An Enchanted Cottage by the Sea
Dan and Dara Brewster of Dara Artisans fill their Rhode Island retreat with regional influences and global treasures
The town of Little Compton, in southeastern Rhode Island, possesses more than a hint of pastoral magic. Cow pastures and stacked-stone walls ramble down to the water past picturesque farms and shingled summer homes that emerge from the early-morning fog. On an acre and a half of land at the edge of Sakonnet Point, with views of Third Beach and the mansions of Newport in the distance, lies Dara and Dan Brewster’s cottage: a 1930s shingle-style structure where traditional New England design comes to life against textiles, decor pieces, and paintings by artists and craftspeople around the world.
The home is a testament to the Brewsters’ passion for their year-old company, Dara Artisans, an online marketplace for an exquisitely curated array of global goods. “So often, a person comes back from their travels with a story—of finding a rug in a tiny village in the Atlas Mountains, for example,” says Dara Brewster. “That was the birth of the idea: to tell a story in a compelling way.” She and Dan, a former media executive, had traveled to Syria in late 2012 when hostilities erupted into civil war. They met and became friends with an artisan who took them to the rooftops of Aleppo to look down over the oldest souk in the world, which now no longer exists. “At the time we didn’t recognize the significance of the trip,” says Dara. Soon after, however, they began researching a business model and establishing relationships that led to the launch of Dara Artisans in August 2014.
With goods that range from Bhutanese silk textiles to carnelian pendants and intricately handpainted Acoma pottery, the online emporium seeks to preserve the longstanding traditions of master craftspeople. “We want to elevate the whole handmade aesthetic, which benefits not only the artisans but the communities. It gives them an incredible sense of pride,” says Dara. “It helps families educate their children and get them better medical care. We’ve seen it firsthand.”
Wisteria was growing through the roof when Dan purchased the property in 2001. Built as a summer residence, with no insulation and with a small shed that had been used as a dog kennel, the home had exposed rafters and charming original features buried under decades of questionable design decisions.
The first few years were spent “getting back to the integrity of the house,” as Dara describes it. Dan and son Graham ripped up the dining room’s bulky tile to reveal the original floor, which they painted blue and white. For more extensive renovations, however, the Brewsters called upon personal and local connections: Atlanta and Albany, New York–based architect Gregory Crozier (Dara’s stepfather); landscape architect Ed Bowen, of Little Compton’s Opus Nursery; and builder Joe Aiello of nearby Tiverton. “Joe’s the best fishing captain out of Newport,” says Dara. “In the off-season, he’s a master carpenter, just like his father. As a result, the house is built like a boat.”
Regional influences are woven through the home in surprising ways. For the kitchen’s new pine floors, Dan traded his family’s cache of antique guns to the owner of a local lumber mill. The dining room sideboard is made of a piece of wood that washed onshore in front of the house; Dan rescued it, sanded it down, and commissioned a stand from a local metal works. Above it is an oversize painting by noted Syrian artist Yaser Safi—a compelling and surprisingly cohesive juxtaposition.
“The way we have decorated our home is with a combination of modern and antique pieces and finds we bring back from trips,” explains Dara. “Acoma pottery, Syrian and Cuban art, Laotian textiles, Caucasian rugs: it’s very much like our site, a combination of cultures and eras.”
For the Brewsters, who also reside in Manhattan, the house in Little Compton represents a celebration of low-key idylls: beachcombing walks, family gatherings, outdoor entertaining in gardens lush with vegetable plots, perennials, and fruit trees. (The shed that was once used as a dog kennel was moved to the other side of the property and turned into 700-square-foot year-round cottage.) A home with a strong sense of tradition and an intimate sense of place: just right for a couple with a globally minded mission.