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Bunker Turned Beauty

A look inside an old lookout

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There’s appreciating American history, and then there’s living in American history. Bob and Valarie Westnedge of Charlestown are part of just a lucky few for which the latter is possible.

Looking to ensure coastal defenses in World War II, the US Coast Guard built strategically placed “lookout stations” along the coastline, including one perched atop a hill on Route 1 in Charlestown not far from Ninigret Pond. Located behind a historic Baptist church but with panoramic views of Block Island Sound, the lookout contained four bedrooms that could accommodate up to 18 men and also included a mess hall. The Westnedges came across the unique property 12 years ago when they picked up a real estate magazine, flipped through the pages haphazardly and became intrigued. A family friend soon took them to what was functionally a bunker, which 90-year-old Maureen Summerfield had called home. “She was a strong lady,” Bob recalls. “She used to go up and down the hill to get the mail.”

Steel hatches and small entry crevices were standard throughout the lookout. Bob also notes the property was linked via communication cables to a second, similar bunker located at the end of nearby East Beach Road. Both were linked to a communications station on Block Island, about 13 miles from the mainland coast and in clear view from Bob’s bunker. While the history is an interesting look at America’s wartime past, Bob saw the home’s posh potential. “It was live-in condition, just not what you wanted – not as nice as we wanted things,” he explains. “It was all red, had an all-cement front, the back was shingles and there were fake windows on the side. They were called spy shacks.” With outdated features like linoleum floors and “more function than fashion” construction, the home wasn’t exactly turn-key, but it had great bones and huge possibility. “I brought [my wife] up there. I said, ‘What do you think?’ and she just said, ‘Ugh!’”

Now surrounded by warm furnishings and an elegant design motif, Valarie laughs at the memory. “My exact words? ‘That is ugggly! If you think I’m going to live in that, you’re crazy!’”

But Bob quickly knew how to convince her otherwise, and pointed out the captivating view, ample grounds and the ability to have carte blanche when it came to the redesign. “’Oh, you want to make changes?’” she remembers asking. “I can do that.”

With his extensive construction experience and familiarity with South County contractors, the project wasn’t as intimidating as it might have appeared to the naked eye. “I’ve been in construction for a long time and that’s the reason it turned out [well]... A lot of people may have looked at it and not known how to do it.”

Valarie says she and Bob strolled through the house and easily agreed on what to do and where, how many bedrooms to build out and how large the kitchen would be; as avid entertainers, the kitchen and flow were priorities.

“In three weeks, I had it stripped, sandblasted and gutted,” notes Bob, who oversaw the project from beginning to end. Having both grown up spending summers in Matunuck, the couple already felt at home in South County, but having a custom house built to suit their needs made it official. Within a year, Bob and Valarie were welcoming friends and family into their three-bedroom home (while there was room for four, two of the former bedrooms were merged to create an elegant master suite). The décor was completely done by Valarie, who approached the project room-by-room and introduced a warm, inviting aesthetic throughout with interesting but comfortable furnishings and eye-catching accessories.

“It has ocean views from all levels, views of East Beach and Block Island, and we’re private. It’s a comfortable home,” says Bob. And one that hasn’t gone unnoticed. “You never have any shortage of friends when you live near the ocean. Isn’t that how the saying goes?” Valarie says with a laugh. The more the merrier seems to be the theme at the lookout. With the beach just down the road and a stunning in-ground pool at the house, Bob and Valarie have the best of both worlds. Valarie says waking up and walking around the property each day feels like being at a resort. She sums it up with glee: “We have it all!”