A Sense of Place

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 11:00am
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In July of 1981, Rick Foreman and Jack Lefcourt visited Block Island for the first time.

They came out to see a farmhouse that their best friend had just purchased. Falling in love with the island immediately, they called a realtor to see what was on the market. They were taken to a property off of Beacon Hill Rd. — six acres nestled into the brambles of the wooded lot. Both Rick and Jack recall feeling a sense of place when they reached the property. There was an immediate connection.

The grounds were covered in brush, uncleared and thick. The old house that stood on the property was lifeless and falling down. “Little Beaver” read the sign on the house above the door. It had been given the name after Fred Harman Jr.’s hard-fisted Red Ryder and his sidekick Little Beaver (circa 1938-1964) rode onto newspaper comics pages and caught fire with daily and Sunday strips featuring the duo, appearing in comic books, prose books, radio and films.

The old house stood calling to them and they fell in love with the potential of restoring the house and the surrounding six acres. They made an offer, and purchased the house that day.

After much consideration, and weighing out the ideas and costs between restoring the old 1880’s farmhouse — or rebuilding on its footprint — Rick and Jack decided to rebuild. In 1982 Little Beaver was torn down.

While living and working full time in New York City, the pair traveled to the island on weekends to work on the property, often staying in a tent on their new land. Deciding to use the original foundation for the home was agreed upon, so they raised up the foundation one foot and repointed it. Little by little they worked on what they could and in 1984 they had Rex Facler of Ashaway, R.I. construct and put together their post and beam home, made from hand cut Rhode Island oak.

While the house stood unfinished for a year, Rick and Jack continued to travel each weekend from N.Y.C to work on different projects, often bringing along friends to help. The decision was made to have the kitchen in the ground level of the house (suggested by Jack’s mother) as this was normal in old homes. The walls of the kitchen and the ground level area would be the old stone surface of the original foundation from the original house, which they grouted and hand-worked themselves. The kitchen and dining area was fashioned using the beadboard from the old Vail Hotel, adding old island charm and history to the new space.

Outside the kitchen windows the land around the house was moved and re-worked to provide more light for the ground level kitchen area. Jack built retaining walls from island stones, creating the landscape around the outside of the house. The small yet functional kitchen is filled with charm and character, with many built-ins for storage. The dining area, pantry and laundry/utility room also occupy the ground level of this home.

The detailed wood working throughout the house was created and hand crafted by Jim Horsburgh, who lived on the island at the time. He spun handsome raised paneled walls throughout the living room, an idea Rick and Jack happened upon at the Transfer Station when they found an antique panel with the same raised paneling. In the ceiling of the living room, Jim created a wooden grated vent for the heat to rise from the Count Rumford fireplace up to the master bedroom. Thick and strong enough to stand on, the grate can be replaced in the warmer months with a door-like wooden panel that lowers right down into place.

Jim also created hand planed raised paneled doors and wooden radiator covers throughout the home. Built in, Bermuda-louvered Indian shutters that slide back and forth, some disappearing into the wall (pocket doors) blend right in with the rich color of the dark wood in the guest bedroom. Built in drawers, bookshelves and armoires keep the bedrooms simple and clutter free in the small space. Rick and Jack wanted a yacht-inspired bathroom, so Jim created an all mahogany space with teak floors. A large tub is surrounded by shiny, dark rich mahogany wood with a skylight above for natural lighting.

The door hinges and hardware throughout the house were all hand forged and the windows in the home are antique glass set in Eighteenth century window design. In the narrow stairway leading upstairs from the living room, there are ship's railings on both sides, one bought at an antique shop and one replicated, by Jim Horsburgh, to match the other.

All of the wonderful details in this house are visible at first glance; and in the way the each room feels. The time, love, patience, ideas and work that Rick and Jack have poured into creating this home are evident the moment you enter their house. There are little reminders of the house’s name scattered throughout the home. Tiny ceramic beaver figurines sit on a bookshelf in one of the bedrooms, a stuffed toy beaver in the stairwell — in a built-in cubby. In the dining/kitchen area on the wall- a big heavy medallion-like marker hangs on the stone foundation with a beaver on it — a gift from a friend. These are reminders of the name given to the property years before Rick and Jack decided to make it their home.

Rick and Jack have lived on the island full time in their home since 2011 with their dogs, Cocoa and Sophie, a mother-daughter pair. They own Eylandt Antiques at Paynes Harbor View on Beach Ave. Rick is the one you will find in the antique shop, but together they find the items that they sell. Rick is also a year round realtor at Offshore Property on Ocean Ave. Jack, a former textile and knitwear designer in New York City, is now the official grounds-keeper and landscaper of Little Beaver. He creates and maintains the gardens throughout the six acres of beautifully landscaped, park-like grounds. He enjoys all of the mowing, weeding, planting and maintenance it requires.

After a long, cold and dreary winter, Rick and Jack are looking forward to the spring blossoms of tulips and daffodils that will be soon arriving in their yard, followed by another beautiful summer at Little Beaver.