From the street, Linda Lee Butler and Ken Alves’s 1940s bungalow in Portsmouth looks like any charming seaside home. But the cottage’s facade belies its lively and spacious interior. Filled with various collections and artworks and decorated in a blue and white color scheme, the unique home is alive with a beautiful and eclectic mashup of antique furniture, paintings, seashells, porcelain, and much more.
Linda, who at various times has worked in graphic design, marketing, interior design, and as a fine artist, pulled out her irrepressible design skills to open up walls, install waterside windows, and build an addition that gives the once-tiny house more elbow room, without compromising its original character.
The result is a floor plan that features a roomy kitchen with living areas off of both sides, all with gorgeous views of Mt. Hope Bridge and the bay. A garage was transformed into a bright artists’ studio, where Linda and her two adult sons, Kenny Alves and Ryan Alves, have plenty of space to paint large-scale works. Though the boys maintain their own residences, the trio can often be found together painting in this space, which they dubbed Hopewind Studio.
Taking a cue from sea and sky, Linda brought multiple shades of blue into the interior. The various hues, which she refers to as “New England” blues, play beautifully together and shift subtly from room to room and as the light outside changes.“What can I say?” says Linda with a shrug and a smile. “I like blue!”
Linda is an unapologetic collector – antique toys, vintage type writers, baseball gloves, porcelain, shells, and sea glass have all been given a place. “I have an obsession – it’s a disease really – with antique stores,” she says, poking fun at herself. She’s a maximalist, yes, but the treasures are mindfully laid out; there’s no clutter here. Objects are placed with a curatorial eye and displayed as purposeful vignettes as if in a miniature museum.
Of all the collections, though, what Linda and her husband are most proud of are their artworks by local talent. Linda’s knowledge – and appreciation – of them is astounding. In the den – effectively a gallery dedicated to these works – family and art collide once again, with personal photographs amassed on various tables, and portraits of her sons on the walls. Painted by Tom Deininger, they hang among other works by artists such as by Dora Milliken, Charles Dwyer, David Barnes, John Stephan, and Linda herself.
Linda speaks about each artist with admiration, insight, and genuine fondness. “To me, David Barnes and Tom Deininger are the best living Rhode Island painters,” she says. “I’m so happy my sons have a friendship with Tom, because he’s such a mentor. He’s close to genius.”
She knows the biography of each – where they studied and how their styles developed. Some she’s known personally, like John Stephan, who was a contemporary of Mark Rothko and whose work also hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “I think I might use all my savings and buy a big painting of his!” she says with a dreamy lilt to her voice.
Artwork has even made it’s way into the powder room, where a seascape mural was painted on the walls, its horizon carefully placed at the same height as it appears outside. Art spills into in the kitchen as well, where antique portraits live in harmony with contemporary still lifes, and marine paintings hang on shuttered doors that lead into the living room.
Here, Linda added a new custom mantel over the original beach stone fireplace, which has become the room’s focal point. Above it hangs one of her serene landscapes; another faces it on the opposite wall.
Various seating areas are arranged in the rectangular living room, and, continuing with the blue and white scheme, furnishings here are upholstered in neutrals or stripes, and accented with patterned accessories, such as the shibori-dyed mudcloths that cover two wing chairs. The neutral furnishings function something like a gallery wall, providing a consistent backdrop for the collage of antiques, books, artworks, and objets d’art that are frequently moved around. As the light and seasons change, of course, so do the artist’s mood and eye. It’s that creative motion – as unstoppable as time or tide – that fills this room, and the entire house, with layers of enduring vitality.
Photographs by Meg Heriot.