Interior Stairway of 1192 Westminster Street during Providence Design House tours, 2003

1192 Westminster aka Design House

Purchased in 2002 by West Broadway Neighborhood Association, 1192 Westminster Street is a gateway property that sat vacant and neglected for years. With support from community partners and creative neighbors, this historic residence was transformed into affordable housing and nonprofit office space with one-of-a-kind interiors created by local artists and designers.

background & History

At the edge of the Broadway Armory Historic District stands the Dudley House at 1192 Westminster Street, a gateway to the Armory neighborhood and an anchoring property on our main street of Westminster. But like many buildings on Providence's west side in 1998, this stately, two story 1856 Italianate home sat vacant and deteriorating, destined for demolition by neglect.

"The property was in sad condition and the title was in worse shape," said BJ Dupré of The Armory Revival Company (TARC), which spent thousands of dollars and over a year to clear the title and acquire the house. "We were highly enamored with the original spaces that were intact, [but] the building was horrendous," adds TARC's Mark Van Noppen. Having wrenched the property from an entangled estate that had no plans to save it, TARC looked for a new owner that would be a good bet for putting the 150 year old house back together and to a positive use.

In 2002, West Broadway Neighborhood Association purchased the property from The Armory Revival Company with an aim to provide affordable housing and work space in the neighborhood while preserving this important building. Thus began the adventure of 1192's renovation and reuse that involved many neighbors in its visioning, multiple community partners in making it happen, and a one-of-a-kind design event at its completion that not only created pride of place but supported the west side as a vibrant neighborhood in which to live and work.

Financial support for the project came from several sources as WBNA sought and was awarded grants and other forms of funding from Providence HOME Funds (a HUD affordable housing development incentive program administered by the Providence Planning Department), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds attained through then-Councilman John J. Lombardi, Neighborhood Opportunities Program funds, and Rhode Island Housing's Lead Grant.

The Numbers
$140,000  CDBG Funds
$60,000    Providence HOME Funds
$55,000    NOP Funds
$18,500    Rhode Island Housing Lead Grant
$79,350    Mortgage
$7,700      WBNA

WBNA approached Providence Revolving Fund (PRF) for technical assistance to restore the property. WBNA and PRF had already worked together on several development projects in the neighborhood, starting with the 1996 renovation of the historic Texaco station which is now WBNA's headquarters, and then again in 1998 to restore 1390 Westminster (now home of Community MusicWorks), a mixed use property with storefronts and three affordable housing units that WBNA sold to a first time home buyer.

With PRF on board as the project's development consultant, work began to make 1192 Westminster a livable historic residence once more.

But before renovations got underway, WBNA and neighbors organized a party in the dilapidated house to engage the community and to generate support and ideas for the property's future. Out of this informal event and the innovative minds of WBNA Events Committee members came the idea for what would become the Providence Design House, a month-long showcase event that would invite over 30 artists and designers to transform the house's interior into a unique and art-filled space, many elements of which remained for 1192's income-qualified and nonprofit tenants.

“The inspiration came with the belief that everyone deserves to live in a place they are proud of," said WBNA Executive Director Kari Lang. "The Design House created an opportunity to show off our lively and engaged art and design community while creating a better product for the interior renovations a high quality affordable apartment where each and every room had its own unique character, creating a special place for a Providence family to live.”

CREATING A SPECIAL PLACE

Organized by a committee of neighbors, a call out was made for local designers to take on the finish work of the rooms and spaces at 1192 Westminster once earlier phases of the renovation were complete. In early fall of 2003, designers were handed blank spaces – rooms with white walls – to paint, dress, wallpaper, curtain and otherwise populate with furnishings and their imaginations.

The result was a spectacular array of creative visioning come to life: handmade tiles for the second floor bath, lively murals in the hallway and dining areas, sculptural flowers in the stairway, and painted floors and canvases that highlighted elements of the Armory District. Each room was decorated with designer-selected and lent furnishings, and the house was opened as the Providence Design House for a month of tours that showcased and promoted local artists and design businesses.

The response to the tours was tremendous as the Providence Design House was the first of its kind in the City [it was an event new to Providence] even if it had been popular in Newport and other cities.  For tour goers, it was an opportunity to get ideas for a renovation project or to find a contractor, designer or product from a local design store. It showcased the talent in our neighborhood and community, and promoted the west side – still thought of by some as a "bad neighborhood" – as a viable and vibrant place to live and to work.

The makers and designers involved in the Providence Design House worked entirely pro bono on the project, spending many hours and procuring most of their materials . Businesses like Adlers Hardware donated all the paint And it helped support the WBNA's operating costs.

These artists and designers lived and/or worked on the west side and beyond, and gave great amounts of time and resources to the project.

[more – need the story from someone who remembers]...the Providence Design House was the first of its kind in the City...did artists/designers do work pro bono (more on reason why folks rallied – brochure/program says that artists were "committed" to helping to provide affordable housing in the neighborhood – how]? was design house intended primarily as a fundraiser (for the house or for WBNA)?

When the Design House tours were completed, it was time to find tenants for 1192's first floor offices and its second floor apartment. The temporary artwork and furniture installations of the Design House were removed but special touches such as the murals, bathroom tile work, and floor paintings would remain to be enjoyed by the house's first tenants. WBNA's goal for this property was to create affordable and stable living and work space in the neighborhood, but to also make the spaces special and high quality for its tenants. 1192 Westminster Street met and continues to meet these goals.

Since 2003, local nonprofit Childhood Lead Action Project has occupied the first floor unit. Between 2003 and 2017, only 2 different families have occupied the three-bedroom, second floor apartment. When its first tenants – a family of five – moved out after 7 years, WBNA reached out to International Institute of RI (now Dorcas International Institute of RI) to find another income-qualified family to fill the vacancy. IIRI placed a newly resettled refugee family in the apartment that lived there for seven years.

In fall of 2017, after a thorough revamping and repainting of its interiors, 1192 Westminster will be ready once again for an income-qualified family to move into its second floor unit.
 

the design house today

The Design House's interiors are still lively and unique. , 1192 Westminster remains a lead-safe and high quality rental home with lovely historic interiors for an important local nonprofit organization and for an income-qualified family. [OR The Design House's interiors are still lively and unique? [what is the status of the design house elements – are they now gone?]] WBNA has continued to improve the property and its tenants' experience through further renovations as well as energy efficiency upgrades.

In 2010 the house's exterior received a make over in the form of new paint while its interiors are being repainted and repaired in 2017. All work being done to the property follows lead safe guidelines by contractors who are lead-certified. WBNA has also implemented green elements to 1192 Westminster starting with adding solar panels to its roof in 2012 and insulating the entire building in 2015.

These improvements support our beliefs that everyone, regardless of income, deserves a special, safe and high quality place to live, and that energy efficiency and historic preservation go hand in hand.

The West Broadway Neighborhood Association remains grateful to all the neighbors, businesses, organizations, elected officials, and community partners that were a part of making this significant project happen.


A Little More About Dudley House


Goals

  • Create affordable housing in the neighborhood
  • Renovate an important vacant corner property to help anchor and encourage neighborhood improvement 
  • Involve neighbors and businesses in the visioning process for transforming a derelict property
  • Create and maintain a lead-safe, stable and high quality residential environment for an income-qualified family
  • Promote the impact of local artists and designers on place-making
  • "Green" the property by improving its energy efficiency (solar panels, insulation, etc)