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Gilded Age Mansion gets a Luxury Superyacht Refit

Stunning Basement on Newport’s Bellevue Avenue is Collaborative Effort by Kirby-Perkins Construction, Langan Design and Kim Kirby Interior Design

NEWPORT, R.I. (September 24, 2012) – Kirby-Perkins Construction, Langan Design and Kim Kirby Interior Design have redefined “waterfront living” by retrofitting the 3,500 square foot basement of one of the Vanderbilt family’s famed Gilded Age Mansions to simulate the interior of a classically styled superyacht. The historic home, originally built in 1887, lies on the architecturally rich Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, where the recent 2-1/2 year renovation was carried out using all traditional boat building materials; incorporated into the custom-designed space is a wine cellar, dining area, galley kitchen and bar, sauna, gym, two bathrooms, a locker area and a living area.

As an America’s Cup veteran and world-class sailor, Jerry Kirby — the President of Kirby-Perkins Construction, which builds custom luxury homes in New England — found an immediate connection with the mansion’s former owner and champion yachtsman Harold Stirling Vanderbilt. “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 Kirby, adding that Vanderbilt defended the America’s Cup in 1930, 1933 and 1937, and the renovated space pays homage to him with three historically accurate models of the J-Class yachts with which he claimed his victories. “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 first 12 months of the project consisted of carving out the space below the mansion, which had originally been a small room for storage. The Kirby-Perkins team tunneled under and undercut the existing foundation, putting in steel beams to support the home. After the excavation, Kirby collaborated with Bill Langan and his team of yacht designers Sam Howell, Tony Ferrer and Tom Degrémont to design the space. Langan Design is a world-renowned naval architecture firm, which specializes in the design of high-end custom yachts.

“We had to pay close attention to the overall scale of the space, because on a classic yacht there is a proportional relationship between the structural components and the overall dimensions,” said Howell, adding that this was the company’s first land-based project and the team was given the task of designing the space to accurately reflect the interior of a classic Edwardian style yacht built during the Gilded Age. “Though working on this project was slightly different than normal, at the end of the day and in the broader sense of design there was really no difference in creating this space, other than the fact that it isn’t actually sailing.”

The transition from house to yacht is made as soon as one enters the stairs down to the basement, which replicate the snug companionway of a yacht. The grandeur of the basement interior slowly comes into view, opening up into a lower foyer and then into what mirrors the main salon of a large yacht.

Behind the living room space is a nautical styled galley kitchen with arched mahogany paneled partitions and teak bar tops. On both sides of the galley are five custom-designed fixed bar stools that sit on fluted mahogany pedestals with stainless steel bases and foot rests. Behind the galley is a raised platform settee and dining table that seats up to ten.

The entire room incorporates internal structural components found on a classic yacht, including massive wood hull framing and deck beams built with African Iroko. The ceiling is cambered and made of tongue-and-groove planking. Two large butterfly skylight hatches are incorporated in the overhead, both backlit to simulate daylight. One of these hatches also uses fiber optic lighting to replicate the constellations in the night sky. Custom stainless steel hardware has been designed to accurately replicate the look of a true yacht hatch. The floors are a mix of reclaimed antique southern yellow pine and teak.

Other distinctive features include a custom made ship’s bell, a traditional water-tight engine room door, a carved compass rose design on each of the solid mahogany doors, and authentic deck prisms located throughout the space. There is a custom made pool table built by Blatt Billiards and designed by Langan Design to reflect the nautical details present throughout the space. To keep the area true to its Newport heritage, the famed Quaker furniture maker Goddard Townsend’s block-and-shell design is also carved into different sections of the walls. Custom “cleat” style hardware was designed and built for the Galley appliances, drawers and shower doors. The gym and lockers follow the same theme as the main room but take on a lighter coloring with painted white wood paneling. The two bathrooms have a lapis blue and white marble floor and counter and polished nickel hardware.

Kim Kirby of Kim Kirby Interior Design brought the nautical theme to life, using warm wood tones and a mix of linen, silk and leather fabrics. The rooms are accented with the careful weaving of contemporary lines and antique finds.

“We have definitely accomplished making this area fit, feel and look like a superyacht; you could take somebody down there blindfolded, and they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” said Kirby, adding that the only space where there isn’t necessarily a superyacht feel is the wine cellar, which was designed to replicate the classic wine cellars in Italy and France, with an arched stone ceiling, reclaimed French Barr Limestone flooring and a sink from an antique limestone fountain.

Other key players in the renovation included Jutras Woodworking, Wetstone Woodworking, Karen Vaughan Productions, P.J. Bergeron Upholstery and Sharon Mooney Landscape Architecture.

Kirby-Perkins Construction is somewhat of an anomaly in New England’s construction industry. In an industry dominated by managers and subcontractors, Kirby Perkins has chosen to be primarily self performing, acquiring as many passionate, highly skilled craftsmen as possible to provide a lion’s share of the construction trades in-house. This business model gives them unprecedented control of quality, schedule and cost. For more information please contact Kirby Perkins Newport, +1 401.848.0150, 210 Old Airport Road, Middletown, R.I. 02842, USA or visit

Langan Design Partners is an internationally recognized full-service naval architecture and yacht design partnership focused on defining, designing and engineering world-class custom yachts. For more information please contact Langan Design Partners LLC, +1 401-849-2249, 105 Spring Street, Newport, R.I. 02840, USA or visit

Kim Kirby Interior Design: Interior Designer Kim Kirby was raised among painters and decorators and after choosing textile design as a major in college, Kirby went on to work at design studios before opening her own firm in Newport, Rhode Island. Kirby’s taste is inspired by her travels around the world as well as her life at home in the city by the sea. Kirby’s firm specializes in providing clients with personalized and hands-on service. For more information please contact Kim Kirby Interior Design, +1 401-714-7727, 210 Old Airport Road, Middletown, R.I. 02842, USA or visit>