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Mansion owner brings yachting home

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Designers have retrofitted the basement of a 125-year-old Newport mansion to look like a classic Edwardian-style yacht built at the end of the 19th century.


Over the past two-and-a-half years, Kirby Perkins Construction, Langan Design and Kim Kirby Interior Design used traditional boat-building materials to transform the 3,500-square-foot space into a salon, dining area, galley and bar, wine cellar, sauna, gym, two bathrooms and locker area.


The house was once owned by yachtsman Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, who defended the America’s Cup in 1930, 1933 and 1937. The space pays homage to him with three historically accurate models of the J-Class yachts with which he claimed his victories.


“The present owner didn’t want it to feel like you were in a basement, and because of this history and connection to the Vanderbilt family, I thought ‘why not make it feel like a traditional yacht interior,’ and that is what drove the project,” said Jerry Kirby, president of Kirby-Perkins Construction and an America’s Cup veteran. “With Vanderbilt being someone that raced in the America’s Cup and really knowing the history of the house, it was a really fun project that was true to the historic nature of the building and also true to the design of a classic superyacht.”


The transition begins on the snug stairs leading down from the house. The interior opens up into a lower foyer and then the main salon. Behind the salon is a galley with arched mahogany paneled partitions and teak bar tops. Behind the galley is a raised platform settee and dining table that seats up to 10.


Other features include a custom-made ship’s bell, a water-tight engine room door, a carved compass rose design on each of the solid mahogany doors, and authentic deck prisms throughout the space.


The only space without a yacht feel is the wine cellar, which was designed to replicate the classic wine cellars in Italy and France, with an arched stone ceiling, limestone flooring and a sink from an antique fountain, designer Kim Kirby said.


“We have definitely accomplished making this area fit, feel and look like a superyacht,” Kirby said. “You could take somebody down there blindfolded, and they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

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