To see this story with its original layout in the digital edition of Design New England, click here.
“What’s not to love about Bevins?” asks Abigail Campbell-King, a modern-day architect who considers herself lucky to be living in an 1888 house designed by Charles L. Bevins, the architect known as Jamestown, Rhode Island’s Shingle Style master. “In the late 19th century, Bevins designed houses for the Whartons, Biddles, and Searses, and naval post–Civil War staff summering in Jamestown to escape the heat of Washington, D.C.,” says Campbell-King.
The property, which Campbell-King purchased in 2000, is called Meadowside, a reference to the farmlands and meadows that once existed just inland from Jamestown’s harbor. The name didn’t mean a thing to her when, as a sailing enthusiast looking to relocate from the Boston area, she first saw the house. Rather, she was taken with the original details, including the front hall’s paneled wainscot, sunburst-adorned wooden archway, and applied-moulding stairway details.
“I like to think when I walked in the door, I could tell someone with great design skill had created the house,” says Campbell-King, whose own practice is in Jamestown. “Many of Bevins’s houses have the stair hall on the west so that the light of the Jamestown sunset falls into the space. He must have known that — he lived here and was aware of the wonderful light you get on a small island in the morning and evening.”
As intriguing as the house was, it needed work. On the plus side were the architectural details in nearly every room, particularly in the front hall, which includes the stairway, fireplace, and enough room for a center table that Campbell-King keeps stacked with books. Just through a beautiful wooden archway, where original pocket doors still operate, stands the beautifully detailed living room, whose centerpiece is an ornamented fireplace niche. But there was one design hiccup, says Campbell-King. “There were several layers of paint on the woodwork—including turquoise blue, red, and white. I sanded and painted everything white to accentuate the trim details.”
She had the original red pine floors refinished, added random-width pine floors to the kitchen, where many layers of linoleum had lurked, and removed the ceiling of her second-floor master bedroom to expose the beams and create a vaulted space overhead. Otherwise, the footprint of the two-story, three-bedroom, 3,200-square-foot house was left as it was.
Campbell-King, who originally studied painting before pursuing a master’s degree in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has practiced residential architecture for nearly 30 years, wanted the house to be more open to the outdoors and the view to Jamestown’s harbor and the Pell Bridge, which becomes a twinkling span of lights at night.
She wanted to replace the small windows in the first-floor rooms at the back of the house, which faced the biggest part of the yard, with glass doors. However, there was a 6-foot drop to the ground. “My architectural work is all about how space flows from the house to the garden,” says Campbell-King, “so I got to work.” She devised a plan that included three levels of landscaping. The top level, even with the first floor, includes a mahogany deck and a bluestone patio with freestanding pergola. Sliding glass doors lead from the living room to the outside space, which in summertime is protected by a canvas.
A few steps down, another patio features a loose pattern of random-size bluestone pieces that allow soft accents of moss and lemon thyme to grow around them. Here, at a small garden table, is where Campbell-King often enjoys a morning cup of coffee while taking in the view.
The lowest level lies at the foot of a set of stone corner steps that Campbell-King calls her homage to 19th-century British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. This area has the biggest expanse of lawn, perfect for Campbell-King’s four grandchildren, ages 2 to 11, to roll around or throw a Frisbee.
Planted throughout the 100-by-100-foot yard are Campbell-King’s favorite flowers and trees — hydrangeas, lavender, nasturtiums, flowering cherry trees, Japanese red maples, and Leland cypress. There is now so much outdoor living space, not to mention inspiring views of the harbor and bridge, that it is hard to imagine it otherwise. “I opened the house to the landscape and brought the landscape to the house,” says Campbell-King.
Her affection for the house that Bevins filled with rich interior details and masterly spaces has only been heightened over time. “The woodwork, the pocket doors, the front hall, the living-room fireplace wall, the view of the water,” she says, recalling the things that first appealed to her, “that was it for me, and still is. You know it when you see it.”