Greg Jarem has made a career out of being a visionary. So when the globetrotting photographer laid his creative eyes on a disjointed, awkward bungalow in Bristol, he overlooked its tangible flaws and focused instead on it’s strong bones and its potential for a contemporary design conversion. Exclusive access to Mount Hope Bay admittedly helped weigh his decision to buy the bungled abode. “Location. That was it,” says Greg quite simply. “It was private. It was at the end of a dead end street, 170 feet on the water… You just don’t find that very often and the price was kind of reasonable. It was in the summer of 2010 – the bottom of the [real estate] market.”
Though Greg had thoroughly renovated a 1928 Tudor himself, including building a completely new kitchen and adding advanced improvements throughout, the Bristol bungalow would be a substantially more involved project. However, he was unfazed. “I was pretty confident,” says Greg. “Over the years there had been modifications with no general direction. As a result, the place was completely disjointed. There were literally four entrances.”
The entrance debacle is where he decided he should start as it would lay the groundwork for the layout to follow. Greg knew he could take on the role of general contractor. Typically travelling two weeks at a time for commercial photography shoots, his other time would be spent managing the renovations. As the three bedrooms on the second floor would only need cosmetic changes, Greg would be able to stay at the house throughout the home’s transformation. “I knew I wanted it to be contemporary and I looked at it as a clean slate,” he says. It was almost a perfect situation. Almost.
Greg knew he needed a seasoned professional to bounce ideas off of and collaborate with to bring his vision to reality. He turned to Hector I. Rios, AIA, of Studio Rios Architecture in Barrington. “Basically the whole project centered on when I finally met with Hector. His contribution cannot be understated,” says Greg. “He was able to cut through the hodge podge and come up with a cohesive plan.”
“I decided to give it a more New England look,” explains Hector. He started, as Greg had hoped, by whittling down the number of entrances from a haphazard four to an extraordinary one. To accomplish the a cohesive look, Hector took a two foot wide, eight foot tall stone wall that uniquely starts on the outside, continued internally, thereby defining the kitchen, and designed it to exit the home to form a patio, all the while defining a new entry. “He was able to find the path to come in the front door in a Frank Lloyd Wright way,” describes Greg. “You go into the foyer, turn right and bang! The view of the bay...”
“That was the key – Hector and I fit right away. I have my own creative aesthetic and he had the tenants of architecture,” Greg explains. “When I would mention a certain thing, he would pick up on it. And if he mentioned something technical, I would understand it.” Greg says that basically Hector and his team came in with back hoes and methodically took down the house section by section. “It was a messy demo job,” he admits. “The work was done in stages and I was basically the general contractor.”
When he wasn’t overseeing the installation of spray foam insulation, studying building plans or overseeing the walls being framed, Greg would travel on assignment. He wouldn’t only return with thousands of digital images, but also with myriad new ideas. Inspiration and photography go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that Greg found beauty in the most unlikely of places and wanted to recreate inspired colors, shapes and styles in his home. “I would come back with ideas from traveling a lot. I had snaps of a wall, a texture, a floor – something I thought was interesting. We’d spread them all out and [Hector] would get an idea of what I was looking for,” he says. Often times the two would bounce ideas off of one another and come up with the final choice – a meeting of the minds, taking the best of both their respective worlds.
A fine example of that fresh, unexpected approach can be seen in the jaw-dropping ceiling made of three rows of redwood in the living room. “It reflects the waves of the ocean,” explains Greg. The look compliments the expansive water view, lending an inside-meets-outside cohesive aesthetic. “The idea was you want to merge the interior and the exterior of the house,” says Greg.
The unconventional, contemporary look of the home almost makes it feel gallery-like, which is no surprise given it belongs to an artist. The point of view has allowed Greg to pull off the unexpected, like his 1964 Vespa parked right inside the house which simultaneously acts as a piece of art and mode of transportation.
Though he is immensely satisfied with the way everything has turned out over the two and a half year renovation process, he concedes the home is still a pallette. “I’ll be changing some large photographs from my work,” says the photographer. “Important to let things rest for a while then come back to them. I know in my work I approach that way. I shoot something, then step away then come back and that’s when the ideas come to fruition – it’s the creative process.”
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