Josh Redd wants your home to be perfect

Payne Farm addition honors five generations
Mon, 04/27/2015 - 9:15am

Josh Redd has been on and off Block Island for most of his life.

He would visit when he was young and began spending summers after he graduated from high school. About five years ago, he moved to Block Island full time and soon after started North Atlantic Builders, which Redd owns and operates. The company does new construction, additions, and renovations. Redd's crew consists of Block Island residents John Bates, Kyle Lang, Bob Fletcher, Alex Hart, John Warfel and Dave Flamand, among others.

Recently, Redd, his wife Chelsea, and their son Grady moved into the Payne farmhouse. Their wedding on Sept. 30, 2012, had taken place on the front porch of the farmhouse, which had previously belonged to Chelsea's parents, Blake and Michele Phelan. "At that point, we had never even talked about buying the house from [my] parents," said Chelsea, "So we didn’t know that one day it would be our home too." The Phelans had planned to have their children build their own houses on the property when they were ready, but as they needed less space, it became obvious that the younger generation would need more. "We wanted to downsize," said Blake , so a new agreement was reached: Chelsea would buy the farmhouse and Josh and his crew would help the Phelans build their new home just down the driveway on the farm.

The Payne farmhouse was built in 1877 by Edward Sands Payne, direct descendant of original Block Island purchaser James Sands. The modern family can trace their ancestry back to five of the original settlers and purchasers on Block Island. In 1984, the Phelans bought the farmhouse from the estate of Edward Sands Payne. Along with a very young Chelsea, the family moved into the house where their son Christopher was born a year later. The farmhouse had stood vacant for seven years and was in desperate need of work. Blake, along with Stan Geer, Jeff Cowles and Ed Worth, worked on the house when they could, fitting it in around other jobs.

Their first winter was spent in only three rooms of the house while they worked to fix the rest. "We raised two kids and three labs over there," said Blake. The work was completed in 1989, though work continued on a new addition. There had been an addition on the house, but it had been badly built and needed to be removed. "It took less than 20 minutes," said Michele. "I walked away to get them some water and when I came back, they were done."

In the same period, the Phelans bought a 36-acre parcel of land adjacent to what they already owned, and another 6-acre parcel closer to the road. Blake says the farm land has always been in the family. 

"It used to be all one farm all the way to the bluffs," he said. Some now belongs to the town and some to The Nature Conservancy so no new development will be springing up around the farmhouse.  He also appreciates having the Greenway Trails so close.

The original farmhouse, no longer standing, and the outbuildings were built in the 1680s and the foundations still stand west of the existing house. For years the old barn site has been used as a garden due to the fantastic soil. In the past, the farm was self-sufficient, with cows and chickens. Blake's great-uncle Ray owned the Spring House and his great-grandfather was the First Warden and started the water company as well as tending the farm. "We wanted the farmhouse to be the centerpiece," Blake said. To that end, they designed the new house with similar architectural features to the old one so as to enhance it without taking anything away. Redd said the idea was to build something that fit in. They matched the pitches of the roofs, the big returns and the four sided gable look on both houses.

"The other house was closed up with small rooms," Blake said. "We wanted light." They worked with Geoff Ernst on the design of the house, employing small tricks to make the most out of the small space. Michele Phelan notes that everyone was great at thinking long term. Two closets were built back-to-back, easy to knock out the in-between wall in case another bedroom was needed. "I went about it the same way I would with any new construction," Redd said. The idea was to keep the house simple, with modern materials and techniques. The house was built to be comfortable for the Phelans but easy to maintain.

Michele was wowed by their ability. "Josh's crew and the subcontractors deserve a lot of credit for giving us the perfect house," she said.

Additionally, Redd was careful about the budget and communicated well. He never made a decision about the house without first checking in with the Phelans and was very good about keeping things as inexpensive as possible. "Once you have rough pricing, you have to scale back and that can be hard," Redd said. He tried to make sure the Phelans got as much as they could within the amount they were willing to spend. Redd recommended an insulated concrete form (ICF) foundation. This system is made by placing hollow insulated units that "lock together somewhat like Lego bricks" and then filling these forms with concrete. This adds more to the upfront cost of building a house but pays it back by having a tighter house and less spending on heat. "We were in the basement all winter and we never needed to turn the heat on down there," said Michele.

The windows too were selected for efficiency. They take little to no maintenance and Michele said she's never felt a breeze or a draft. They're easy to clean. "He knew just what we needed for our age," she said.

Most of the lumber for the house came from Arnold Lumber. The building crew started in January of 2014 and were finished in September. The Phelans are still getting situated and are excited to work on landscaping as the weather warms. The dogs from both houses wander back and forth to visit, along with the Phelans' eighteen-month-old grandson. "We're not looking back," Blake said.  "It's a dream come true. And we have good neighbors."

Meanwhile, in the old house, Josh and Chelsea are settling in with their son. "Blake did a good job of keeping the house in its original state," Josh Redd said, pointing out the trim, which is made to match the original components of the house when the addition was built. He said that it's almost impossible to tell what's new and what's not. They have some long term plans for the house, but most of the changes are aesthetic rather than structural.

At some point, they say they'll be stripping off the wallpaper and painting the walls.  The master bath is also due for an upgrade. "Total 80's bathroom," joked Chelsea. For Chelsea, the house is full of her family history. "I thought it was going to be weird, moving into my parents house, but it's not," she said. Now that they are moving in their own furniture, it makes the house their own. Grady's playroom was her playroom growing up and his bedroom belonged to her brother Chris in their childhood. Blake notes that Grady is the fifth generation of the family living in the Payne farmhouse.

Redd is working on other projects around Block Island as well. He is restoring the old Vail Annex, now the Bayberry Cottage, and is starting new construction on Dunn's Cartway. He works mainly in new construction but will happily do additions or renovations as well. He can be reached at (401) 363-2189 and more information can be found at