It’s not uncommon for visitors to Block Island to quickly fall in love with the enchanting island, which sits 13 miles off Rhode Island’s mainland. Pristine beaches, weatherworn cottages, welcoming smiles – it’s all part of the island charm. Like many University of Rhode Island students, Melanie Reeves spent summers on “The Block,” where she was captivated by the savory restaurants, mom and pop shops and the spoils of simple living. Her now-husband Chris had summered on the island since childhood. After the two met and grew more serious, they found themselves wanting to marry on the island gem, overlooking the sea, and make a home there.
The couple wed in 2009 and their family has grown to welcome a son, Hudson. The young family was living with Chris’s mother in her summerhome on the western side of the island, and while grateful, “we obviously wanted our own space,” says Melanie. The couple decided the best option would be a newly constructed home ideally suited to their wants and needs – but where? Comprising just 11-square miles, Block Island is revered for its natural beauty and modest full-time population of just over 1,000 residents. There are no housing communities (or traffic lights, for that matter) and so finding an available, affordable single family home for two newlyweds just starting off in life often proves challenging. The answer, though, was right under the Reeves’ noses.
With land to spare on Chris’s mother’s property, the couple broke ground. Of course, making major decisions about new home construction was daunting. “We never owned ahome before, so that itself was intimidating,” says Melanie. Pushing fears to the side, the two moved forward and jumped in with both feet. “Underestimating the amount of choices and decisions to be made,” the process was a challenge, Chris admits. “For example: where to put every outlet, every light and every switch. How to accomplish the look and feel you want while staying on budget and deciding where to make the compromises was a challenge.”
The couple enlisted the talent and skill of local craftsmen, including Block Island-based North Atlantic Builders, in addition to help from much loved friends, and collaborated on a home plan that would include a comfortable, family-friendly living space that would evoke a design aesthetic inspired by the sea. “I definitelywanted it to look like an island home - cottagey with weathered shingles - but we wanted some unique details to make it our own,” explains Melanie.
There was one more crucial element the Reeves wanted in the new space: an open, modern and welcoming kitchen. “[I had] a collection of ideas from the many homes I’ve seen on the island,” says Chris. Melanie’s wish list included “a large island to serve as the gathering place in the house.”
The avid do-it-yourselfers commissioned professionals for larger projects, like the installation of the walnut-hued floors, but relied on experience and blind ambition to take on other tasks. Chris also put in a boatload of sweat equity, helping to frame the house and install fixtures, faucets, the farmhouse sink and more.
“I was the instruction reader,” Melanie says with a laugh. In looking to keep with the style of the island’s older homes, she and Chris chose a traditional cedar shingle exterior for the Cape Cod-style home, but infused it with their own personal flair. For example, a section of the cedar shingles surrounding the second floor was artistically positioned to form a fish design – an homage to their coastal environs. “That was my husband’s idea,” says Melanie. “He just wanted something to differentiate us from the other area homes.” Clapboard siding encircles the first floor for a country- meets-coastal polished look. Chris also installed granite steps to the entry and collected stones to surround the foundation, all by hand, to give the cozy abode a more aged appearance. “He wanted to make it look like an old house,” she says.
Melanie says cool tones influenced by Block Island’s natural beauty set the tone for the coastal chic aesthetic. “The colors I chose were beach tones: beige, blues, greens and grays. I struggled with the fixtures because I had trouble finding anything that I really liked – I didn’t want ordinary fixtures. I ended up finding these great nautical looking fixtures that I used throughout the house.” The couple also admires the work ofseveral artists, and one wall in their home features a trio of paintings by Whitney Knapp.
In the master bedroom, the ceiling is covered with wainscoting, installed by Chris, for a light and airy sophistication. Wainscoting continues downstairs below chair rails for a cohesive design. The project ultimately extended past their estimated completion date. However, the young family was able to move in this past summer right before two critical days on the calendar: the Fourth of July, which anyone knows is one of the most spirited days of the season, and the day before their son Hudson’s first birthday.
Today, the Reeves enjoy easy access to some of the natural beauty Block Island has become famous for, including a 10-minute walk to the beach at picturesque Dories Cove, and access to the bucolic Greenway Trails.
Altogether, the home is well-suited for the young family. “It’s small but perfect for us,” remarks Melanie. “If you build a house that you love, you will love living in it.” For Chris, it’s simple: “Just say, ‘Yes, dear.’”