shingles replaced the former pink exterior.”
The home was aptly renamed simply, “Beachmansion.” It was a special place from the outset and all the more special now. “Three years ago, my wife and I celebrated our wedding there,” recalls John fondly. “We had all of the guests on a long table on the porch. We were able to enjoy the view of Narragansett Bay in a cozy setting on the front deck of the Beachmansion. It was a fantastic setting for a memorable celebration.”

Today, the view and grandeur can be enjoyed by guests far and wide. John markets the rental as “a chance to experience old-fashioned splendor without sacrificing all the comforts of today” and prices vary by season ($5,000 to $7,500 per week). www.Beachmansion.net