Home: Vintage Vibes in a Smithfield Cape

Book excerpt from Small Spaces, Big Appeal by Fifi O’Neill


Elyse and Jeff Major were drawn to Smithfield for both its high-ranking public school system and affordability, which isn’t always a match. “We knew the area from visiting its orchards in the fall for apple picking with our, then-little, boys Jonah and Ethan. With the town decided, we just needed to find the cottage!” Elyse recalls. It didn’t take long for the couple to zero in on a 1,100-square-foot home with the classic New England style they coveted. “Typically, Cape Cod-style homes have many small rooms, which I knew could morph over time – a playroom becomes a study becomes a bedroom, hence offering versatility,” Major explains. “I also love the architectural details like the arched doorways, hardwood floors, and shiplap ceiling in the upstairs master bedroom.”

The 1949 home had seen a few improvements over the years but needed a new roof and front steps. “Other than that, most everything we did has been cosmetic and very much on a shoestring. The timing was perfect as I was discovering home decorating magazines and DIY TV shows and was inspired and motivated to try my hand at a range of projects to fulfill a vision of cottage/shabby/romantic style throughout the home,” Major says. “I painted walls, upcycled furniture, and my tinkering activities of transforming everything with paint and paper went into overdrive.” So much so that her love of ‘tinkering’ led her to author two books Tinkered Treasures and Seaside Tinkered Treasures; additionally she co-authored a book on IKEA hacks.

Major has always been smitten with little beach cottages and that ideal is always part of her decorating selections – from a seaside palette to using foraged finds like stones, sea glass, and shells as accents, to keeping utilitarian within reach. “My current version of cottage style is very much influenced by two UK designers: Atlanta Bartlett who mixes worn furnishings with elements like shiny disco balls, and Christina Strutt of the iconic Cabbages and Roses. Each of these creative and resourceful women bring an approachability to their designs and mostly work with what they have, it goes from being aspirational to inspirational.”

Keeping spaces flowing and neatly organized and lack of storage are often a small home’s biggest challenges. “Even without an open floor plan, it’s likely that most rooms on the main level are in view so adhering to a single-color palette or thematic vibe throughout will create a cohesive flow,” Major says, adding, “Through the years I’ve learned that furniture needs to have storage. I joke that if someone leaves a backpack or sneakers in the living room it’s an instant mess – or the remains of a wild party! Small rooms don’t have the space to absorb random stuff. I’m also a big proponent of hooks! My boys can say this in unison with me: hooks turn any spot into usable space.”

Being the editor in chief at Providence Media and overseeing four monthly magazines, and with both boys now in college, doesn’t leave much time and money for decorating. However, whenever possible, Major loves to visit and support small shops. “There are so many wonderful makers and sellers local to us. It’s an opportunity to decorate with unique-to-Rhode Island goods.” With its clever use of space, personality, and nostalgic vibe, Major’s home mirrors her ingenuity, creativity, and her winning making-do attitude.


Get Rhody Style

“This book provides such a lovely opportunity for me to showcase some of my favorite small and local businesses and makers to a wide audience,” says Major of the book released in July. Below find a source list of items that appear in photographs.


Berry baskets

Buy the produce, keep the teal container


Braided area rugs

Rhody Rug, Lincoln


Canvas tote bags

Bloom Collective, Providence

Seven Stars Bakery, various

Small Business Saturday x Rifle Paper Co. tote: Cafe Such a Bagel, Smithfield


Ceramic book vase

Homestyle, Providence



Ivy and Lace Bake Shop, Smithfield


Flower pot and glass orb

Blooming Blossoms, Providence

The Glass Station, Wakefield


French market basket

Blanc & Bleu Home, Riverside



Smith-Appleby House Museum Vintage Market, Smithfield



Beehive Handmade, Warren


Plant spritzer

The Farmer’s Daughter, Wakefield


Reclaimed window

The Town Trader, Chepachet



Pernilla Berkvist, Providence


Table linens

Coastal Brahmin, Barnstable, MA


Wall art

Margaret Owen (peonies) and Monica Lee Rich (postcard on clipboard), Providence. Oyster print, Saltwater Living, Newport



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here