In a Former Car Garage, a House That Borrows Ideas from a Boat

A mixed-media artwork by Craig Alen hangs in the master bedroom in Barry Hinckley’s Newport home.

When you grow up in the boat building business, you learn how to eke every inch out of a space by necessity. So when Barry Hinckley purchased a former commercial garage in Newport just a block from the harbor, he had an idea or two about maximizing functionality of the bulding – a U-shaped structure built mostly from concrete and glass block – that he planned to transform into his home.

Barry saw past the building’s outdated interiors – it was uninsulated, heated only by wood stoves, and scattered with grease and spare parts – and envisioned a more polished version of the space that would keep its industrial roots but offer plenty of indoor-outdoor living. As a father of two, he knew that play areas for his kids and their friends was essential. And as the founder and president of Yotme, a social networking app that connects party hosts with guests (think: Airbnb for entertaining), he wanted to create flexible space for frequent get-togethers.

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A library ladder offers access to shelving in the garage bay.

Working with architectural designer Mark Fontaine of Newport, Barry developed a concept that would honor the building’s origins, allow him to entertain effortlessly, and put his boatbuilding know-how to work. Since the built structure takes up almost the entire lot, creating functional outdoor “rooms” was essential.

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A courtyard connects the two wings of the house and offers plenty of room for entertaining year round; a trampoline there keeps the kids active in winter months.

To begin with, the design team added a third floor on the main wing that brings the total living area to 6,000 square feet. Next, a courtyard that connects the building’s two long, rectangular boxes was resurfaced with bluestone pavers, transforming it into a central patio with a fire pit, grilling station, outdoor shower, and dining area. To further open up the space, Barry installed sliding-folding doors that open accordion-style along one wall of the main living area to create a seamless indoor-outdoor room. (Barry out the design to the test when he used his own app to invite guests to his fiftieth birthday party – it passed with flying colors.)

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Ephemera and artwork decorates a corner of the garage bay. The painting is by Newport artist Tyler Arment.

At another end of the patio, a glass garage door opens to a large bay that was once used for repairing cars and bikes. The room retains its industrial vibe, only now it’s packed with swings and ping pong tables, as well as couches and a theater-sized projection screen. At the back of the bay, library shelving holds books, duck decoys, model boats, wine, and other treasures, with a library ladder to reach them all. Tucked into a corner is an infrared sauna; above it, a “treehouse” fort gives Barry’s young son and his friends a fun place to play.

For the interiors, Barry and the design team stuck to minimal finishes with high impact; concrete floors were painted a high-gloss navy blue, for example, and stainless-steel marine railings were installed in stairwells. They also choose budget-friendly Ikea cabinetry for kitchen cupboards, various storage areas, and even a custom bed frame. For kitchen countertops, granite from Home Depot was specified. As on a boat, individual rooms are adequately sized, but not huge. “It’s all about creative, efficient living” says the homeowner.

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A view of the garage bay looking toward the main living area includes various seating arrangements, a ping pong table, and a large projection screen.

Barry’s homage to his family heritage – his grandfather founded the renowned boat building operation the Hinckley Company – continues with cherry floors. They’re a tribute to his dad, who was among the first in the industry to successfully switch away from teak for yacht interiors in the 1980s.

Ultimately, the house accommodates its competing needs with grace. Regardless of the lot’s tight footprint and lack of lawn, there’s plenty of room for kids and adults to mingle comfortably and have fun. “I wanted to break all the rules for building a house and how people live,” says Barry. “I don’t have a lot of land, but it’s a very efficient use of space.”

Photography by Caroline Goddard. Thank you to Tyler Arment for her help with styling this shoot!

Architectural designer: Mark Fontaine of Mark Fontaine Custom Home Design | Sliding-folding doors: Sunflex, through Specified Building Products | Custom marine railings by Little Rhody Railings

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Barry Hinckley stokes the wood stove while entertaining a few friends.

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Art, memorabilia, antiques, and more are all on display. The paintings are by Tyler Arment, who lives in Newport.

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Barry built a “treehouse” fort for his son to play in. A ladder gets kids in; they can slide down a fire pole to exit.

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There’s plenty of room to swing in the garage bay; in warmer weather, the glass door rolls up, connecting the space to the courtyard patio.

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Diamond-plate aluminum was used in kitchens and bathrooms for its durability and to connect the house with its industrial roots. An artwork by Craig Alan hangs above the dining area.

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A south-facing wall of sliding doors allows the kitchen and great room to open entirely to the patio, making it ideal for indoor-outdoor living and entertaining.

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Barry chose cherry for stairwells and the upper-story floors as a tribute to his father, who was among the first boatbuilders to use the the material for yachts in the 1980s.

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Circulation areas and bedrooms were purposefully designed to be flooded with bright light, as were bathrooms; the translucent blue glass-block wall is the back of the kids’ shower. The painting in the foreground is another colorful piece by Tyler Arment.

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The master bath features curvilinear circulation that mimics the lines of the tub and shower. Abundant use of glass block allows light to flow from one side of the building to another and honors the original structure.

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A drawing by Buckminster Fuller leans against a wall in the master bedroom. The polyglot was a client of Barry’s father, and drew the image for Barry when he was a boy.

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Barry decided to keep many of the interior finishes simple. Here, a bed frame was constructed out of 18 Ikea drawers, which adds copious storage to his daughter’s snug bedroom. The headboard is from Overstock.

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Related links:

Small Space Living, Big Family Fun in Newport’s Fifth Ward
In a Modern Loft, the Touch of History
A Seaside Cottage Designed for Family and Art

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.

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