This Quonnie Beach House is a Blue Heaven

Text by Meaghan O’Neill Photography by Tria Giovan Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent

In the late 1880s, the village of Quonochontaug— “Quonnie” to locals—became a popular resort for its beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere. Today, its vintage charm remains. “It’s an old-fashioned summer community,” says Courtenay Berckemeyer, a seasonal resident. When she and her husband, Ricardo, discovered the Charlestown, Rhode Island, neighborhood more than a decade ago, they knew they’d found their perfect summer spot. But as their family of six grew—their four kids are now aged twenty-three to fifteen—so did their needs. When a generous corner lot came on the market, they traded in their starter beach house for the opportunity to build from the ground up.

Architect George Penniman’s first challenge was to develop a structure that would maximize the lot and take advantage of natural light and views. The solution was an L-shaped building with varying roof lines and dormers that break up the exterior masses, “making it feel more cottage-like,” Penniman says. With architectural plans and a trusted builder, Randy Gardner of Gardner Woodwrights, in place, the group tackled the next obstacle: strict local regulations stipulated that no construction could take place during summer months, leaving less than a year to build the 5,400-square-foot residence.

After framing was completed in the fall, interior designer Patti Watson, principal and owner of Taste, joined the team, just before electricians, plumbers, and other trade specialists arrived. “We were hired in the nick of time,” says Watson, who worked fast to develop plans to “amp up the personalization” that would fulfill the Berckemeyers’ dream vacation home without creating construction delays.

Since programming for the five-bedroom house revolves around its gathering spaces, the double-island kitchen and breakfast nook, living room, and patio are aligned and defined with arched doorways that keep them open yet cozy. Among the family’s favorite spots is a breezy sunroom that feels as if it was once a porch that’s been enclosed. Says Catherine Young, associate architect at Penniman, “It helps make it look like a house that evolved over time.”

“It’s such a quiet, comfortable room,” says Berckemeyer, who emerged victorious in the playful battle with her family to keep a television out of the space. “I haven’t heard anyone complain yet!”

Berckemeyer surprised herself by gravitating away from the warmer colors she’s typically drawn to and toward a cooler palette. The combination of blues and teals used throughout paved the way for more contemporary and mixed-metallic finishes, explains Watson. Further details, such as a porthole-style window between kitchen and sunroom, built-in cabinetry with a circular motif, and orb-shaped lighting also “tie spaces together to bring a story to the house,” the designer says.

While the home’s thoughtful layout and decor are stunning, it may be the main stairway’s newel—the gratifying result of a collaboration between the interior and architectural teams—that best sums up the project. “It’s historically grounded in the New England vernacular, but clean and well edited,” says Watson.

Traditional but pared down, it symbolizes the elegant but unfussy flow of the family-friendly home. “The house just sings,” says Berckemeyer of her family’s retreat. “It all carries from one room to the next.”

Architecture: George Penniman and Catherine Young, Penniman Architects
Interior design: Patti Watson and Wendi Dicely-Scalora, Taste
Builder: Randy Gardner, Gardner Woodwrights
Landscape design: Anne Penniman Associates

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