Same R.I. coast, but two very different views

By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / June 27, 2010

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From the window of her home on Rhode Island’s Sakonnet Point, Ellie Fahan can see Stone House in Little Compton, where her family celebrated countless birthdays and other special events when she was a child on summer vacation. Today the 61-year-old year-round resident still likes to dine there, though nearly everything about the Italianate mansion overlooking Round Pond and the Atlantic has changed.

Stone House was built as a private residence in 1854. Through most of the last century it operated as a country inn and restaurant, catering to summer vacationers. In 2007 Goosewing Hotels and Resorts bought the property and closed it to undertake a major restoration. A year ago, Stone House reopened as a luxury inn, with two restaurants and a spa, and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Farther down the coast, another seaside inn has been reborn. Ocean House, which welcomed guests to tony Watch Hill, R.I., for 136 years, from 1868 until it closed in 2003, reopened this month. The new building overlooking the Atlantic not only looks exactly like the old Ocean House, it incorporates some 5,000 artifacts from the original building in its construction.

While the two lodgings share the same era, residence options, state-of-the-art amenities, and luxury room rates, they differ significantly in scope and style. Stone House has 13 guest rooms, including three luxury residences, in the main house and converted wood barn, while Ocean House has 49 guest rooms, and 23 residences in a rambling yellow building with multiple balconies, porches, and staircases.

The most dramatic difference is in the decor. At Stone House, the look is sleek and spare, contrasting with the traditional architecture of the four-story Victorian building. The dining room features original wood paneling, parquet floors, and carved fruit details on the ceiling, but the guest rooms are all clean lines and neutral colors. Local fieldstone, granite, and beach sand combine with glass tile, reclaimed wood, and Venetian plaster. Many suites feature cork floors and deep, square Japanese-style soaking tubs. There’s a studied juxtaposition of period and ultramodern pieces, such as a rough-hewn wooden trough holding fluffy towels below a wall-mounted flat-screen TV.

Ocean House is more traditional, with furnishings that combine British Colonial, early American, and New England coastal themes in sunny yellows and blues. Copious windows and expansive verandas blur the line between indoors and out, bringing the sand and sea ever closer.

The most striking example of salvaged architectural artifacts at Ocean House is the fieldstone fireplace in the lobby. Before the original hotel was torn down, craftsmen dismantled the fireplace stone by stone and numbered each piece. It was then rebuilt in the new lobby, its keystone etched with “1895’’ intact.

Also original to the lobby are the entrance doors and the front desk, retrofitted to hold computers. The hotel’s old wood elevator cab, with its intricate beaded molding, has been restored and installed in the new elevator. And the Art Deco chandeliers that once hung in the lobby now illuminate a meeting space on the lower level.

Restaurants at both resorts embrace the farm-to-table movement. The Stone House offers “new world coastal cuisine’’ at Pietra, with a focus on seafood and farm-fresh produce, and modern comfort food at 1854, a basement warren said to have been a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Both restaurants take pride in serving local ingredients found within a 40-mile radius of the Stone House property.

Ocean House sources most of its ingredients from a 150-mile radius and has a forager on staff. Seasons Restaurant offers a view of both the kitchen and the sea from nearly every table. The menu of small plates, with the source of each item noted, encourages guests to taste a wide range of local seafood and produce.

Stone House guests can walk to two private ocean beaches, Tappen’s and Warren’s Point, about 10 minutes away. Of its 600 feet of coastline on East Beach, Ocean House uses 300 feet for its guests and leaves the remaining area open to the public. The old lifeguard hut known as “Sammy’s shack’’ is now Dune Cottage, a gingerbread house with beverages and snacks for sale. It’s made of Honduran mahogany and held together entirely with wooden pegs. Ocean House also has a regulation croquet court and a croquet professional on the property.

Full-service spas complete the luxury experience at both lodgings. Treatments at the Spa at Stone House represent land and sea, with products from Farmaesthetics of Portsmouth, R.I., and Osea. The name of the 12,000-square-foot OH! Spa at Ocean House means “ocean and harvest,’’ and the spa menus change seasonally; spring’s apricot body scrub becomes a pumpkin scrub in the fall.

If you’re looking for luxury, the sky’s the limit. Stone House’s most luxurious rooms, which can run to $695 a night in season, are the Star and the Berry in the main house, with private wraparound porches. But the most distinctive room has to be the Lantern, which takes up the entire fourth floor, including the octagonal rooftop cupola, a 15-foot-diameter glass “lantern.’’ From the cupola’s arched windows, there’s a 360-degree view of Little Compton, Martha’s Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, and Sakonnet Lighthouse. The glass floor of the cupola floods the suite with light. The rate in season: $500 per night.

At Ocean House, the 1,200-square-foot Atlantic Suite includes a sitting area, fireplace, and two private patios, for $1,155 a night in season. Ocean House charges a resort fee of $24 a day, which gives guests access to all activities and allows the hotel to run tip-free, except for the restaurants. When it’s completed later this month, the Penthouse Suite will offer 4,000 square feet of indoor space, including three king bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, and living room with a fireplace. Another 2,700 square feet of private outside space will include a Jacuzzi, outdoor kitchen, and sunroom — all for $10,000 a night.

Both hotels report healthy inquiries and bookings. May was “phenomenal,’’ according to Seth Kaplan, director of operations at Stone House, who added that more people are discovering Little Compton’s quiet charm. At Ocean House, about a third of the residences, starting at $1.5 million, have been sold.

As for Fahan, she’s not quite sure she likes the way Stone House has been gussied up since she was a child. But she loves to sit by the outside fire pit on a moonlit night, toasting s’mores and listening to the surf. “You just can’t beat that view,’’ she said.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at

If You Go

Stone House
122 Sakonnet Point Road
Little Compton
Ocean House
1 Bluff Ave.
Watch Hill