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Eclectic in East Greenwich

Michael Merolla spent 10 years renovating this cozy cottage in East Greenwich

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Fifteen years ago, Michael Merolla’s friends joined him to tour an outdated, lackluster home in East Greenwich near Goddard Park. Knowing their friend’s penchant for seeing the best in everyone and everything, Michael’s cronies quickly sought to pump the brakes on his spiraling ambitions. “They all looked at me and said, ‘You’re not doing this,’” tells Michael. “But as I like to say, no one stopped me... Part of the initial attraction was I felt like I could wrap my hands around it.”

In addition to its shabby condition, the house’s choppy floor plan was awkward at best. The five rooms – including the kitchen, dining room and a bathroom – on the first floor begged for a sensible traffic flow. But that didn’t deter Michael, who after living on Providence’s Federal Hill for 21 years, was ready for a life of suburban bliss. Convinced that the Cape Cod-style home built in 1942 had “solid bones,” Michael bought the place and quickly took to destroying it.

“I gutted that place,” he says. “Gutted the place!” But Michael wasn’t in a rush to throw walls up and plop a granite counter top in the kitchen willy-nilly. A professional interior painter, color consultant and spacial planner concentrating on redesign of kitchens and bathrooms, construction zone living didn’t faze him. He took his time knowing it would be many years before the home would be done, especially since the entire project, from foundation to the rooftop, was going to be completely DIY (do-it-yourself). But he didn’t let it compromise his joie de vivre; his zest for life. While protective plastic sheeting hung from the walls, for example, Michael didn’t hesitate to hang art from it. “Quality of life is important,” he insists.

“So I lived here with a dog and a cat for seven years while I gutted the space and put it back together. I took one year off then built an addition which took four years, and now I’ve been completed, if there is such a thing, for three years,” he explains. Originally laying eyes on the home when he was working on a client’s interior four doors down, Michael’s serendipitous assignment proved to be life-changing. He also ended up bring many new people, and lifelong friends, into his life.

His vision was to transform the Cape into a charming cottage peppered with whimsical touches throughout. “As my business card reads, ‘Guiding your project from conception to completion making selections together for color, lighting, tile, granite, flooring, furnishings, window treatments and staging.’” So this time, Michael just had to apply his skills to his own surroundings, one project at a time.

Michael created an open galley kitchen with a bar that blends seamlessly into the living space. Though most all of the work in the home was done with his own two hands, he turned to a pair of experts – his uncle and his uncle’s friend – for extraordinary kitchen cabinetry. The trio has lots of experience under their combined tool belts. “The custom cabinets were built by what some of my customers call ‘The Cabinet Uncles.’ Not an official name, but super cute. They are Paul Campopiano and Frank Shatz.”

The bar stools invite guests to saunter up and enjoy meals either cooked by Michael or, sometimes, the guest chef he invites over. An avid entertainer, Michael ensured that though the actual square footage of the home isn’t over the top, the layout and design makes it feel quite generous. “It’s an open area so if we want to dance, we dance,” he says cheerfully. Refreshingly, the home celebrates a “less is more” ethos by making every inch count. The stunning wraparound porch and ample back patio equally accommodate guests, so parties ranging from 40 to 60 people can still be comfortable.

He applied the same philosophy when it came to the budget – he didn’t have a lot, but he made every dollar count. With a grateful heart he explains, “There’s a great benefit to not having a lot of money when you’re doing a project because it forces you to take a new directions... If I had my eye on something that was too expensive, it forced me to be creative.”

In the living room, a floor to ceiling stone hearth made with a wood burning stove he built would normally take center stage, but Michael’s bold color choices, salvaged wood detailing and wood ceilings, and creative art compete for the eye’s attention. “People come in all the time and say, ‘I don’t know where to to look first.’”

“Basically, what I was doing was building a house to die in,” he says with a positive tone. “When I say that, know I’ve been a contractor for 30 years now... and I see people fall or become injured, and a lot of people don’t have a bedroom on the first floor. In our American culture sometimes, it’s ‘bigger is better’ and then often, people are forced to essentially live on a single floor,” he explains. So, when it came time to design a master suite, Michael considered every detail. The most spacious bedroom in the home, it offers direct access to the elegantly decorated back deck and yard with sliding doors.

Reflecting on his home’s transformation, Michael says it was a “soulful” experience. But you don’t have to take his word for it. His “Serene Cottage by the Bay,” as its dubbed, has been a perpetual 5-star rated AirBnB rental for three years. Though guests gush about the home itself, it’s Michael who is almost always takes top billing with reviewers constantly commenting on Michael being an outstanding thoughtful and gracious host. Visit AirBnB.com and search “Serene Cottage By the Bay” and see – or stay – for yourself.