Block Island's location, 8 miles off the Rhode Island coast, and its miles of beaches make it an attractive location for summer homes. But the island's maritime climate and its heritage of simple farm buildings and summer cottages have worked to discourage architectural excess. “It's a very stark place,” says architect Jim Estes, “and it kind of demands that the architecture take that into account.” In response, Estes offers this new vacation home, which combines archetypal island forms and materials in a novel composition that makes a virtue of simplicity.

The building's upside-down layout locates common spaces at the second floor, with views over the surrounding scrub vegetation to the ocean beyond. A three-story view tower houses the entry and internal stair and shelters a two-level deck. A covered walkway connects the house to a small garage, whose cedar-shingle siding and barn-like details echo the island's traditional buildings. The interior combines such unassuming materials as concrete, plywood, and galvanized steel pipe in a contemporary scheme that furthers the theme of low-maintenance elegance. “The idea was to keep it simple, straightforward, and kind of bulletproof,” says Estes.

Our judges deemed that a compelling recipe for a vacation home and heartily approved of the result. “It's a very pleasant piece of architecture,” said one. “There is an honesty and restraint in the use of materials and the expression of those materials. The outside is incredibly simple and light, and so is the inside.” Just as important, another noted, the building is true to its setting. “Anything that wasn't simple on Block Island would really stand out.”

Project Credits
Estes/Twombly Architects, Newport, R.I.
Builder: Highland Builders, Tiverton, R.I.
Living space: 2,286 square feet
Site: 2.06 acres
Construction cost: Withheld
Photographer: Warren Jagger

Product Resources
Bathroom plumbing fittings/fixtures: Grohe, Kohler, KWC, Porcher; Dishwasher: Bosch; Entry doors/patio doors/windows: Marvin; Fireplace: Enviro; Hardware: Rejuvenation; Kitchen plumbing fittings/fixtures: KWC; Lighting fixtures: Bega, LBL, Poulsen, Stonco; Oven: Bosch; Paints: Benjamin Moore; Refrigerator: Sub-Zero; Roofing: Englert; Trim work: Azek.