For the better part of three decades, Carla and Dennis Bowman would travel during the summer months from their home in Richmond, Virginia, to Carla’s native Rhode Island. Like many visitors, they would often peruse the real estate listings as a casual pastime while here. In recent years, as their children left the nest, the couple began to consider more seriously a summer-meets-semi-retirement home in the Ocean State. The two found a cottage on Wakefield’s Green Hill Pond built in 1958 with a traditional floor plan that was just too good to pass up. It became theirs in December 2010.
“It has some unique features including a central fireplace which you don’t see in modern buildings,” says Dennis. The home’s as-is charm was perfectly suited for the couple’s many summer and occasional year-round visits – stays which also helped the two determine what future renovations would better suit their needs and lifestyle.
“The bones were great and the previous owner did a great job maintaining it, but the kitchen and bathroom were at least 20 years old,” explains Carla. “We knew we would update them.” The two turned to designer Prudence Stoddard at R.I. Kitchen & Bath, an award winning design-build firm in Warwick specializing in kitchen and bath renovations. “I dreamed it up from the beginning and worked with them for many years on it,” says Prudence about the three phase project which included reconfiguring an existing bathroom, creating a new bath- room, and completely renovating the inefficient galley-style kitchen. “They were mostly outdated. One of the baths had one of those old metal freestanding showers. We wanted to create a powder room and also give more space to the master bath.”
As the trio discussed, planned and ultimately worked on the first bathroom project together, often with the Bowmans meeting Prudence on site then leaving her to execute their vision, a strong working relationship was built, even from hundreds of miles away. “It was a combination of a really creative design combined with detailed planning,” says Dennis. “When you have every square millimeter laid out as to what it will look like, you feel really comfortable leaving them to do the job.”
Carla explains that the first project was the downstairs bath which they wanted to redesign with more sink storage and a smarter layout. “We took out a tub and put in a really nice shower, so basically cosmetic updating and increased storage,” she explains. Though cosmetic, the project had myriad layers and Prudence had her work cut out for her. “As I looked at the spaces, I had to reconfigure everything; all of the plumbing fixtures,” she says. “We had to expand the master bath and reduce the second bath.”
It wasn’t all part of a master plan, say the Bowmans. That is, the three stage project wasn’t the goal from the outset, but as one project was completed, it made logical sense to move on to another, especially since the initial one was a seamless progression with Prudence’s management. “We didn’t think we [would] end up putting in another bathroom; we did more than we initially thought we do,” says Carla.
“It kind of developed along the way,” agrees Prudence. “The project grew into a larger project as we went through the design process... The scope of the work was really extensive like adding a bathroom where there wasn’t one before. There was quite a bit of electrical and plumbing, a lot of add-ons; things to make to make living there easier for them.”
Experienced renovators, Dennis and Carla admit working on the Wakefield home remotely was a luxury. “We didn’t actually have to live [there] throughout the project,” says Carla with sense of relief. “We would communicate a lot via email,” explains Prudence. “It was a fun process to do from a distance. They were great people to work with... they tended to be very productive because we needed to accomplish a lot while they were here.”
The principal challenges of the third and final project, the kitchen, was the original galley-style lay out alongside the fireplace, which wasn’t going anywhere. Instead of futilely attempting to remove it, Prudence decided to embrace the footprint but rearrange key components including the location of the oven and refrigerator. “We built out a wall between the kitchen and living room... we ended up with a wall oven and a wall microwave, a range and very large refrigerator, one great big sink and another little, secondary sink,” describes Carla. The finished product, complete with a custom ceiling treatment, is a space the couple can both work in and enjoy.
“Usually I offer a few solutions that are in some way equally good,” explains Prudence. “I may have my personal favorite... but together, jointly, we pick one that works best for their use. In the kitchen, [there were] several possibilities. The back of brick fireplace backs up to it and that can’t move. Now, the cabinet area is much longer than it had been. We almost doubled their cabinet space by actually putting in a smaller bay window which most people don’t do today.” Every inch, says the Bowmans, was considered and utilized.
“Now we have this huge work area,” says Carla. “Before, it was almost impossible if someone wanted to help you – you couldn’t even open the refrigerator. Now people can get into little areas. We used every little inch of space, even a space four inches wide we were going to cover, and we ended up with a floor to ceiling wine rack.”
The care and craftsmanship throughout the project, says Dennis, was remarkable. “I can’t speak highly enough about the construction people as well,” he says. “With an older house you’re not working with something perfectly square.” He says that Dave Meagan was instrumental throughout and the “entire workmanship” of the projects were to be admired. Even when Hurricane Sandy blew through the area, the crews were down less than 24 hours and despite downed trees, a storm surge and power outages, the crew worked off a generator to stay on time and on budget.
Despite bringing the home into the 21st century, the Bowmans were careful to preserve the home’s charming cottage aesthetic. In lieu of a high gloss polished granite countertop, the two selected a more casual honed granite, a matte version of the in-demand counter surface. Outside, the private dock offers instant access to Green Pond, which they enjoy on their boat and kayaks. Altogether, three projects and nearly four years later, the new chapter of the house on Green Pond begins.