Only one thing was certain when Miles and Antena David sold their home in Newport: They wanted to find a bigger space. But as offers on other houses fell through and their own closing loomed, they began to consider a rental unit. It wasn’t where they expected to land, but an apartment was open in a three-family house that they’d recently purchased as an investment property.
With two young daughters and a big yellow lab, downsizing hadn’t crossed their minds. But the Fifth Ward neighborhood they’d be moving to had perks – it was just a few blocks from the harbor, a handful of great parks, and some good friends. Plus, it offered a garage, which their previous 1,950-square-foot residence didn’t.
The space needed work, however. “It was pretty rental apartment-y when we bought it,” says Miles, who wanted to make the unit homey and comfortable without over-improving. So prior to to move-in day, the couple began transforming the 1,100 square foot apartment into something the family could call home.
The first order of business was opening up the floor plan, so a wall was removed between the kitchen and dining areas. An antique wooden barn beam was installed in the ceiling to delineate the two rooms without taking up visual space. Kitchen cabinets were preserved but gussied up, including the addition of new hardware. The couple also added countertop space, and further maximized storage by adding a tall, pull-out cupboard next to the fridge, while a wine rack was carved out the dead space in a corner.
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Living without a washer and dryer was out of the question, so the Davids tweaked a small utility closet to fit a stacked pair, which is hidden in plain sight behind a door in the dining room. Here, an existing built in cupboard with glass doors was transformed into the bar. An outdoor teak dining table (it doubles as a ping pong surface on game night) was paired with matching teak and white Ikea chairs and an oversized burlap pendant, adding a sense of casual sophistication.
With the sightline now open from kitchen to living room, floors were refinished and walls throughout were painted in Sherwin Williams‘s Pure White with a matte finish; trim was painted the same color, but in a higher gloss. Creating a cohesive canvas for the bright, sunny space allowed rooms to flow seamlessly into one another.
In the living room, the homeowners added built-in cabinetry – which serves to anchor the space and creates a focal point even from the kitchen – and filled it with books, sculptural objects, and family photos. A camel-colored sectional, leather club chairs, and Danish cork lamps add warmth to the bright room. Contemporary furnishings such as a storage chest used as a side table add utility, while seascape paintings, curated vintage objects, and logs stacked in a non-working fireplace create balance and add patina.
To maximize space in the girls’ shared bedroom, Miles and Tena used Ikea loft beds with desks and storage underneath, giving each their own space for homework and clothing. “It took us two full days to assemble them,” says Tena with a laugh, “but it works!” In the master bedroom, the couple added an antique wardrobe and trunks for storage; raw-edge wooden bedside tables add a texture to the otherwise crisp space.
Functionality may have been paramount to the apartment’s redesign, but it doesn’t detract from the space’s form. The décor is rife with personal, familial touches that make this house a home. In the bathroom, for example, hangs a framed tattered burgee – the custom flag was flown on the boat Miles used with his family as a child. In the entry – perhaps the apartment’s pièce de resistance – Miles painstakingly painted navy stripes on the walls. He then hung artwork by his daughters and a friend, the artist Whitney Kreb, alongside his own work. That a faux zebra head hangs above them all only adds to the apartment’s refined whimsy.
Artwork throughout plays an important role, adding energy and playfulness to the space. Miles, who paints fine art as a hobby, has a penchant for concentric rings and collecting vintage bumper stickers, and a series of both appear throughout – a large bullseye-like painting is the focal point in the dining area. Nearby on the same wall, three framed Ronald Reagan bumper stickers are less a political statement than a visual one. Miles was so drawn to the colors of the silk-screened prints, he says, “that I went back to buy four more.”
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Minimizing living space for the family of four was a challenge that required serious determination as well as design savvy, which Miles attributes to his time at boarding school. “You’d be in this 8-by-10 room and just keep adding to it all year,” he says. Like his dorm rooms, the apartment’s design requires ongoing effort. “It’s a work in progress,” he adds. “You’re always moving something around, especially in small spaces.”
Ultimately, the experience of downsizing has left a positive impression. The opportunity to be creative was a fun challenge, says Tena, but it also had a philosophical impact. “The biggest thing I learned is how nice a small space is for our family spending time together,” she reflects. “You realize that you don’t need much at all.”
Photography by Caroline Goddard.
Kitchen and living room cabinetry: Wilcox Custom Woodworking