A Seaside Cottage Designed for Family and Art

House Tour Portsmouth RI Butler cottage-2 copy

A painting by Linda Lee Butler hangs in her living room above a seating area upholstered with neutral textiles.

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.

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Removing a porch opened up room in the kitchen for a large area with banquette seating and beautiful views. Linda had the French country–style table custom made to fit the space.

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!”

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Linda and her sons, Kenny Alves and Ryan Alves, frequently paint in the home’s converted garage, which has become Hopewind Studio. The painting at left is by Kenny; the others are by Ryan.

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.

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The cottage’s den – an addition to the original structure – features an impressive collection of prominent local artists. The atmospheric landscape to the right of the mirror is by Linda.

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.

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The den functions like a gallery; hanging, from left to right, are paintings by Charles Dwyer, David Barnes, and John Stephan, who was a contemporary of Mark Rothko.

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.

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The roomy, rectangular kitchen has utilities and storage tucked into one end and seating at the other. In between, there’s plenty of room for a display of porcelain and artwork. The geometric blue and white wallpaper is by Farrow & Ball.

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.

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The interior designer kept the cottage’s original beach stone fireplace, but added a new custom mantle. She also painted the seascape above. The wing chairs are from Restoration Hardware.

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.

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The studio is spacious enough to allow mother and sons work on multiple large scale pieces at the same time.

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Linda sits in her sunny home office.

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A painting by Kenny Alves hangs in the studio.

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The powder room’s mural reflects the seascape outside.

sea shells and sea glass in jars

Shells and sea glass collected from a nearby beach are as precious to Linda as many of her antique collections.

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Antiques and art are on display in the den. The portrait at left of Ryan was painted by Tom Deininger.

antique sideboard with delft and blown glass

Linda commissioned the hand-blown glass cups from artist Eben Horton.

house-tour-portsmouth-ri-butler-cottage kitchen with french country table

Sea shells and glass orbs are corralled in a wire basket on the kitchen table.

wampum and shells in a dish

Bit of clam shells and coordinating sea glass sit pretty in a dish.

house-tour-portsmouth-ri-butler-cottage living room with shibori mudcloth

In the living room, an abstract expressionist painting by Linda sits between two wingback chairs accessorized with shibori mudcloths.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

1 Comment

  • Reply January 18, 2017

    Green Energy Audits

    Thanks for the great share about Home Design! It is much more convenient if you have a home more energy efficient, comfortable and safe to live in.

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