Coastal Redesign

“My wife was introduced to Narragansett by a friend and she fell love in love with it,” explains Barry Morris. After Colleen told Barry about the enchanting seaside town, the two thought …


“My wife was introduced to Narragansett by a friend and she fell love in love with it,” explains Barry Morris. After Colleen told Barry about the enchanting seaside town, the two thought long and hard about buying a second house there. Close enough to their home base in Connecticut but far enough to feel away from it all, the idea was equally as enchanting as it was daunting. Not about to make such a considerable investment without doing their due diligence, the Morris family set out to explore coastal towns from Groton Long Point, overlooking Long Island Sound, to the waterfront neighborhoods in Middletown. “We looked at every beach community around and we ended up exactly where we started,” says Barry.

Peppered with charming coastal enclaves throughout, the family was tasked with zeroing in on the perfect Narragansett neighborhood for their second home escape. After exploring myriad options, the decision was clear: Sand Hill Cove. The couple found a weather-beaten, 882-square-foot cottage with two bedrooms and one bath perched on the dunes overlooking the sea; where others saw flaws, the Morrises saw potential. They turned to Davitt Design Build in West Kingston and principal Matt Davitt to spearhead their ambitious project. “They came to us because we’re an architectural building firm,” explains Davitt. “We specialize in helping our clients through the coastal management maze... to keep projects on time and on budget.” The maze, as oceanfront homeowners can tell you, can be more like a gauntlet, but having built eight homes on the same street, Davitt was well versed in balancing the permit and environmental requirements.

It was evident that the existing home wasn’t maximizing the million-dollar views. According to Matt, Barry was able to stand on the roof and see Block Island and the sea for miles. The two decided that an “upside down” home design, where the kitchen, master bedroom and central living areas were on the top floor, would be best. Due to restrictions in location, Davitt wasn’t allowed to tear down the existing home and start fresh. Instead, he and the firm’s architect needed to create a solution that took advantage of the existing space while making the home a completely reinvented abode. “We sat down, explained our wishes, our hopes, our likes and our dislikes, and of course it was a fortune,” says Barry, “but Matt broke it down.” The firm, he said, took their wish list and worked with the couple to keep their main goals for the home intact while devising budget-friendly alternatives in other spaces.

In addition to the upside down design, the couple needed parking (as cars are not permitted to park on Sand Hill Cove Road) and plenty of it. They also wanted the design to include a lot of glass as if to frame the extraordinary surroundings on both sides of the home (the “back” overlooks protected marshlands, Point Judith Pond and the Galilee Bird Sanctuary). Another must-have was ample space to entertain. “We wanted a place where the whole family, and lots of friends, could come and come frequently,” explains Barry. Oh, and they were making all of these ambitious plans in late 2010, hoping to be moved in and ready to enjoy peak season in Narragansett the following summer. “They needed someone who could make that happen and not compromise the function and design of the house,” says Davitt.

Davitt broke ground in January 2010, and so began the adventure. The home was already permitted for a three-bedroom septic, which the family and Davitt decided was best to work around. Being the first house they had custom built, the Morrises faced decisions they never thought could be so plentiful and daunting. “The number of decisions...” Barry trails off. “Every little thing was like five or six decisions.” Everything from the positioning of light switches (and if you want dimmer, manual or remote control), to wall color, to tile, all needed to be chosen. Barry says Davitt made things more manageable by breaking the projects down a few at a time so as not to overwhelm the couple. “When you have a good team... we got through it,” says Barry with a sense of accomplishment.

The project soon became a family affair. Colleen had friends who had taken on new home design, so she sought advice from those with experience. “She had plenty of help, but at the end of the day, she picked 75% of the stuff in the house, all the colors for the walls, so much. Everything she picked was great with me,” says Barry. Their son also pitched in. “My son is a musician, so he has the creative thing going – I’m an analytic!” Barry says with a laugh. His son, he said, could walk into a store and decisively choose light fixtures, tiles, faucets and more without hesitation, and the piece would fit seamlessly into the home design. “He’s definitely talented,” says Barry. Between the family and Davitt, the finish line was well within sight for the anticipated summer completion date. “Collaborative doesn’t begin to describe the effort,” says Barry. “Everybody had a hand in it.”

“Our whole process is very hands on with the client; they are part of the team,” agrees Davitt. “It always is a collaboration to create the dream.” By July 4, just six months later, the family was popping the cork on the champagne and toasting their new home. Since then, they’ve had upwards of 25 guests at one time enjoy the fruits of their labor (with no shortage of sleeping bags on the floor). “I had come across a picture in a magazine of a beach house, and showed it to Matt,” Barry says, recalling the beginning of their journey together. “I said, ‘I wanted it to feel like this.’ He absolutely captured that.” Looking back on the whole experience, he says, “It was really quite amazing.”