Mid-Century Meets Disco

By Andrea E. McHugh

Moore House Design transforms a Portsmouth home to a space for dancing and dining — with the whole family in mind

Photos by Erin Little

Sean and Tiffany O’Donnell knew they wanted to make Aquidneck Island their home, but the local real estate market wasn’t in their favor in 2020. “At the time, it was the height of Covid, and we were looking for anything available on the island, which was slim,” says Sean. So, they pivoted from searching for their dream house to searching for their dream location.

When a home in Portsmouth became available that also seemed serendipitous, they pounced. “This house was actually a full circle moment as we used to walk the street during quarantine and started envisioning our life here,” says Tiffany.

The Colonial-style home built in 1986 wasn’t the couple’s style in any sense of the word, but it had good bones, offered ample space to roam on a half-acre lot, and was a short walk to the water.

“They always say ‘location location location’ when buying a house, and we couldn’t beat ours with views of the Sakonnet River and a dead-end street where traffic wouldn’t be an issue with children playing outside,” Tiffany says.

“We didn’t particularly love the actual house. Blair came in with us when it was under contract and helped us see the vision of what it could be,” said Sean.

Blair Moore of Moore House Design is well known for her out-of-the-box creativity with a passion for sustainable design and functionality. Tiffany immediately identified with Moore’s style when she scrolled through the designer’s Instagram.

“[I] fell in love. Most of the aesthetic on the island is coastal, and Blair’s work spoke to us that it went against the grain and is timeless,” Tiffany says.

Moore’s also a visionary with a “can-do” attitude, which came in handy from the outset of this project.

“I remember one of my team members turned to me and said, ‘How are we going to fix this house? I have no idea,’” Moore says. “And I was like, ‘Guys, come on, we can do anything!’”

Moore says she wanted to spotlight the O’Donnells’ appreciation for mid-century modern design — and weave in the home’s Colonial New England origins. The renovation was also both an interior and exterior renovation, so the multiphase project took every inch of space into consideration.

Moore says the original exterior of the home was “very monolithic,” with tiny windows that were disproportionate to the large gambrel roofline. Moore changed the entire look and feel of the home by adding a 10-foot veranda on the front, which also better defined the entry, and added new shingles, windows and siding.

“For architectural style, we like to flex, but we really like to listen to the home first,” explains Moore.

Inside walls were removed, and the entire space was reworked, starting with scrapping the small galley kitchen and recreating one where the family with two small children could gather, cook and dine with comfort.

“Tiffany was a private chef in New York City, and she is incredible, so she wanted this really large kitchen where she could see her kids running around and be able to make large entertaining parties at the house — that’s why the kitchen is a rather large one,” explains Moore.

Tiffany says the kitchen is now her favorite space in the home.

“[It’s] where we spend most of our time cooking and baking and with the massive island, there is room for everyone,” she says. “We really deliberated on where to lay everything out, and Blair’s expertise made us make sense of the space. It’s hard to even remember how we all fit in the tiny galley kitchen that existed before.”

It’s hard to separate Moore’s vision from her experience growing up on a cattle property in Australia as the daughter of a craftsman and a mother with an eye for interior design. Working in fashion after graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York, she intrinsically gravitated toward natural textures and had an appreciation for historical architecture.

While coastal Rhode Island captured her heart, inspiring her to launch Moore House Design in 2018, she doesn’t think “coastal” style needs to stay in one lane, and she thrives on mixing aesthetics.

“We are very gathered. We’re very collected. I’m usually finding pieces that are 1960s Italian, blended with Americana, blended with 18th century sideboards. So, I think the cool thing is, I like spaces to feel very gathered, as if the client was going to go overseas and sort of collect pieces and add them to their home so it feels very indicative of them but also the architecture,” says Moore. “We’re always doing something that is a little bit new, a little bit innovative and not streamlined — and I think that’s what our clients love.”

In September of last year, Moore debuted Roweam, her luxury furniture brand. This collection of new and true vintage pieces includes heirloom custom furniture that evokes a sense of simple nostalgia. The line also includes décor, kitchen and entertaining pieces and lighting. Multiple furniture pieces by Roweam can be found throughout the O’Donnell residence, weaving myriad textures and patterns into the spaces and seamlessly blending old and new.

Moore says many of her clients are families, and the wisdom she typically imparts is that a house needs to age with you. “It can’t be impervious or ‘ageless.’ Beautiful architecture, especially New England architecture, is aging all the time. Your furniture, everything in there, should age at the same timeline that everything does in that house.” She looks at the famed mansions of Newport as an example of how great quality pieces and natural material age harmoniously.

“I’ll go there all the time as a source of inspiration to look at how things are stitched, how things were embroidered, how things were layered, all that sort of thing,” she says. “The things that have been in there that long, they’re aging just as much as the house, so there’s never something that looks like a brand-new piece.”

Although the O’Donnell home is unique through and through, there’s one room in particular that truly evokes the family spirit — the disco room. “The first thing Sean said to us when we went there was ‘I need space because my family has a lot of dance parties.’ And I was like, ‘Great! We’ve got this.’”

The disco library lounge, custom made by Sakonnet Makers in Tiverton, is lined with rows of more than 600 albums. “We wanted it to feel very mid-century,” Moore says.

“She created the perfect disco bar that’s both functional and beautiful and a true conversation piece when we have guests over,” says Tiffany. “Our daughter loves picking out a Taylor Swift album, putting on a tutu and getting us all to dance together.”