Small Space Living, Big Family Fun in Newport’s Fifth Ward

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Dark blue stripes and whimsical art hung gallery style make a statement in the entry of Miles and Antena David’s Newport home. The owl eyes were painted by Miles.

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.

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Removing a wall between the kitchen and dining room improved sight lines and gathering spaces in the 1,100-square foot apartment.

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.

You might also like: Minimalism and Nostalgia in a Colonial Home in Newport

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The dining room’s teak table brings a sense of casual sophistication to the sunny space. The bullseye painting is by Miles.

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.

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In the living room, contractor Ben Wilcox of Wilcox Custom Woodworking crafted built-in cabinetry that creates a focal point and anchors the space. He also updated existing and added new cabinetry in the apartment’s kitchen.

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.

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A painting by Whitney Kreb hangs in the master bedroom. Raw-edge wooden bedside tables add texture to the pristine room.

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.”

You might also like: In a Modern Loft, the Touch of History

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The couple tucked a desk into the corner of the living room to create an office nook; a gallery wall above it gives the space its own identity but also connects with décor throughout.

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.

Sources:
Kitchen and living room cabinetry: Wilcox Custom Woodworking

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A lively display of artwork in the kitchen features a mix of media, eras, and themes. The silkscreened Reagan bumper stickers are part of a vintage collection.

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Books, family photos, and sculptural objects are personal touches that bring coziness to the living room.

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An oil painting and a Danish cork lamp – an eBay find – bring patina and charm to the living room’s white canvas.

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The couple maximized functionality in the kitchen by carving storage – such as a wine rack and a spice cabinet – out of previously unused spaces.

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An existing built-in cupboard was dressed up with two shades of blue paint and transformed into a bar.

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Two loft beds with built-in storage and desks provide the couple’s daughters with private sleep and work spaces in their shared bedroom.

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Orange accents in the girls’ bedroom refer to pops of color in the entry.

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A nook in the entry houses a tiny table with sunglasses at the ready.

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Toys for the family’s labrador retriever are tucked into a basket in the living room.

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Glass doors can be shut to divide the living and dining rooms, but even closed, the airiness of the light-filled space stays in tact. Miles found the appropriate antique hardware for the doors at Eagle’s Nest Antique Center in Portsmouth, RI.

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White Ikea seating brings a modern sensibility to the dining room’s cottage-y vibe.

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A collection of vintage canes, racquets, and polo mallets make a preppy statement in brass umbrella stand.

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A tattered burgee teeming with David family history hangs in the bathroom.

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An artist’s model with a sense of humor sits on the mantel in the living room.

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The sunny back staircase offers a tidy spot for storage.

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Even the hooks are considered: Hats – a pith helmet among them – hang on antlers in the back staircase.

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Stacked logs bring tactile, if figurative, warmth to the living room.

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In the sunny back stairway, the Davids display more of Miles’s bumper sticker collection.

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The living room’s leather club chairs offer a comfy spot to sit.

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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