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Writer in Residence

A beloved Tiverton cottage provides the setting for a memoir

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Katharine Smyth calls Rhode Island her favorite place in the world. The Brooklyn-based writer and author of All the Lives We’ve Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, has been spending time at her family’s cottage in Tiverton since the age of five. On frequent drives between their Boston home and Rhode Island for weekends of sailing, her parents always admired the string of waterfront houses they could see from the highway bridge connecting Tiverton and Portsmouth. “This is actually the subject of the first chapter of my book,” Katharine explains.

The house detailed in Katharine’s memoir is a summer cottage built in 1890. By the time Katharine’s parents took their first look, the house and wooden deck were in desperate need of repair with those typical modest coastal trappings of makeshift weatherization (think plastic sheeting and staples) and plenty of dampness, but the location and quiet charm couldn’t be beat. “‘We’ll take it,’ my parents said, and in the morning signed the papers.”

Today the home is quintessential old-time summer cottage decorated with what Katharine describes as a mish-mash of styles. “My mother and I are each bringing our own aesthetic to it (not always successfully; we have a lot of battles!),” she says with a laugh. “The rooms are painted peach and blue and pale yellow and dove white; there are lots of bright, inexpensive prints and cluttered objects that we’ve brought home from local antique stores.”

Katharine’s parents originally decorated very inexpensively, “with old Marimekko sheets and yard sale finds.” She notes it’s since grown a bit more sophisticated, “if only because they moved quite a lot of belongings from the Boston house when we sold it. But the style remains pretty low key. I like the way the muddled style reflects the house’s history.”

Katharine notes that her parents – both architects – were more interested in space and floor plans than furnishings upon taking residence. Her father built all of the bookshelves, and dining tables and desks were always stock doors that he sanded and varnished.

“I like that it’s very comfortable,” says Katharine. “I don’t like any kind of decorating style that’s so fancy or austere that you feel as if you couldn’t put your feet up or eat dinner on the couch. And I also like that it’s necessarily unique and varied, that there are unusual objects and furniture of all kinds of different styles. There’s no place on earth that brings me greater happiness, but that happiness comes from the intangible – from the sight of the water outside reflecting off the ceiling, for instance, or the golden light of evening as it illuminates the deck.”