Sara and Steve Sheally have built the home of their dreams at Gerald’s Farm.By Janice Randall Rohlf | Photography by Sara Zarrella
As a professional photographer, Sara Zarrella has a keen eye for color and composition. She is also very detail oriented. All of these attributes came into play when, as newlyweds two years ago, she and her husband, Steve Sheally, decided to build their own home. It also was a plus that Sara’s parents, Debbi and Jerry Zarrella, own Zarrella Development Corporation and Gerald’s Farm in Exeter, Rhode Island, 36 acres of pastoral fields, maintained lawn, stone walls, ponds and streams.
In this idyllic private setting surrounded by woodlands, the Sheallys’ house perches invitingly on a knoll. Debbi Zarrella, the general contractor and designer for the project, explains that “[the house] is sited to maximize the panoramic views from both inside the house and from the wraparound deck.” The red cedar-shingled structure is modeled after one the couple saw on Block Island and, says Sara, it is similar to their previous house but much larger, allowing the couple to entertain in a more accommodating fashion.
With four large bedrooms, one a master suite, and an open floor plan, the home has a lot of volume, which, Debbi notes, makes it seem bigger than its 4,000 square feet. An overpass connecting Sara’s well-appointed, two-story photography studio to the main house is an arrangement designed to keep her always within earshot of her two young daughters. There is a separate entrance for clients.
Petite but driven, Sara is often inspired to redecorate. Accordingly, she chose a neutral color palette for everything permanent in the house, against which she can frequently change up the non-permanent decorative items like pillows, rugs and art. Painted for the most part using whites and grays, the house is very calming. “We used a lot of tinted white paints from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams,” says Sara, pointing out that the predominant shade is Sherwin Williams’ “Crushed Ice.”
Along with her predilection for neutrals, Sara has an aversion to clutter. To keep household disorder at bay, in the kitchen there are custom cabinets outfitted with specially designed spice racks and knife holders (Steve’s the cook in the family), and there are other cabinets to hide the coffee maker and for stashing keys and mail. Custom cabinet fronts camouflage the TV and the dishwasher, while a microwave oven is tucked into the vertical-grain white oak island. Even the family’s two pugs benefit from bespoke touches: their dog crate is built into a wall of the mudroom.
With a home designed for entertaining, Sara and Steve host frequent gatherings for family and friends. A large salvaged wood, trestle-style table from Restoration Hardware seats 10 in the kitchen, where there is also a wet bar outfitted with drawers to conceal wine, mixers and other cocktail party essentials. Adjacent to the nine-foot-high kitchen is a sunken living room two feet taller, with windows on three sides and a gas fireplace on the other.
Throughout, says Sara, she “wanted rustic mixed with a modern, up-to-date look.” All flooring is white oak with a whitewashed, custom stain; walls in the master bath are ceramic tile that mimics wood; the “stone” mudroom tile is actually porcelain; and all molding has been kept simple. Metal-toned fabrics often shimmer in the sunlight, like the linen living room drapes, custom made by Susanne St. Pierre of SSP Designs, that puddle at the hem and echo details of the chandelier. Window-seat cushions and several accent pillows in the home are custom fabrications from Betsy Convery at Sew Many Things.
Gerald’s Farm grows hay and sunflowers and sells firewood. The main driveway is lined with spring-flowering crabapple trees, and pink roses climb a split-rail fence in summer. Fall foliage is beautiful, too. In fact the property is so picturesque, it’s no surprise that couples can rent its carriage house for weddings. That’s where Sara and Steve were married, but unlike everyone else who ties the knot here, they don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.