By Carolyn Weber. The combination of excellent design and an equal level of craftsmanship made this 2,600-square-foot vacation home a winner. The exterior's natural materials and deep green trim color complement the landscape on the waterfront site. "The clients wanted a home that fit into the area, but not a big fancy house," says architect James Estes, who chose board and batten siding, a standing-seam copper roof on the porch, and red cedar shingles for easy maintenance. "The unique thing is that it's reasonably sized and has extremely high-quality materials. We focused on getting it right rather than making it big and showy."

The inside is equally strong--as light-filled interiors show off the exposed structural fir beams. The core of the house, both literally and figuratively, is a massive fireplace. Crafted from Pennsylvania fieldstone with lintels and a hearth of blue stone, it serves as a gathering place for family and friends. Slabs of blue stone that climb one side of the fireplace, mimicking a ship's ladder, lead to a loft above the living room. "We had to get a building variance to do it," says Estes of the steep steps. "The owner tells kids that the stairs' purpose is to teach them how to be careful."

Photo: Michael Mathers

The separate but equal floor plan allows the living and dining rooms to take advantage of waterfront views and plenty of public space, while four equal-sized bedroom areas afford privacy. The ultimate mix of public and private space is the two copper outdoor showers that are accessed from the first-floor master bath and the second-floor guest bath. "In the summer, life moves outdoors," says Estes. "And this is the first double-decker shower we've ever used." Category: Custom Home, less than 3,500 square feet; Entrant/Architect: Estes/Twombly Architects, Newport, R.I.; Builder: Highland Builders, Tiverton, R.I.; Landscape Architect: Martha Moore, Tiverton