Happy is the miller who lives near the mill.
So reads the script swirling over the mantel in this 1787 cottage that sits in the shadows of one of the few remaining historic windmills in Rhode Island. David Clancy and his wife, Jennifer, subscribe to the same philosophy. “Our daily commute is like his,” says David. “We just walk across the yard and go to work.”
David and Jennifer, both gifted glass artists, stroll from their tiny restored cottage to a new glassblowing studio where they make glassware as elegant as their house is simple.
In 1996, David came across the tumbledown cottage in rural Jamestown, on Conanicut Island. “I knew I wouldn’t find another place like this again,” he says. He immediately began work on stabilizing the foundation and the basic structure itself. Ten years later, David and Jennifer continue the work. “Almost every square inch of the house is custom designed and made, mostly by the two of us and a few family and friends,” says Jennifer. “We tried to keep in mind the cozy feeling of the original cottage when we made structural and decorative changes, and we have decorated it in a way that fits our design aesthetic.”
Because it was their first house together, the couple was determined to make it uniquely their own. “It was like having this wonderful blank canvas,” says Jennifer. “This is ours, and we don’t have a landlord yelling at us if we paint the wall.” The predominate interior paints glow — tomato, avocado, lemon.
“I don’t think the people at The Home Depot like us very much,” says Jennifer, laughing. “We always pick a basic color and begin from there. Then we go back two, three, or four times and ask them to remix until the color is just right.”
The couple’s penchant for the unusual is evident in the cottage’s interior: A Gothic arch, surrounded by a leafy mosaic designed by Jennifer, frames the entrance to the kitchen; an interior wall is composed entirely of wood and objects found while renovating the cottage; a handblown glass bathroom sink is lit from below, giving it a soft luminescence; the dining banquettes are two church pews found at the Brimfield, Massachusetts, antiques show.
The balusters on the stairway are made from knurled blueberry bush branches David found in a brush pile. There’s a handmade case on one wall of the study holding David’s collection of Pez dispensers, including one used as a handle for the door. The couple’s shower is not the usual fiberglass shell, but a combination of tin and stones. The towel holder in the bathroom is part of the trunk of an old cedar tree. The kitchen ceiling is made of pressed tin.
Outside, there are pillars and a wall made of stones from the old foundation, and a pergola has been fashioned from cedar trees. “Both of us like to garden,” says Jennifer. “This area of the island is laid back, pastoral, and peaceful. We also bring a lot of the outside in, like soft-edged stones…. Everything we have has a warm history.”
Why all this passion to build a singularly unusual space? “Houses today look the same, with the same furniture and accessories,” says Jennifer. “I can look at a picture in a home-decorating magazine and say, ‘That’s Ikea,’ or ‘That’s Target.’ We’re not snobs, and we go to those places, too. But when David brings home a lamp from The Home Depot, he takes it apart and paints it … to make it our own.”
Brightening the interior of the cottage are examples of the Clancys’ glass creations, made in their new 600-square-foot glassblowing studio, where a kiln roars and rumbles while putting out as much as 2,000 degrees of heat. And that brings us back to where we began — the windmill.
“That windmill is inspirational — our sentinel on the hill,” says Jennifer. “Just like the windmill tries to harness the wind, we are trying to harness the fire. Working with wind and fire is so elemental to our lives. It’s a good neighbor.”
With the major interior and exterior work done on the house, the couple has every right to kick back and lounge on their patio. But then again, maybe not.
“I’m a workaholic,” says David. “If I’m not working on the house, I’m working on the landscape. Right now, I’m putting all the old stone walls back together, and then I want to build a pond, and then….”
“It is our goal to eventually make every spot on our property special,” adds Jennifer. “We want everything to be worthy of taking a moment there — to slow life down, look at the view, look inward, and smell the roses, so to speak.”