A Home to Write In

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Barbara Mariconda knows a thing or two about starting new chapters. A longtime author, she’s written a bevy of books for children and young adults (as well as professional books for teachers). So when she spotted a parcel of land in Saunderstown three years ago that would be the perfect place to write, relax and start anew in the Ocean State, she made a bold move into unfamiliar territory.

“It was really scary,” she says, “and I was doing it on my own… I saw the property and it was a jungle. You couldn’t even walk through it.” But there was something that spoke to her – the bucolic country road, the aged stone walls and the short walk to the edge of Narragansett Bay. She knew this spot would be “it” for her, as in, no more moving. Barbara’s new digs, though still just an idea in her head, were to be planned meticulously, accommodating her for the foreseeable future. She packed up her life in Connecticut and moved into a small apartment for a year as her new home was built.

Her first order of business was to meet with friend and architect James Millward who had decades of experience designing homes, particularly beautiful, smart ones by the sea. She approached him with a somewhat ambitious wish list. “I knew I wanted lots of light – windows everywhere. I definitely wanted a screened-in porch. An open floor plan was very important. I wanted a fireplace, and lots of built-ins. I’m an author with lots of books,” explains Barbara. With her career in mind, she knew it would be critical for her writing nook to embrace and be inspired by the outdoors. Easy access to a mind-clearing walk and break to feed the birds – not to mention a chance to breathe in the fresh, salty air – would be especially rewarding.

When it came to builders, James recommended South County Post and Beam, based in West Kingston, as he had worked with the firm on past projects. Barbara’s visit to their offices proved to be a game changer. The age-old artistry of post-frame construction – finely crafted timber framing details, lofty ceilings, the warmth of natural woods and a unique “outside in” character – was moving and clearly made an impression. “I loved their office… so it was back to the drawing board,” she says, laughing. A few renditions later, James, Barbara and the team from South County Post and Beam, including the father and son duo Ken and Josh Bouvier, had settled on a design they all were keen on. However, there were some compromises when it came to Barbara’s original wish list.

“I originally wanted my bedroom on the lower level, but I would have lost all the windows on the back side of the living room,” she explains. Barbara calls the solutions the Bouviers came up with “brilliant.” The clever builders designed two spacious closets on the first and second floor to be stacked directly on top of one another. “So if I ever need a residential elevator, they can put it right in,” she explains.

They broke ground in October of 2015 and the mild winter that followed was a windfall as construction moved forward swiftly. In keeping with her wishes for an open floor plan, the entire first floor is dedicated to everyday dwelling with the kitchen, dining and living spaces seamlessly flowing from one area to the next. Double doors lead to the screened-in porch, followed by a set of doors that open up to the patio. Back inside, an oversized kitchen island with four chairs is an inherent gathering space, adding to the “comfortable and casual” vibe Barbara sought. The third level doubles as a space for guests and a writing nook, while Barbara’s bedroom occupies most of the second floor. “[People] have the impression it is much bigger than it is,” says the homeowner. Though around 2,200 square feet, the cathedral-style ceilings, profound openness and smart design are what give that effect, Barbara says.

When it came to designing the interior, Ken’s wife Susan, a RISD alum and member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), became Susan’s saving grace. In their very first face-to-face meeting, Barbara brought Susan a vintage Franciscan Apple pattern plate. The collector’s item wasn’t a gift. It was the inspiration. “I said, ‘We’ve got to start here,’” tells Barbara.

With Barbara off-site, the two would use the Houzz app to share idea albums and images of pieces they were considering. “That just expedited the process [and] saved so much time and energy. She just understood what I was looking for.” And Barbara makes no qualms about her preferences.

“I’m opinionated and know what I want,” she says unapologetically. A self-confessed “Etsy addict,” shipments were arriving at Barbara’s rental apartment with regularity. In addition, she was falling more in love with her new Ocean State resident status as she perused the bevy of local antique shops, hunting for hidden treasures. “Rhode Island is great for antiques,” she says. “At Re in North Kingstown, I purchased 12-foot oars and held on to them for a year.” The oars and other nods to nautical styling are prevalent but subtle. Other touches honor the home’s pastoral surroundings, including sliding interior barn doors, an antique garden tiller wheel that has been reinvented as eye-catching art and the kitchen island seating that is made from old tractor seats. “They are really comfortable, but what I like is they add a little bit of this agricultural feel and this land, at one time, was all pasture.”

Though intimidating at the outset, Barbara says the entire process has been extraordinary. “It was such an exciting process to see it all come together – a really fulfilling, exciting endeavor. I pinch myself basically every day.”