Historically, Middlebridge was a summer community for working people from Pawtucket and Providence; many built little cottages there so they could escape the city and relax, explains Lee Chartier in regards to the history of her close-knit Wakefield neighborhood. Her husband Jack’s family had owned a few of these modest cottages along the edge of the Narrows River for decades – as far back as his grandparents. As the older generation came to bequeath properties to their descendants, the newer inhabitants began transforming the tiny summer homes into permanent abodes. The Chartiers were no different. “We inherited this long narrow piece of property, knocked down what was here, and built a house to fit the lot while still maximizing the view,” says Lee.
Living in no less than seven houses since getting married, the Chartiers have honed their skills as master renovators. Case in point: the pair once transformed a historic 1829 Kingston home, renovating and designing it to the point that it became a featured home on a local historic house tour. A dynamic duo, Jack’s carpentry proficiency paired with Lee’s design eye makes for a focused, task-driven pair. Despite their combined talent and experience, renovating the Middlebridge home was the first time the two had tackled a new construction; they concede that it came with its own unique set of challenges, but was worth every hurdle.
The finished product is a spacious three-bedroom home with an open layout, exquisite but convivial design, and attention to detail throughout. It’s Jack and Lee’s perfect empty nest. “We knew we wanted an open floor plan,” Lee says. “Our kids are 30 and 32. They each have two kids. Jack’s grandparents lived next door and his parents lived here; when we were building this, we knew it would be something for [our children] that they would have forever.”
A granite floor-to-ceiling hearth is the heart of the living room, where a central seating area is complemented by additional seating at the wet bar, the dining room table and an inmate duo of vintage chairs. “I got those in a consignment store for $85 a piece,” Lee gushes about the unique two-of-a-kind chairs upholstered in a navy blue and silver print, featuring an elephant pattern. “They were just like that. At first I didn’t know about the elephants, but with the navy blue in here, it works,” she says, referring to the oversized Persian rug that frames the space. “I actually bought them for a client because I do a lot of the shopping for Glenn [her boss, who’s an interior designer] and he’ll say ‘We need this, this and this,’ and then I go find it. When I spotted these I thought, ‘I’ll be able to place these with a client, I’m sure,’ but then when I got them home I thought, ‘Well never mind – my favorite client is going to get these: me.”
The Glenn she speaks so highly of is Glenn Marr of Living Design RI, based in Warren. Their fortuitous meeting early on in the construction of the home turned into a coveted second job opportunity for the CCRI assistant professor of marketing. “My passion, because my undergrad degree was in art, has always been design,” she says. Lee met Glenn during the framing phase of the home. He paid the couple a few more visits to offer ideas about the windows, which led to collaborating with Lee on some more design work. “Then he didn’t come for another year or so, and when he came back he loved what I did so much he said, ‘Would you want to come work with me?’” She eagerly agreed, landing a part-time position with the acclaimed designer.
Extraordinary artwork graces the walls throughout, perhaps none more so than in the central living space. A painter herself, Lee says human subjects have long been some her favorite to collect. “People appeal to me,” she says with a wide smile. “I love nudes so I have a lot of them.” The most prominent nude rests above the hearth. Provocative yet captivating, Lee bought the piece in Paris last May at a flea market. “My kids are like ‘How can you have that?’” she says with a laugh.
Balancing the formal touches, more casual vignettes – including treasured books and whimsical treasures – nestle in the built-in bookcase handcrafted by Jack. The distressed maple floor throughout was installed piece by piece by Jack, using materials supplied by Builders Surplus in West Warwick. The wood is complemented by a set of windows that feature an unorthodox frame. “These are antique shutters that I bought from Brimfield,” she reveals, referencing the legendary outdoor antique show. “Jack trimmed them to the right size and then I painted them. We just put them in place permanently because they kind of have a cool, neat look to them.”
Between fisheye lighting for their art and elegant table lamps, there are more lighting fixtures than one can count in a quick glance, but the mass illumination works in harmony. “Lighting is huge,” offers Lee. “Glenn is really big in having the right lighting and he taught me a lot about it.”
Though originally built as a formal living room, the couple reinvented the room opposite the main living space to be an informal den. A natural sisal rug from Pottery Barn is a nod to the coastal address, while a flat screen TV and plush couches invite the children and grandchildren to enjoy lazy afternoons together. In the kitchen, an oversized island offers seating and a pristine river view. In the warmer months, the wrap-around porch – gracing both the main and second level – hints at southern charm with an American flag waving in the breeze, and rocking chairs at the ready. For the Chartiers, it feels like home.