When architect Thomas A. Kligerman of Ike Kligerman Barkley talks about Shingle-style homes, he waxes a bit romantic. “If you asked a child to draw a cartoon of a house, it would likely look like a Shingle-style dwelling,” he says. “Everyone has one in their history, so they all appear familiar. Homes like this are like a soft, comfortable sweater.”
So, when his client Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg (author of the novel Eden) and her family approached him about building an modern, flat-roof home on the water in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, he asked them to rethink the concept. “The area is full of classic Shingle-style homes, and I urged them to build something that respects that,” he says.
Blasberg and her family had been living in Switzerland, where they fell in love with clean lines and uncluttered interiors. “We toyed with building a glass box, but we are also fans of the charming homes you find in these summer communities,” she says. “Tom convinced us we could blend both aesthetics—and that we could have that clean box inside a Shingle-style house.”
Kligerman explains what that looks like: “On the outside, you see a huge, exaggerated, triangular gable and an overhang that flairs out, also in an exaggerated way. It’s a detail we hadn’t seen before, and it reminded us of origami,” he says. “There’s no molding on the roof or around the windows, which is modern, but we do have the wide porches that you’d see on classic homes.”
That plural language extends to the interior, where there are classic forms (think paneling and wide-plank flooring), but large windows and an open floor plan. “One thing about Shingle-style homes is that they are usually very dark,” says Kligerman. “But in this house, there are five times as many windows as you’d find in an old house, and they are much larger.”
Another interior feature: The quirky details that make these homes the stuff of children’s storybooks. As Kligerman laughingly puts it: “There’s a little bit of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe here.”
Blasberg agrees. “For me, the most whimsical parts are the large entry and generous landings, the window seats tucked throughout the house, and the screened-in porch that is in the perfect spot to capture the orange sky in the evenings,” she says.
A pair of rooms seems to invite coziness and introspection. “The house was so white, we decided to have two rooms—a den and an office—be dark. We were inspired by the hull of a wooden boat to paint the walls a glossy black color. The black we chose isn’t totally black, it has undertones of blue and green,” Kligerman says.
Blasberg adds: “The black space is a very warm, cozy place to be at night or in the winter. It’s where my husband does his work and where we gather as a family to watch a movie or play board games.”
Cladding a pair of rooms with horizontal paneling and painting them a high-gloss black may seem like a risky move, but the Blasbergs encouraged this type of thinking. “We never approached this house like one we might sell someday,” she says. “Instead, we encouraged the architects to do things that were one-of-a-kind and special.”
That brand of originality helped the architect make federal requirements an attractive feature. “The home sits in a hurricane zone, and the new FEMA rules are stringent,” says Kligerman. “We had to raise the house 15 feet in the air, and the space underneath it can’t be living space. We embraced the situation by making part of the area a garage with slatted doors and part of it an outdoor living space that’s framed by arches. The new rules are changing the face of coastal architecture, but we wanted to make it look natural and archetypal.”
Blasberg counts the space as one of the most pleasant in the house. “It became an asset,” she says. “It’s where the kids entertain their friends in the summer.”
The family looks at the home as their forever house, but perhaps the building has cast a similar spell on its creator. “I bicycle all around this area, and about six or seven times a year I’ll ride down and look at the house,” Kligerman says. “As the shingles weather, the color changes—and of course they look different depending on the weather and whether they are wet or dry. To me, the one thing a Shingle style always looks is wonderful.”