Real Estate News

A beachfront R.I. barn becomes a gathering place for a growing family

Clad in Alaskan yellow cedar, the 3,200-square-foot house features a screened porch, a large deck, four bedrooms, and a walkout lower level.

Large doors open the dining area to the deck, which is made of Alaskan yellow cedar to match the exterior. The central cupola lets in light to the first and second floors, while two skylights bring light into the parents’ rooms on the second floor. Stacy Bass

It’s a somewhat familiar story. A summer home, which the parents excitedly bought when the family was just the two of them and the kids, was beginning to feel small.

“My husband and I started to go out there and explore,” says Mary Ann O’Leary about Block Island, which they “fell in love with” during those early trips to the 9.7-square-mile haven 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island.

Resembling a barn, the new structure behind the 1884 red house, which the family has summered in for more than 10 years, allows more space for a growing family. Sheathed in Alaskan yellow cedar, the building has a windowed cupola at the center that lets in natural light. It also has a screened porch to the left and an outdoor shower to the right. – Stacy Bass

In 2006, they bought a 1,200-square-foot house built in 1884 for Captain Benjamin F. Gardner. Painted a charming red, it was close to the beach and next to conservation land. Ever since, the little red house has been a place for their growing family — which in 12 years has more than doubled with the addition of the kids’ spouses and children — to come together. More space was definitely needed.


O’Leary could either find a larger house, add on to the red house, or build something separate on the 2-plus-acre property. Because her family loved the red house as it was, she decided on the third option and contacted on-island builder Mark Kildea of Stix Man Construction, who helped her get a variance from the town of New Shoreham for a new four-bedroom structure, with the proviso that “we converted the red house into an accessory residential structure,” says Kildea, which essentially meant its kitchen had to go.

With its connection to the red house, the screened porch is a favorite spot for the family to gather. Stools on the left serve a custom accordion-style window that opens to the kitchen. – Stacy Bass

O’Leary also contacted interior designer Jill O’Shea of Jill O’Shea Home Design in Westport, Connecticut, who had helped her refresh her apartment in New York City.

“I told her I was talking to a builder [on Block Island], and she had a whole vision in her head,” says O’Leary. “She has a head full of brilliant ideas.”

The shower has a white subway-tile wall with a window. – Stacy Bass

Designer O’Shea suggested a structure that looked like a barn, so it wouldn’t compete with the existing gingerbread-style home. Clad in Alaskan yellow cedar, the 3,200-square-foot house, begun in fall 2015 and finished in spring 2017, features a screened porch, a large deck, four bedrooms, and a walkout lower level.

The first-floor bath has tongue-and-groove paneling and gray quartz countertops. – Stacy Bass

O’Leary credits O’Shea with drawing the plans, furnishing the interior, and taking care of details, including specifying plants for the landscape.


“This is really for my children and my grandchildren,” says O’Leary, who consulted with family members on the design. “One of them said, ‘Please, let’s have a screened porch.’ Another said a fireplace, then an outdoor shower. The deck was another thing. Everyone wanted a deck.”

Built in 1884 for Captain Benjamin F. Gardner, the 1,200-square-foot red house is where the family has summered since 2006. – Stacy Bass

“From looking at the outside, you wouldn’t guess what’s going on inside,” says O’Shea. “The exterior character has the functional simplicity of a barn, but when you go inside, you’re surprised by the volume of open space and natural light.”

The north side of the home, which faces conservation land and connects in greater degree to the red house, hosts the screened porch and deck. The orientation means that on hot summer days, the deck stays cool.

The first-floor living area features a U-shaped sofa, upholstered in raw linen, that faces the fireplace and TV. The walls are plaster, hand-troweled to a smooth finish. – Stacy Bass

Because a beach-access road lies on an easement to the property, O’Shea placed an interior stairway in front of the south-side windows to obstruct views into the house. The first floor is an open plan, with glass doors by the dining area leading to the deck.

The primary purpose of the house was to create a place to bring the whole family together,” says O’Shea. “So we created a series of open, flowing living spaces with lots of cozy group seating areas, both indoor and outdoor.”

The interior stairway acts as a screen in front of the windows to obstruct views into the house. – Stacy Bass

A large U-shaped sofa faces a sleek fireplace inside, “a theme we repeated outside with a group of Adirondack chairs to gather around the firepit,” she says.


The first floor also boasts a multipurpose room and a full bath, which together O’Leary currently uses as a master suite. In the kitchen, open shelving enhances white walls, and gray quartz tops a peninsula. A door on the left leads to an outdoor shower, and a custom window on the right opens accordion-style to the screened porch.

The second-floor hallway has custom railings and wooden orb pendant lights strung from the ceiling with black cords. – Stacy Bass

Upstairs, guest rooms mirror one another and are “meant to be interchangeable,” says O’Shea. On each side, there is a family suite that includes a parents’ room and a kids’ bunk room with a Jack-and-Jill bath, “so the parents can have privacy while also managing their own kids,” says O’Shea.

A windowed cupola on the second floor allows additional natural light to reach the living space below. Five wooden orb pendant lights strung from the ceiling with different lengths of black cord create a focal point.

Upstairs, there are two family suites that include a parents’ room and a kids’ bunk room with a Jack-and-Jill bath in between. O’Shea originally designed the bunk rooms to have only twin beds, but with the news of more grandkids on the way, she turned the closet spaces into custom bunks with drawers for storage. – Stacy Bass

The home’s palette is monochromatic, but, says O’Shea, “it’s fairly rich,” with lots of textures. For example, the raw linen sofa contrasts with velvety benches that flank a dining table made from a wood slab “reminiscent of a big block of driftwood,” says O’Shea.

Railings by Steve’s Custom Iron Works of Norwalk, Connecticut, and black-framed windows from Andersen Windows & Doors tie light and dark elements together.

A custom night stand in one of the bedrooms has a white lacquered exterior that matches the wall color and a stained oak shelf and base that match the interior doors used throughout the house. – Stacy Bass

The Alaskan yellow cedar exterior is a calming element next to the red house. The material is longer lasting and harder to find than white or red cedar, and the 7-inch-wide boards were also cut as long as possible to minimize seams, which are points of vulnerability to weather.


“It wasn’t done piecemeal,” says O’Leary about the barn house her family loves. (And though it’s an ongoing effort to maintain the red house, she is now turning her attention to its larger repairs.)

“The end result is just so wonderful. I feel really good that we kept the property and hope that it will remain in my family for many generations to come.”

See more photos of the home:


Grasses chosen by interior designer Jill O’Shea are a natural accent to the yellow cedar exterior. Black-framed kitchen windows from Andersen Windows & Doors capture the reflection of the red house across the lawn. Stacy Bass

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The first floor of the new structure, finished in 2017, has an open plan with a kitchen that faces the red house. There, a peninsula is topped in gray quartz and open shelving holds day-to-day dishware. The screened porch to the right is a favorite family hangout. Stacy Bass

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Large doors open the dining area to the deck, which is made of Alaskan yellow cedar to match the exterior. The central cupola lets in light to the first and second floors, while two skylights bring light into the parents’ rooms on the second floor. Stacy Bass

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