Called The Playhouse, the building began life serving the 1902 Wild-acre mansion next door. The captivating location just a few feet from
the lapping water of Prices Neck Cove, an inlet of the Atlantic along
Ocean Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, gave the structure its utility
as a boathouse but also exposed it to years of water damage.
When homeowners David and JoAnn Vieau fell for the building in
2010, The Playhouse was on its own ½-acre property, having long been
independent from the Irving Gill-designed mansion and its sprawling
grounds. Converted to a house by previous owners but unoccupied for
a spell, The Playhouse was in need of attention.
The couple — he’s a renewable-energy executive, she’s an interior designer — knew it would be challenging. “We had already done
two carriage house restorations in Newport, but the chance to be near
the water was irresistible, and we were committed no matter what the
obstacles,” says JoAnn, who turned to Middletown, Rhode Island,
builder David Jenkins of Jenkins Construction to do the rebuild.
Jenkins recalls the challenge with a no-nonsense assessment: “The
house was pretty much collapsing. Between the bugs, animals, weather,
and water, it was rotting away.”
Although the Vieaus initially thought they would mainly need to
focus on interior spaces to make the structure a gathering place for
their family, which includes three married daughters and four young
grandchildren, the team first had to address site work and structural
Part stone boathouse, part wooden
carriage house, the quirky structure’s
history and location were both its
allure and its damnation.
homeowner and designer JoAnn Vieau (above left) stands at the new
Dutch-door side entry. The pool and patio area (above right) that overlook
the cove are the main entertaining and play zones. The pool was an existing
element given a new travertine surround. The cedar pergola and cypress doors
accent the entry from patio to dining room, while an extra cedar beam does
double duty as a garden bench. Viewed from the ledge along the cove, the
property (facing page, bottom) includes a grassy area for storing boats, a
new breakwater, the main house, and a rebuilt garage with guest quarters.