In recent years my wife and I have had the good fortune to savor vacation homes in beguiling places: a coastal hillside in northern Portugal; the French island Belle Ile en Mer, off the coast of Brittany; and the spring-green countryside of the Netherlands.
Last summer, in August, we found ourselves in yet another – this one a mere 13 miles off the Rhode Island coast, but as charming – and uniquely so – as any we’ve experienced. It is called the Captain Amazon Littlefield House, and sits in yellow-shingled, late 19th-century, Queen Anne-style elegance on Block Island.
This is Block Island sheltered from the daily summer crush of bathers and cyclists, cars and mopeds, yachts and ferries. Serenity, to be sure, is not terribly difficult to secure on this modest and lovely island, which is 7 miles long and 3 miles wide, and boasts 17 miles of beaches. Many a shingled home is set back off the narrow roads, surrounded by manicured lawns and gardens, and perched on a gentle hill or knoll. Summer rentals are as much the custom as harbor side cocktails.
But the historic Amazon Littlefield House, along Corn Neck Road at the northern end of the island, affords extraordinary pleasures, both inside and out. Built in 1888–89, it sits across from the dirt road leading to Clay Head, where nature paths open to vistas of wide ocean by the North Light and its dune-shouldered, sandy beaches.
A tall privet hedge keeps Corn Neck Road at bay. Behind it, a grand, wrap-around porch is outfitted with wicker rockers and requisite breezes, and a rolling lawn meanders to a historic cemetery in the distance. In the backyard, a stone terrace supports al fresco dining and drinks, an outdoor shower, and a nightly showcase of unblemished sunsets and galaxies of stars and planets and – there goes one! – satellites.
Inside, the owners – two graphic designers and an architect – have meticulously decorated the downstairs living and dining rooms, rustic kitchen, and upstairs bedrooms with a veritable museum of period furniture, stuffed birds, mounted butterflies, century-old glass bottles, paintings, books, shells, stones, corals, animal skeletons, bowls, vases, and other Victorian knickknacks. Also well stocked are always the breezes, thanks to an architectural design enabling ample cross ventilation.
It would hardly be a sacrifice to stay nestled in and around this island idyll, lazing amidst the marjoram and lavender, ornamental grasses and beach plum, ancient apple trees and blackberry thickets. But Block Island is beaches, after all. Block Island is hiking trails and cycling and lighthouses. It is the rush of anticipation departing a ferry in the Old Harbor in a clutter of cars and bikes and day-trippers, and it is evening toasts relaxing on white Adirondack chairs on the sprawling lawn at the Atlantic Inn and on the placid sloping lawns of the Spring House, or flush against the dockside hubbub at Payne’s and The Oar.
A week on Block, in the airy embrace of the distinctively yellow-shingled Amazon Littlefield House, is indeed being transported to a place apart, and, as it happens, close to home.
All photos by Maaike Bernstrom Photography. Click on any image to launch the gallery.