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The Art of Country Living

A couple found a bucolic home in the woods of Portsmouth to fill with their family’s paintings

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Most house hunters connect with a home for what it offers on the inside, whether it be a chef’s grade kitchen, sprawling open floor plan, or light-drenched living spaces. For Kristin and Bob MacMannis, it was the outside of their Portsmouth home that sealed the deal – specifically, the bucolic backyard. “When we found out our neighborhood backed up to the old Vanderbilt farmland protected by the Aquidneck Island Land Trust, we were all in!” Kristin explains. “The backyard gave us the privacy we longed for after seven years living on campus at St. George’s School, where my husband taught.” The land reminded Kristin of her own childhood, when playing in the woods was entertainment. “And I love that our kids have the opportunity to experience the same,” she says. “It’s given them a great respect for preservation and conservation.”

Simply put, you can update a kitchen, “but you can’t update your yard to have a true forest.”

Of course, the three-bedroom, four-bath home perched amidst pastoral surroundings has some outstanding and unique features itself, including a basement (which the couple had finished as a play space for their children), a private in-law suite, and an impressive side entry boasting 18-foot ceilings and exposed beams, which previously served as the laundry room but was quickly reimagined. “This room was way too special for laundry, shoes, and hockey equipment, so we turned it into a funky library and it’s my favorite room in the house,” Kristin reveals. “Eventually, we will add a built-in bookcase with a ladder going up to the A-frame storage space, which we will convert into a cozy reading nook for the kids.”

Kristin’s great-uncle, an artist, was a major influence on her personal style and she credits him with sparking her passion for art at a very young age. Today, almost every room of the couple’s home contains at least one of his paintings, along with other pieces she has collected through the Newport Art Museum’s annual Wet Paint event.

“We like our aesthetic to be a story about our family – past and present – through art in its many shapes and forms,” she explains. “I want my home to be cozy and warm but I also want it to provoke people’s imaginations and wonder. I love it when people ask me questions about the random things we have on display, from the teacup collection in our dining room to the sideboard with hand-carved griffins that we turned [into a] media stand in our family room.” Her grandmother’s old record player is the cornerstone of the living room. “We’ve had some fun nights in that room with friends and family. Its lack of modern media is like a much-needed step back in time.”

Kristin has also relied on other local shops and galleries to enhance the home. Among her favorites is Kristen Coates in Newport. “Kristen has amazing art and home decor but the best quality of her gallery is her honesty. She lets clients take home art and live with it for a few days to see how it works in the space, and if it doesn’t work, she tells her clients. For that, I’ll be forever loyal because sometimes my aesthetic can be overwhelming.” She also finds inspiration at William Vareika Fine Arts on Newport’s Bellevue Avenue: “Bill has a spectacular eye for art!”

Across the Newport Pell Bridge, Kristin has sourced many pieces at Re Antiques and Interiors in North Kingstown, including a steer’s skull, which is now mounted in the library, and a hand-carved buffet in the kitchen. “I could spend hours exploring Re,” she admits. “Make sure to check out the hidden treasures in the basement!”

For guests, the MacMannis home is pretty special too. “Our friends and family were amazing sports to put up with some of the ‘guest rooms’ we had while we were on campus at St. George’s,” Kristin says. “We were used to going to sleep with the sounds of teenagers echoing through the walls, but asking visitors to dive into our ‘dorm life’ wasn’t easy. But they always rolled with it. Now, when friends and family come to visit, they have their own private suite. They earned it!”