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Cottage in Historic Middletown, RI

Cottage in Historic Middletown, RI
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So how to start bringing those separate worlds together? “The first thing we thought about was how to make this house disappear within the lot, the way the stone wall does,” Maaike explains. The solution: Camouflage the exterior with a sheath of untreated red-cedar shingles that will gradually weather to a silvery gray, blending the house with the landscape. That in turn helped “take the contemporary edge away and make the sharp lines much softer.”

On the inside, the couple wanted more light and space, a challenge if they were to stay within the original footprint. They gutted most of the interior themselves, ripping out dark wood paneling and chipping away at the endless expanse of Mexican floor tiles, leaving the terra-cotta squares in the dining room only. “I love this tile,” Maaike says. “I just didn’t like it in the whole house–it was so cold to walk around on.”

With everything extraneous cleared away, Maaike and Erik began sculpting the interior. First, more light. “We added or replaced 52 windows,” Erik laughs. “That was probably our biggest expense.” Now, with light pouring in from every direction, they went in search of extra square footage–and found some spectacular underused space.

Standing in the vaulted kitchen, gleaming dark-gray granite countertops refracting light from the overhead skylights, Maaike observes, “This is probably my favorite room. One of the things I think we did most successfully was maximizing the space that was here–just opening it up.” What was formerly a dark kitchen and separate laundry room combined to create a large, airy space with an island and views to the backyard.

Plus, Maaike insisted on no upper cupboards to get in the way: “I don’t like kitchen cabinets–I love to be able to look out.” Clutter is relegated to the kitchen pantry, hidden behind an ingenious sliding barn door, the handiwork of local award-winning woodworker Jeff Soderbergh.

More hidden space was lurking upstairs, in the master bedroom. “The old roofline left a huge area that was unusable,” Erik explains. “By doing something relatively simple–by popping up a dormer–we gained all this square footage, without actually building anything that added to the footprint of the house.”

From the kitchen there’s now an open view of the rest of the downstairs: high-ceilinged living room (“my Sunday spot, with a book in front of the fire,” says Erik); dining room with French doors out to a deck; and a comfortable, shelf-lined library. All are within sight, yet each space is defined. “It’s open, but you can still find a little nook or cranny to hang out in,” Maaike notes.

Or a window to dream out of. Nestled into old land, the newly shingled cottage is settling in, hunkering down, preparing to stay a while. What does a house really hold? A life, or lives. In this case, memories of Spain and Sweden and the Netherlands and France; spin the globe, and it finally stops turning, here where trees meet overhead like a snowy cathedral.

“I know we did it right,” Maaike says. “So many people say there’s such a good vibe in this house. With a new home, you can walk into it, and you can feel that it’s not lived in yet. This house makes people feel comfortable. And that always makes me feel good.”

SLIDE SHOW: Shingled Cottage Tour

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