Creative Renovation

Creative Renovation

One Saunderstown family looks to reinvent an impractical floor plan without abandoning period charm

Posted December 20, 2011

Andrea E. McHugh

Fourteen years ago, Dr. Sandy Musial and Dr. Jon Bertman fell for a charming Dutch Colonial overlooking Narragansett Bay’s West Passage in the village of Saunderstown in North Kingstown. As years went by and their family grew to include two sons, various spaces adopted new uses, including the three-season porch turned playroom. Through the years, modifications were made including an eventual addition to the home, which provided the space for Jon to have a much needed home office. Their bedroom, in turn, became the master suite they always wanted.

Still, Sandy and Jon could see that the ground floor had inadvertently assumed an awkward traffic pattern. Visitors entering the home had to cut through the kitchen to reach the living spaces, and the floor plan simply neglected the enviable views afforded by the nearby bay. It may have made sense when the home was built more than 80 years ago, but it was no longer compatible for this millennium. “We lived with it for a very long time,” says Sandy, with a sigh.

The couple turned to Ramona Rodger and Barry Gano of Lifestyle Designs for an elegant – albeit functional – solution. “[The floor plan] was very broken up… the kitchen was divided in an odd way,” concedes Ramona. “We needed to establish a vision and a sight line.”

The kitchen became the cornerstone of the project, which was spearheaded by local contractor Gardner Woodwrights, LLC. Ramona sought out a kitchen island that would not only serve as a workstation and storage area with added counter space, but also as an informal dining area for the busy family. “We created seating on all sides of the island so it also serves as the kitchen table,” she says.

“The island in the middle really changed the pattern,” notes Sandy. “We were really excited to change it.”

Walls were knocked down, samples were coming in and out of the home and paint swatches soon became commonplace in the bustling construction zone. “Everything kind of grows when you do a renovation,” says Sandy, laughing. The project took an unexpected twist when the family decided to indulge son Max’s passion for marine life and incorporated a large saltwater aquarium into the kitchen space, blending it with the newly created motif by surrounding it with matching cabinetry. He had a small aquarium in his bedroom, but the larger kitchen aquarium features stunningly vibrant fish including “Nemo” clown fish, shrimp, various corals, crabs, snails and more. “It’s a whole reef eco-system,” she explains. “It’s really cool.” Thankfully, Sandy says she doesn’t lift a finger when it comes to maintenance, as Max attends to it each day. Its automation based design also lessens the need for human maintenance.

“I could sit there and watch for hours and hours, it’s so beautiful,” adds Ramona. Of course, making things beautiful is her specialty, so when it came to choosing cabinet finishes, countertop surfaces, a backsplash and other key elements, the designer wanted to ensure the family’s taste would be reflected throughout. “I wanted it to have the look and feel of the original house,” Sandy says, referring to when it was first built in 1925.


The couple chose off-white Candlelight Cabinetry in Antique English Linen that was painted, glazed and sanded ever so lightly to create a distressed look. “Ramona talked me into getting the complementing cabinet fronts on the refrigerator. You can see it from the living room, so it’s nice and streamlined.” For the countertops, the family chose dense soapstone, which Sandy notes is an often overlooked surface. Due to its non-porous mineral composition, the surface is impervious to heat and naturally stain and burn proof. Keeping the environment in mind, as this family often does (all of the old appliances, cabinetry and building materials were recycled, reused or resold), soapstone can also be used in its most natural state; it does not require a chemical sealer like other raw materials do. Ramona recommended a sea glass backsplash made up of micro-blocks in various hues of matte blue, green and grey to complement the soapstone. “It picks up the darkness of the countertop and doesn’t look too dissociated [from the overall look of the space],” she explains. The builder also created custom recycling chutes in the window bay so that recycled items can go directly from the kitchen to exterior bins – “a convenient and practical addition,” says Sandy.

Reclaimed chestnut barn floorboards were used for the raised island countertop and custom dining room table made by Deschenes and Cooper Architectural Millwork, located just over the Connecticut border. “I think that is my favorite part of the kitchen,” Sandy says of the woodwork pieces. To highlight the island and add both much-needed lighting and an artistic element, a trio of hand-blown custom glass pendant lights from Thames Street Glass illuminate the space. A coordinating light, slightly varied in shape, hangs over the sink. A Wolf cook top with a built-in griddle and pop-up downdraft vent eliminates the need for a bulky hood above the stove, which suits Sandy and Jon’s amateur chef sons quite nicely.

Sandy had her fingers crossed that underneath the existing tile floor there may be original hardwoods. Though they had to plow through an added layer of outdated linoleum, the wood flooring was indeed intact and was refinished for a thoroughly classic look and feel.


The newly redesigned and redefined dining space, once the enclosed porch, celebrates the elements with windows offering panoramic views of glistening Narragansett Bay. An exterior wrap-around porch makes toasting the striking view in the warm summer air even more extraordinary. For this busy family of four, reinvented spaces that honor a rich history promise a home that will move with them into the future.