clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Idea House 2017 | A Day at the Rhode Island Beach House

Work is under way at our 2017 Idea House in Rhode Island, where traditional architectural features combine with modern building techniques to create a family home with a relaxed coastal sensibility

Day at the Beach House

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

As builder Jeff Sweenor does a lap around the job site in East Matunuck, Rhode Island, he points out some of the iconic New England architectural features that are emerging on TOH’s 2017 Idea House: an eyebrow window, shingled roofline sweeps, a pair of gambrel roofs, a wraparound porch. Even better, to his mind, is the house’s dual personality. “There’s a great combination of old-style architecture and modern building techniques and materials,” says Sweenor.

Shown: Sweenor Builders crew members do porch and trim work on all three levels of the 2017 Idea House, with an assist from a basket crane.

House wrap, roof underlayment: GCP

Exterior trim: Lifespan Solid Select

Classic Rendered

Illustration by Union Studio Architecture and Community Design

For instance, while he is using pine for all the exterior trim—traditional on New England houses—this particular type has been developed to have new attributes. Called radiata pine, it is specially treated to be more moisture-resistant. Grown from saplings that are pruned every year to eliminate knots, the harvested pine is pressure-treated in a solvent-based preservative (versus water-based ones that make other pressure-treated pine quite heavy), then kiln dried.

Shown: An artist’s rendering of the house, which features classic elements of coastal New England architecture.

Porch Work

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

“I love working with real wood, as long as it can withstand the weather and moisture,” says Sweenor. “Radiata pine can do everything regular wood does, without the negative effects from water. And it takes paint well.”

Shown: The wood-look capped-polymer porch deck will be impervious to water damage.

Porch floor: AZEK

Window Install

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

There will be plenty of innovation on display inside the Idea House, too, with a flexible floor plan that enables all the living to happen on one level if desired, or on multiple levels as needed. “The main intent was to design the house so the floor plan supports a multigenerational approach,” says project architect Christina Carlson of Union Studio. “This house can welcome empty nesters who want to live entirely on the first floor, or a family that spreads out across all three levels. There are spaces for entertaining and plenty of room for big family gatherings.” A dog wash has even been designed into the mudroom, addressing the important role that the family pet has come to play, says Carlson. With open-plan living spaces, a half bath, and a master suite downstairs, the 3,150-square-foot house will also have two more bedrooms, two more baths, and a bunk room upstairs.

Shown: Contractor Jeff Sweenor trims out one of the hurricane-rated, aluminum-clad wood windows as his son, Ryan, an apprentice on the job, stands ready to assist. TOH TV host Kevin O’Connor dropped by to check out the house’s progress.

Windows: Andersen

Ryan at the Trim

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Individualized comfort is woven into the Idea House with its innovative HVAC system, as well, with each room being its own zone. The system’s single-phase variable refrigerant flow (VRF) allows for a separate temperature control per zone. “Every room has a thermostat, so you can have one room at 65 degrees and the room next door at 75 to suit individual tastes,” says Sweenor. The Carrier system also makes use of simultaneous heat-and-cool technology to recover heat from one area of the house to use in another, helping improve its overall energy efficiency.

Shown: Ryan Sweenor readies a preprimed radiata pine trim board for installation.

Spray-Foam Insulation

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Efficiency is also on display throughout the building envelope, with spray-foam insulation and high-performance, hurricane-rated windows, as well as a vapor-permeable weather-resistant house wrap, a self-sealing watertight roofing underlayment, and long-wearing laminated asphalt roof shingles.

Shown: Spray-foam insulation boosts energy efficiency in the loft above the garage, which will be finished as a game room with a vaulted ceiling that showcases the gambrel-roof structure.

Spray-foam insulation: Icynene

Jeff Sweenor

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The design extends the living space outdoors with a wraparound front porch, a rear screened porch off the living room, and a rear deck off the kitchen. “Outdoor living has taken on a whole new meaning and importance,” says Sweenor, who has been building custom houses throughout Rhode Island since 1989.

Shown: Jeff Sweenor has been building custom houses in Rhode Island for more than 25 years.

Raising an Eyebrow

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Beach-inspired colors and materials will add the final touch to the exterior, with weather-resistant cedar-shingle siding prestained an oyster-gray hue and vivid blue aluminum-clad wood windows. Once construction is complete, the interior design will continue the theme, with lots of cream, taupe, and gray tones, and washed and pickled finishes that suit the seaside look.

Shown: Crew members install zinc-coated copper on the eyebrow window; the long-lasting roofing material contours better to an eyebrow shape than standard roof shingles do.

Asphalt roof shingles: GAF

Wraparound Porch

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

Constructed from long-lasting materials, with a flexible floor plan that can welcome multiple generations, and thoughtful room-by-room comfort built in, this is one hardworking beach house. For the family who will live here, life should feel like a vacation 365 days of the year.

Shown: Sweenor Builders crew members install the wraparound front porch’s tongue-and-groove-style capped-polymer flooring.

Kitchen Ceiling

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The crew at work on the kitchen ceiling.

Drywall: USG


Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The plaster crew warms up the drywall with a frosting-like coating; the plaster is troweled on smooth, and as the water in the plaster mix evaporates, it leaves a 1⁄16-inch veneer. The surfaces will later be painted.

Plasterwork: Philippe Lafrenaye Plastering

Mudroom in the Making

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The view from the mudroom looking up toward the eyebrow window and to stairs to the loft above the garage.

To Gable by Crane

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

A crane provides access to the third floor, where the gable is prepared to receive shingle siding and exterior trim; just below, crew members frame the second-story balcony and doorway.

Cedar Install

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

White cedar shingles are nailed to the third-floor gable facade; the factory-finished shingles are double-dipped in stain to coat all sides.

White cedar shingles: SBC

Living Room Framing

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The living area at the back of the house will have an adjoining screened porch, which will be accessed through French doors; a fireplace is planned for the rear wall, near the opening for those doors. The insulated vaulted ceiling awaits V-groove painted pine boards. A pass-through from the dining area, in foreground, will be surrounded with custom cabinetry.

From the Back

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

The rear facade shows both gambrel-roof gables; the smaller one tops loft space above the garage. The two windows in the third-floor gable, right, bring light into the bunk room. Outdoor living areas planned for the back of the house include a screened porch off the living area and a deck off the kitchen.

Project architect: Christina Carlson, Union Studio Architecture & Community Design, Providence, RI

Builder: Jeff Sweenor, Sweenor Builders, Wakefield, RI

Plaster work: Philippe Lafrenaye Plastering, Coventry, RI; 401- 688-0174