Summer at the Shack

A fishing shack gets a family-friendly upgrade

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When Paul Hooper was a kid, summer meant skin diving and spear fishing alongside his father. The duo would poke around the rocky coastal walls in Manasquan, New Jersey, searching for salt water critters until a local enthusiast made a suggestion of where they’ll find more fertile grounds. “This guy said, ‘go to Point Judith, Rhode Island, if you like to skin dive and shoot,’” recalls Paul. “This was back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s.” So, they did.

As promised, the Ocean State offered an entirely new summertime experience for father and son. “We’d put this camper among the lobster traps,” Paul says with a hearty laugh. “We’d literally hide. One day my father went to a realtor and said, ‘we’re looking for a real little place.’”

“Little” proved to be the key word. After looking at multiple cottages throughout South County, the elder Hooper was smitten with a humble abode on the edge of Potter’s Pond located in the charming village of East Matunuck. “It’s this 24-foot by 24-foot little cottage,” says Paul. “He put $200 down as the deposit. We always called it ‘The Shack’ because it was a shack.”

The Shack became the Hooper family’s summertime outpost. Paul had grown so attached that while in college, he spent two winters in The Shack warmed only by a tiny coal stove. But the humble home perched on a picturesque peninsula slowly deteriorated over the years. Along with his father and his wife Kim, Paul decided it was time to give The Shack the attention it sorely needed. Though it survived the infamous Great Hurricane of 1938 and proved itself to have strong bones, The Shack has had its fair share of weather beatings. “About 15 years ago we decided to rebuild it. My dad was a real post and beam guy, and we knew to put it on stilts and to have it be post and beam is a real challenge,” concedes Paul.

Through the years, the Hoopers had talked about myriad ideas for The Shack’s redesign, but one was clear: the waterfront bungalow would have to keep its original footprint. In other words, no McMansion transformation here. The next rendition of The Shack would embody the easy come, easy go mantra and relaxed living would continue to rule. “Someone spills something? Who cares? Someone drags in a striped bass and it slides across the floor? No one cares. Have a wet dog? Sure, run through the place. Lobster carcass on the deck? We’ve never worried about it,” says Paul, laughing.

The Hoopers turned to Zandra McConchie Draper, principal of Zandra Rhodes Design based in West Greenwich, to formally design the new structure in her signature post and beam style. “I started with a sketch. It had to be the exact same size as the original footprint because it’s in a flood zone,” explains Zandra. “We had to put it up on stilts and we went from there. It’s a completely new building, but it’s still tiny.”

Post and beam is the predominant style but intermittent conventional design accommodates modern upgrades including the plumbing. “We added in some dormers, otherwise we wouldn’t have made the bedroom work upstairs, and an additional porch,” explains Zandra. “It was a lot of fun. I love doing timber frame work. I did something similar to that, and this lent itself to that idea, so it’s a mixture with craftsman and classic shingle style.”

The designer is responsible for impressive waterfront homes, but for Zandra, what The Shack lacked in size it made up for in heart. “It’s cool. It’s absolutely charming and they have done a beautiful job; they’ve put a lot of love and lot of work into it.”

For the Hoopers, finishing The Shack was a pleasure. There was no rush to make everything perfect. Instead, it was more important to make everything comfortable. Despite the finished, new and improved Shack – the two cozy bedrooms, two baths, kitchen and living space – there’s still a place there second to none: the porch. “The deck was always so important because it looks across to Succotash Salt Marsh… you just look at the marsh and it sucks out the world,” says Paul poetically.

“What we did was just take what was there and made it indestructible,” he adds. Paul and his family (including his parents), friends and (many) neighbors have disregarded the “No Jumping” sign posted on the bridge over Potter’s Pond a time or two, or 100, they’ve perched themselves on the covered deck during everything from Nor’easters to the most perfect summer days, they’ve grilled feasts out in the driveway and have maintained a stocked fridge for most of The Shack’s existence. “We had some great times there,” he says. “It’s a small space but God, we’ve had good times.” As such, the home has seen more memorable times one than could count. Thanks to the reinvention of The Shack, it will see many more.