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Crowning Touches

In a College Hill Victorian, whimsy reigns supreme

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Expansive fireplaces, wide doors, and crown moldings are all elements one expects to find in a Queen Anne Victorian style home. And while they all exist in the circa 1891 College Hill residence of Dan and Robin Ruder, there’s something a bit extra. Traditional trappings like furniture and wallpaper are peppered with pattern, playful touches, and color. Against pastel or papered walls, be on the lookout for handcrafted birds suspended from high ceilings, a large glowing neon fish, a dining table always set with a fabulous array of faux desserts and fruits, and some form of art appearing at most every turn.

“Where we live has evolved into my three-dimensional creation,” says Robin, who over the years has put her BFA and MFA degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to good use decorating interiors within the large single-family. “Our home is unique. It’s my livable art installation. I’m an artist and originally started as a sculptor.”

While the Ruders have lived in the house for 33 years, raising their grown children Sarah and Aron here, they still fondly recall falling for the house at first sight as if it was yesterday. “It’s a fabulous home in a fabulous location on a fabulous street,” says Robin. “When our children were growing up, there were 30 kids on the block. They rode bikes, played manhunt, basketball, and went sleigh riding together. It was a lifestyle for kids like suburbia with the advantages and amenities of a city for us, including great theater, live music, the RISD Museum, art galleries, and being able to walk downtown. It’s been perfect!”

Robin thinks of the entire house as her DIY decorating project. Room after room there are bold swatches of color, pattern, and texture. She likes to think that Dan, a physician and entrepreneur, not only puts up with her decor style but enjoys it all as much as she does. “When I walk in I can’t help but feel good. I’m surrounded by wonderful art. It’s a joyful place to come home to,” says Robin. “People who have heard about our home always want to see the fake food on dining room table. We used to clear it off when we had company. Now we set up a folding table alongside the table of fake food and everyone gets to see one of our main attractions. It’s very funny and lots of fun!”

“To create a Rhode Island style, do whatever makes you most comfortable,” Robin advises. “Our state is made up of creative individuals doing their own thing. Do yours and you will be from Rhode Island.”