Cover Story

At Home in the East Bay

Four local architects share the stories behind some of their stunning designs


It’s been said that if you’re lucky enough to find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. For these four architects, their passion for the craft is palpable. They have been tasked with tall orders: making casual, coastal contemporary East Bay homes that are sensible but stylish, sometimes palatial but often private and always somewhat practical – and they do so with (seeming) ease. Take a peek inside these four area favorites, as selected by the architects who designed them, and see what it means for these lucky homeowners to truly be at home.

Something New in Historic Newport

Something New in Historic Newport

Thirteen years ago, architect Paul Weber was living in Boston with his wife Bonnie when he unexpectedly stumbled across two and a half acres in the center of Newport. A RISD graduate, Paul had lived in the City by the Sea post-graduation, and he knew he had a rare opportunity on his hands. “I’d have to convince my wife to move here,” he recalls. But when he took her for a closer look at the property, it had an unexpected familiarity to it. “She took a look and she said it looked a lot like Philly, where she’s from,” says Paul. Though exponentially larger, it’s true; Philadelphia’s Historic District, much like Newport, boasts cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings and Old World charm. The Webers bought the land and soon Paul got to work, skillfully designing a 4,600-square-foot shingle-style home called Sulthorne for his growing family.

Though a home had once stood on the land, it had been torn down in the 1960s, giving Paul carte blanche to design from scratch. “I say it’s the only house I ever designed between 9pm and 2am,” Paul jokes, as his daughters were just one and three years old at the time. There were myriad tree varieties on the property including Copper Beech, Tulip trees, Turkey Oak and English Hornbeam, so Paul designed the home to capitalize on the pastoral views in lieu of facing the street. “The house faces East, and that is thought to be good feng shui,” he adds.

With four bedrooms and three and a half baths, an open floor plan featuring a spacious kitchen and various indoor/outdoor spaces, the home has served the family well both for everyday living as well as for entertaining. Coming from a long line of architects, including his grandfather and great-grandfather, Paul integrated part of his past into the home. “They made Pewabic tiles in Detroit, Michigan. They used a lot of these tiles in commercial buildings in downtown Detroit and residential houses,” explains Paul. He remembers his mother picking him up from school one day in Ann Arbor and taking him to a house being renovated where they collected piles of the colorful tiles. “Eventually, I brought them east and I’ve used them in my fireplaces and backsplash in the kitchen.”

Paul shares some sage advice for homeowners working with an architect. “Make sure your architect is a good listener and willing to incorporate your ideas and lifestyle,” he says.

Bringing In the Outdoors in Middletown

Bringing In the Outdoors in Middletown

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.”

Relaxed River Views in Westport

Relaxed River Views in Westport

Little Compton architect Gale Goff is well known for designing coastal homes with a contemporary consciousness, so it’s no surprise that a city-based couple looked to Gale to design a second home for them in Westport that took advantage of the land’s stunning river views and bucolic surroundings. “They basically wanted an open floor plan with three bedrooms and what they called an ‘away’ space; a multi-functional room,” explains Gale. A first-floor master bedroom was also a priority for the couple, as were numerous strategically placed windows to allow natural light to pour in.

The architect says that for second homes, the design often evokes more of a relaxed vibe as the home becomes a place to unwind and unplug from the demands of everyday living. “People tend to be a little more informal with a second home,” explains Gale. In this case, informality is omnipresent but the house’s contemporary design adds a polished yet unpretentious impression. And with a blank slate, Gale was able to design with purpose. “They let me run with it,” she says, adding that much thoughtful conversation led to a design that was extraordinary yet functional at the same time.

Inside, a white color palate is predominant, setting a neutral base which allows natural textures to stand out. The kitchen features an island with seating and rectangular cabinetry sans fixtures alongside stainless steel appliances, providing a slick, clean feel. Just past the island is a wood farmhouse-style table for casual dining, allowing a seamless transition from one space to the next. A mudroom allows for ample storage while the office, anchored by floor-to-ceiling built-ins and surrounded by windows, has clearly been designed for business and pleasure. An expansive porch, also on the couple’s list of priorities, invites a natural flow (and blurs the line) between indoors and outdoors. But by far, the most unique space is the oversized multi-functional room. With cathedral ceilings and more than two dozen windows, the homeowners have used the room as a yoga studio, but it can also be used as a gallery, a gathering space and more. The space may define Gale’s design acumen, metaphorically speaking: the possibilities are endless.

A Family Affair in Barrington

A Family Affair in Barrington

In 1986, David Andreozzi had the rare fortune to design and build his parents’ Barrington home alongside his father, a contractor, and his mother, an interior designer. At the time, David was just one year out of RISD, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Architecture, and working for a Connecticut-based firm. “It was a fun process,” reflects David.

Thirteen years later, David had the good fortune to revisit the project, this time as an architect with his own firm. His parents had sold the home; when the new owners heard the story of the father-son duo who had built the abode, they turned to David to bring it into the next century. “They bought it from my parents and loved the design, and knew me, so I was a natural extension and I was happy to have the opportunity,” David says. “We began putting on a major renovation and addition… we increased the size by a third.”

First, David says he designed a significantly larger kitchen which now flows seamlessly into the family room. “We re-invented it into a totally modern space,” he explains. A roomy bedroom was part of the addition, as was increased garage space and a large exercise room.

Many detailed changes, including the moldings and wainscoting, transformed the home. “We put a new ceiling skin on the master bedroom – it’s the sexiest ceiling I have ever done,” David says with a laugh. “The room was beautiful with the ocean view and balcony, but we wanted to soften it and make it more traditional. It makes it feel like you’re in an old inn.” With the input of Rhode Island–based interior designer Judd Brown, the home was ready for its new chapter. “It was a wonderful experience.”

David says that while many architects have a signature style, he intentionally eschews such hallmarks. “I like to come and go and have [there be] no indication [that] an architect built an addition. There can be a lot of egos and I’m sort of the opposite. I want to know the dreams and desires of the family.”