The Helmway Restaurant

At the heart of every wonderful travel experience is the opportunity to eat local foods in delightful and comfortable settings. As part of the renovation and reposting of the Pell Hotel on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, RI, which is approximately ten minutes from Newport’s wonderful beaches, A4 Architecture, in partnership with Stoa Design Collective of Toronto, was given the opportunity to transform a tired 1970’s restaurant into a chic coastal setting with a firm and best to table offering. This new restaurant, called the Helmway is under the direct of new executive chef, Will Wallbank, who is bringing a fresh and modern perspective to what had become a tired and predictable restaurant.

The Helmway Restaurant Before & After

The previous restaurant, called Portofino Lounge, had been unchanged since the construction of the original hotel back in the 1970’s. Portofino Lounge had aged over time and was in need of a deep refresh. The restaurant was only accessible by a recessed door on a long hallway and hidden egress door, it was like a time capsule of 20 years ago.

Chef Will Wallbank (Photo Credits: @thehelmway on Instagram)

The first design decision was to connect and open the restaurant to the new renovated lobby to help energize and enhance the life of both. That involved repurposing some guest rooms and managing the structural reconfiguration of a building that had been cobbled together in consecutive projects back in the 1970’s.

For the decision of the hotel and restaurant, the theme of “affordable luxury” was blended with the image of a modern New England beach resort. Clean white v-groove siding was juxtaposed with black pointed steel and glass storefront.

Seabass Dish (Photo Credits: @thehelmway on Instagram)

For the food, similarly the new was paired with the old. Local caught seabass is served on top of a bed of couscous. Burgers are on the menu but made from locally sourced meat and added with the chef’s secret sauces.

A new entrance out the parking lot and visible to East Main Road thoroughfare announces and celebrates the presence of a restaurant that had previously been concealed like a dirty secret.

The transformation of the hotel was the dream of Graham Jones of GRJ group operating out of New York City, but with holdings around the country, interior design details were contributed by Olga Evstifeeva of Stoa Design Collective of Toronto and the construction was undertaken by J2 Construct, and so the beautiful end product was truly an international team effort.

Bar To Seating Area Before & After

The artful conversion of the Portofino Lounge into the Helmway restaurant (as with the transformation of the Ramada Inn into the Pell Hotel) shows that there is no building so base or plain that cannot be made fresh, beautiful, and vibrant.

Ross Cann, RA, AIA, LEED AP, is an author, historian, and practicing architect living and working in Newport, RI. He holds honor degrees in Architectural History and Design from Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities. He is currently teaching a course on Hunt and his early years for The Circle of Scholars Program at Salve Regina University.