Steel Beauty

Steel Beauty

Custom Home Magazine 2004

Meghan Drueding

This second home on the southern coast of Rhode Island may be the newest remodel you’ll ever see. Its New Jersey-based owners wanted to tear down their old house altogether, but current environmental laws prohibit new construction on their waterside property. In order for the home to qualify as a remodel and thus pass muster with the coastal commission, they had to leave the existing foundation and steel frame in place.

The situation posed challenges for both builder Randy Gardner and architect Chris Schmitt. The original drawings of the house were somewhat sketchy, so Gardner and his crew had to figure out much of the teardown process as they went along. “We did a lot of exploratory work,” he says. “The hardest part was that so much was unknown. The frame had actually twisted a lot in the 20 years since it was built.” Because of the original frame’s torquing, Gardner worked with an engineer to straighten out and reinforce it, using mostly steel and some LVLs.

For his part, Schmitt had to design the new house around the existing frame, and its parameters kept shifting as Gardner and his crew found more irregularities. But he managed to create a four-story, octagonal plan that satisfies the clients’ social, family, and work-related requirements. “Their old house was a family house where they raised their kids,” he says. “Now they needed an empty nester house, where they could do more entertaining and spend more time in the off-season.” So he opened up the first floor, blurring the boundaries between the living and dining areas. The entry foyer contains plenty of storage for coats and other items dinner guests might bring. And extensive decks make the most of spectacular water views.

The ground floor holds bedrooms and baths for the owners’ four children and numerous grandchildren. It’s also home to a 10,000-bottle commercial wine cooler that had been intended as temporary storage during the 15-month construction period. The cooler worked so well that Schmitt designed a new wine cellar to accommodate it. A master suite and widow’s walk take up the second and third floors.

Though the house is a vacation residence, it’s by no means a summer-only kind of place. It’s designed and built to keep out cold New England winters, giving the owners the option of eventually living there all year round. Lead-coated copper flashing and roofs and impact-resistant glass stand up to the elements. Radiant-floor heat and spray-in foam insulation justify their costs by making the home “incredibly energy efficient,” according to Gardner. And a getaway wouldn’t be complete without his-and-hers offices, at least not to these clients. “They’re both very active in their retirement with community and charity commitments,” says Schmitt. “Part of a vacation to them is being able to keep up with all the things they do.”

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