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A Vacation State of Mind in Matunuck

David Albino and his family find more than just a vacation in Matunuck

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In 1996, David Albino’s sister was tasked with planning the Waterbury, CT-based family’s summer vacation. Excited about the coastal enclave on Rhode Island’s southern shore, the elder Albino told her family with delight that they were headed to Matunuck.

“I said, ‘What the heck is Matunuck?’” recalls David with a laugh. But he was intrigued, and despite a demanding career that left little time for excursions, David went along for the ride and quickly found himself falling for the seaside village’s quiet charm. One afternoon during their stay, David and his wife Kathleen went for a bike ride to explore the area. Thinking they had seen all there was to see, David was ready to call it a day when Kathleen suggested riding a bit longer. “So we wound up on this point and I saw this house with a big ‘For Sale’ sign on it,” David says.

Perhaps serendipitously, before they had left Connecticut, David and his father spoke briefly about looking at property near the shore, but at the time David didn’t think much of the conversation. After all, it’s common fodder when on vacation. Real estate was his career, and David had seen his share of beautiful if unappreciated homes. But this one was different. Perched on Matunuck’s highest point, the 1930s Victorian-influenced home boasted original period architecture, 180-degree water views and ample space for extended family getaways. “I felt an immediate connection to it,” says David. Curiosity got the best of him, so he spoke to neighbors and learned more about the home’s history. He was “dumbfounded” when he learned of the surprisingly affordable asking price.

“The owner was a wealthy man whose wife had recently died. He lived down the road and he wanted to unload the house for a number of reasons,” David explains. The owner had intended to gift the home to his daughters, asking them to be responsible for the insurance, taxes and basic operational costs; however, according to what David was told, the daughters declined to assume responsibility for the house. “But they wanted to continue to go down there and party. I found out that when they’d visit, they’d pull the ‘For Sale’ sign off it because they didn’t actually want their father to get rid of it.” The house had been toiling on the market for more than a year before fate intervened.

It was a Wednesday when David first laid eyes on the Victorian and the family trip was in its final days. The whole idea of making Matunuck a more permanent part of their lives was an exciting prospect, but if David wanted to do this he knew he needed to act quickly. “I knew if we went back to Connecticut without closing the deal, it would have been lost,” he says. David, who is in business with his father, says he had to do some serious arm twisting on his old man. Though his father liked the home, it would be a substantial investment as it needed work. But David convinced him. “And it was one of the best financial decisions we made in our lives.”

The day he signed on the dotted line proved to be something David would never forget. “As I was driving up Ocean Avenue to the house for the final walk-though the day of the closing, I was so overcome with emotion I started crying. I come from a working-class family, from a working class city,” he says. “It underscores what can happen when you work hard.”

While the home’s original detail was charming, it was also outdated. The main level comprised a series of segregated rooms and the kitchen was in need of a new design. “The first floor was all broken up into small segments: small living room, small dining room, small kitchen; all broken up with walls. We took out all the load bearing walls and had them put in steel beams so it was open, we added on the area where the kitchen is now, and added on a full bath.”

The Albinos consulted with a designer at a custom kitchen fabrication company in Meridian, C.T. David had been interested in mahogany cabinetry but questioned whether it would be a suitable wood for such purpose. “They said it was a very bold move, and so I asked if being so close to the ocean, with the salt air, if that would affect it. She said to me, ‘Well, ships were made of mahogany, so I’d say we’re all good.’”

Because the floor plan was modified when they opened up the main floor, new floors would have to be installed. In keeping with the integrity of the original quartersawn antique pine, the couple had the floors custom cut throughout. The wood came from an old factory in his hometown of Waterbury, which warmed David’s heart. The careful wood detailing, one could say, is an homage to the home’s first owner who owned a lumber company. As the story goes, he had the house built as a wedding present for his daughter. “The electrical, plumbing, all the lighting, everything inside the house is brand new – coffered ceilings, custom molding; everything was done period exact,” he says.

The house wasn’t the only thing transformed. David concedes that when he bought the home he was a workaholic who was overweight and stressed out. “Buying the house kind of changed things for me,” he reflects. “I said to myself, ‘If you don’t start taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be around to enjoy this place... That house changed my life.” He’s now been summering in Matunuck for 20 years. While David took care of the house, the house also took care of David.