Summer Sounds: A Pair of Musicians’ Effortlessly Cool Redone Cape in Westerly, RI (Available on Airbnb)
A laidback place to escape to: That’s what brought musicians and artists Sean Spellman and My Larsdotter from Portland, Oregon; California; and Copenhagen to the small seaside town of Westerly, Rhode Island.
“I was touring with my band for many years, and I had decided to leave Portland so that I could roam a little, live on the road for a while, in my van, at friends’, etc.,” Sean wrote to us. He’s in a band called Quiet Life and is a painter and artist (you can spot his minimal, vintage-y work in our feature on Hotel Joaquin in Laguna, CA, among other places); My (pronounced “Me”) is originally from Sweden and is in a band called My Bubba. Between the two of them, it’s been tour after tour. “I wanted to remove myself from city life, since we were always grinding away and traveling for music, to just clear my head a bit and slow down so that when we were off tour I could kind of chill out without distractions,” Sean says. He rented a friend’s guest house in Westerly one summer and was hooked. “The bonus is that my folks live 40 minutes away,” he adds.
Sean and My found a 1936 cape less than a mile from the ocean, bordered by a family farm and preserved forests, and, with the help of friends, set about renovating the place, stripping it down and filling it with Sean’s own art and vintage finds collected over the years. It’s a “live-in gallery” of sorts, he says, and the couple’s artistic backgrounds give the interiors a laidback, distinctly cool feel. Sean started Westerly Sound, a music festival series, and they’re working on getting a couple of artist residencies going, too.
But the couple doesn’t live in the cape itself: They live with their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sol, in a flat above the garage and let out the house for vacation rentals. (It was recently named one of Conde Nast Traveler’s best Airbnbs within three hours of NYC.) There’s a lush permaculture garden, bikes and soft-top surfboards available, and an outdoor shower, hammock, and lots of records. What more could you need for a little escape?
Here’s a look.
Photography by Nick Ventura, courtesy of Sean Spellman.
Above: The exterior of the tidy two bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath cape, set amongst gardens and alongside protected forest. “We love the cedar shakes, of course,” says Sean. “I was so anal about preserving the beautiful silvery look of the cedar that when we had new windows installed I took a wire brush and roughed up each new shingle around them by hand.” (The new windows are Anderson 400 Series.)
In the garden: pawpaw trees, elderberries, and a peach tree that came with the place. “My likes the elderberries because they remind her of her hometown in Sweden,” Sean says.
Above: Inside, a stripped-back living room with walls painted in Sherwin Williams’ Shoji White and pine mantel (a simpler replacement for the ornate one that was there). The art above it is Sean’s own. “I’ve been making paintings like this on custom-made boat canvas,” he says. “I thought this piece was very fitting for the house.”
“I’ve been digging through thrift and antique stores and estate/yard sales for years, so many of the things in and on the house are from places like that,” says Sean. “I spent years on the road with my band and then traveling/living in my van for a while and used to regularly pick up things in my travels.”
Above L: The entryway, fitted simply. “I traded a painting for this beautiful Menke Ceramics light fixture,” says Sean. Above R: “The built-ins were replaced and reconfigured in the living room with simple pine shelves.”
Above: In the living room, what Sean calls the “listening station.” The turntable and speakers are vintage, the stand is from an estate sale, and the couple found the rocker on Facebook Marketplace.
Above: Built-ins divide living room from kitchen. On the shelves, says Sean: “a painting of mine framed in a wood West Elm frame, some driftwood, a thrifted lamp, a thrifted map of Block Island, and a found amazing round planter.”
Above: “The table was made by my friend Kevin from scrap wood that the last owners left in the basement,” Sean says of the dining table. “The chairs are from my best local thrift shop.”
Above: The summer-ready kitchen, with walls in Sherwin Williams’ Alabaster and floors painted in Benjamin Moore’s Stonington Grey (“a Remodelista tip,” Sean says). “We were planning to build new plywood doors for all the cabinets, but we didn’t have time before the summer rental season. That may happen this winter. Instead we just put new knobs on.” (They’re Amazon Basics Round Cabinet Knobs.) The countertop and faucet are both from Ikea—Kasker quartz and Bosjon, respectively.
In the hallway: “a pine peg rail (not real Shaker), and my favorite Stetson is hanging there,” says Sean. Another painting of his hangs in a thrifted frame.
Above: A small painting by Sean, driftwood collected “from the beach down the street,” and vacation reading material.
Above: A glimpse of the small half bath downstairs. “My friend Sam Agnello helped make this happen; he’s about to open a very cool restaurant in Westerly called Cinder,” Sean says. “I wanted the bathroom to feel like a sauna, but we couldnt afford cedar, so we went with shiplap pine. We ripped the boards to several different widths and put them up vertically with nickle gaps. Removing the drywall instead of putting the pine on top of it allowed us to put the recessed shelving wherever we wanted, although we had to work around some plumbing.”
The mirror was a local find, and the vase is from a “backstage tour” of Heath Ceramics with a friend of Sean’s. “She even let me glaze a piece there. What a place,” he says. “The palm rose I got in the Caribbean over 10 years ago.”
Above: The sunny main bedroom. “All of the furniture is thrifted, aside from the Ikea bed frame,” Sean says. “We didn’t shun choosing certain things from Ikea. My’s mother just retired from working in business development at Ikea in Sweden and Athens, Greece, for over 20 years, so it’s in the family.”
Above: The walls are done in Benjamin Moore’s Atrium White. A painting by Sean hangs above the bed.
Above: “I bought this desk at a Salvation Army when I was 23,” says Sean of the desk in the main bedroom. Most things here, too, are thrifted, except for the painting and postcards by Sean.
Above: “Neither of us had been in one place for more than a couple months for much of the last decade,” says Sean, “so becoming parents and being here working on this house in Westerly without leaving more than a few times in the last year is something we are really proud of.” Here, Sol, Sean, and My in the garden.
N.B.: Follow @southcountyhouse and @seanwspellman on Instagram for updates—and book on Airbnb right here.
A few more laid-back New England houses we love:
10 Favorites: Wood-Shingled Beach Houses from the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory
A Beach Cottage in Provincetown, Styled for Budget-Minded Summer Living
A Chic Fixer-Upper on Fire Island, Budget Edition
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