Joanne and Brian’s Cottage by the Sea

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Name: Joanne and Brian King
Location: Bay Spring; Barrington, Rhode Island
Size: 1,500 square feet
Years lived in: 35 years; owned

It’s a perfect summer evening. There’s a mellow breeze and a blanket of soft golden light. The Kings are sitting on their deck with drinks and a cheese tray watching sailboats race in Narragansett Bay. A couple sitting in a parked car takes in the scenery from across the street. It is this view, described by Brian as “stunningly addictive,” that convinced the city girl, Joanne, to leave her beloved Boston and settle in Brian’s hometown of Barrington thirty-five years ago.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The neighborhood, known as Bay Spring, began as a community of modest summer cottages built on small lots around the turn of the 20th century. Hurricanes in the 30’s, 50’s and 60’s took a toll on the area. The Kings’ house, which started out as a rental that was not much to look at, was barely winterized when they moved in. “The curtains still fluttered in the slightest breeze, even with the windows locked shut,” Brian recalls.

Seeing that the neighborhood was on the verge of a comeback, the couple purchased the house in 1984 and got serious about turning it into a home where they could raise a family. “Our little summer cottage had to be made solid enough to remain cozy through New England winters when even the bay froze over,” explains Brian. In addition to making the house structurally sound, they opened up the first floor by eliminating walls and enlarged the second floor. The renovations were completed just in time to welcome their son Nick.

Throughout the years, the house has evolved as the Kings have built their life as a family of three. The addition of a front room with vaulted ceilings and French doors that open to a wraparound deck creates what Joanne aptly describes as “a fluid space that spills out into both the landscape and the seascape.” “I always feel like the outdoors is right there,” Joanne explains, “I never feel enclosed.” The sea air, the ocean breeze and the sound of birds chirping in the trees make the airy room a favorite spot for afternoon naps. Nikko blue hydrangeas — planted as a nod to their son’s childhood nickname and his “bluer than blue” eyes — surround the house along with sea grasses, lavender, poppies, irises and rosa rugosa. A private Zen patio garden, a quiet sanctuary for morning coffee and relaxation, provides a perfect space for annual flowers.

Joanne acts as art director for the house, continually rearranging furniture, adding decorative touches, and displaying the work of local artists and friends. She draws from their abundant gardens to make flower arrangements and fills the kitchen with artful displays of fresh produce from nearby farms and seasonal markets, special touches that add to the feeling that the home is one with its natural surroundings. Randomly placed dimes are present throughout the house as a spiritual reminder of Joanne’s mom, who had an affinity for the tiny silver coins.

The King house is filled with memories. Looking back to when their journey as homeowners began, Joanne recalls sitting in a lawn chair while pregnant, during the ‘84 Olympics, and thinking, “When you arrive, this house will be ready for you.” She remembers the spring days she spent watching Brian and Nick play catch on the lawn — a sure sign that summer was around the corner — and white Christmas nights when holiday lights illuminated the house like a snow globe. “Every season is beautiful,” she says. Hurricanes, Nor’easters and winter blizzards may come their way, but the Kings are in it for the long haul. “We’ve built our life here,” Joanne says, “I can’t imagine ever letting this go. It’s just wonderful.”

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic Cottage.

Inspiration: Our favorite places: Carmel, California; Provence, France; Newport, Rhode Island.

Favorite Element: Our Living Room. Its vaulted ceiling provides an airy feel, and the two French doors that open onto the wrap-around decks create a fluid space that spills out into both the landscape and the seascape.

Biggest Challenge: Selecting and maintaining the appropriate landscape and garden plantings that can withstand salt spray, sandy soil, constant wind and frequently rugged weather and still have year-round appeal.

What Friends Say: At first: “Wow, what a spot!” And then when inside: “So welcoming and so much to look at.”

Biggest Embarrassment: The basement: It was hand dug under the original cottage by the previous owner. Joanne finds it old and scary.

Proudest DIY: The Gardens. Pam, our professional gardener friend from Newport, got us started and educated in the basics, and then we took off with it. For example, what was once an enclosure for the dogs has been transformed into a Zen patio garden wrapped in a white lattice fence installed by Brian and a few friends. Especially great for morning coffee with Buddha.

Biggest Indulgence: Decorative pillows; you can never have enough.

Best Advice: Without an unlimited budget, it’s best to figure out how your space appropriately fits in with neighborhood, region, etc. and then inject your own taste and sensibilities within that framework to make it uniquely your own. Also, change up your accents. It can breathe new life into existing décor.

Dream Sources:

Travel, Joss and Main, Elle Décor and Coastal Living magazine.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


  • Living Room : Smoke by Benjamin Moore
  • Bathroom: Slate by Restoration Hardware


  • White couch and love seat – Crate and Barrel
  • Coffee table – The Nest, Barrington, Rhode Island
  • Black Rattan Chairs – Karen Vaughan, Newport, Rhode Island
  • Lamps – Ransom House – Newport, Rhode Island
  • “Buddha” – Chris Wyllie
  • Blue pillows on couch – Nanteen, Newport, Rhode Island
  • Blue and White pillows on black chairs – Restoration Hardware
  • Decorative seaglass bottles – Pottery Barn
  • Needlepoint rug – Domain


  • Dining table – Pottery Barn
  • Teak Dining chairs – yard sale
  • Music Cabinet – Brimfield
  • “Crown Jewels” – art by Chris Wyllie
  • 3 teardrop candles – CB2
  • Lighted grapes – Hollies, Barrington, Rhode Island


  • Beige linen sofa and love seat – Christopher’s Home Furnishings, Nantucket
  • Pillows made by Veronica Meletta
  • TV console – Pottery Barn


  • Kitchen table – acquired from great uncle
  • Photos – our son Nick
  • Chairs – Conrans
  • Green cake plate – Cape Cod


  • Blue and green duvet—gift from a friend
  • Night tables and lamps—- Home Goods


  • Blue and yellow duvet – gift from a friend
  • White matelasse coverlet and shams – family heirloom
  • Charcoal/greenish chair – Domain
  • Seashore paintings – Willie St. James
  • Photos – Nick King
  • Lamp – Seashells in Bloom, Newport, RI
  • Dresser, side table – Home Goods


  • White linen shower curtain – Restoration hardware
  • Lighting fixture and glass shelves – Pottery Barn


  • Teak chairs – Viva Terra
  • Teak barrel – Viva Terra
  • Teak side chairs – Ballard designs
  • White metal chair – Cape Cod
  • Black metal chair – Design Newport
  • Buddha door knocker – gift from a friend
  • Tibetan Bell – Charleston, SC
  • Buddha in garden – Courtyards, Little Compton, RI
  • Birdbath – Brimfield


  • Wrought iron chairs – New England Hearth and Patio, Barrington, Rhode Island
  • Cushions made by Veronica Meletta
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks, Joanne and Brian!

(Images: Jacqueline Marque)

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Re-edited from a tour originally published on August 2013 — AB