Traditional design meets modern function in a Rhode Island estate.By Jennifer Sperry • Photography by Michael Osean
Architect Alec R. Tesa, AIA, specializes in the New England coastal aesthetic, creating timeless homes that exemplify graceful grandeur. But that doesn’t mean he follows all the rules, all the time.
In fact, he often finds himself improvising and exploring new ways of honoring New England’s architectural traditions. From bowed roofs to flared overhangs, his homes usually have a few unanticipated surprises in store.
“A lot of my designs are atypical in the sense that they’re not as linear as more traditional projects,” says the architect, who established his Newport-based firm, A. Tesa Architecture, in 2011. “Nothing in a natural landscape is rigid or linear, which is why my work encourages a harmonious connection with the site.”
When presented with the opportunity to design a new family home in Carnegie Abbey, the renowned private golf club in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, he knew that tradition with a twist would be in order. “The clients wanted classic architecture on the outside but a more open, functional layout on the inside,” he explains.
The exterior, clad in red cedar shingles and green trim, nods to the historic shingled beauties of nearby Newport and Bar Harbor, Maine. A variety of covered porches and balconies—including an exceptional roof deck—take advantage of the home’s multilayered views: pool, golf course, coastline and Narragansett Bay are just some of the available sights.
“The home’s rear faces southwest and enjoys immaculate sunsets,” says Tesa. “You can actually see sailing races going past and the Newport Bridge in the distance.”
But waterfront living isn’t all that this property has in store. It is sited along Carnegie Abbey’s 18-hole course, overlooking the seventh hole. A third garage bay, complete with an electric charging station, houses carts for quick access to the golf club.
Inside, the kitchen, dining area and family room fulfill the clients’ desire for open-concept living and easy entertaining. The kitchen defies formality with its inviting 12-foot-long island, whose thick mahogany top lends warmth to the cream-colored cabinetry and marble countertops. A striking backsplash lends a punch of coastal-inspired color with blue and gray glass tiles. The kitchen also features an accommodating breakfast nook, whose curved wall of windows overlooks the property’s expansive lawns.
On the opposite end of the ground floor is a cozy living room, where view-seeking windows flank a fireplace and cozy furniture invites reading or TV watching. In between the kitchen and living room is an expansive dining table, which offers plenty of seating when more formal meals are in order.
Hardwood floors of pickled hickory unite the main living areas visually and contribute to their bright, airy feel. Plenty of natural light from the vaulted front entry contributes to the brightness as well. Double sets of French doors extend the main living areas into the outdoors, leading first onto a covered sunporch and then onto the pool’s bluestone terrace.
“The interior is still traditional but its pared-down moldings and profiles and soothing colors give it an overall clean, crisp feel,” says Tesa. “Our goal was to celebrate the outside,” he continues. “When you walk in the front door, you look straight through the dining room to the southwest views. The clients didn’t want the interior to outshine the exterior.”
Knowing full well that guests were in order all summer long, Tesa’s clients wanted plenty of interior spaces where everyone could either mingle, if desired, or unwind alone. The master suite, with its turreted seating area, his and hers walk-in closets, private balcony and expansive bathroom with glassed-in shower and soaking tub, is a spectacular retreat for the owners while five en suite bedrooms provide plenty of private space for guests.
Meanwhile, two dedicated home offices accommodate anyone who needs to plug in and connect. The basement level offers a gym and game room with entertainment center that is equally enticing to both children and adults.
Its interior comforts notwithstanding, the home encourages outdoor living at every turn. Whether the day’s lineup includes a golf game followed by a poolside barbeque, lunch at the golf club or an afternoon of shopping in downtown Newport, there is always something to do and, thanks to the normally occupied guest rooms, there is always someone to invite along.