Home Tour: Bristol

Excerpt from The Soulful Cottage: Creating a Charming and Personal Home by Fifi O’Neill, CICO Books. Photography by Mark Lohman © CICO Books 2024


It’s so perfectly fitting how the name and style of textile artist Carol Riley reflect the expression “the life of Riley.” Everything about her home in Bristol exudes easygoing, carefree charm. A native of Dublin, she moved to Rhode Island in the 1980s with her English-born husband Mike, a world squash referee and coach. “It’s the longest we’ve lived anywhere,” says Riley. In between raising four children, the couple have done a lot of work on the 2,000-square-foot cottage over the years. They have brought in vintage details, well-worn character, and incorporated many personal mementos.

Though the house is more than 80 years old, Riley considers it young compared to buildings back in the old country. She recalls being instantly drawn to the cottage for its charming shape, architectural details, and yard full of cherry blossom trees. “It reminded us of the cottages of Devon and Cornwall in England.” However, the interior was in dire need of improvements, both structural and cosmetic. “It was quite simply ugly, with loads of fake panels and other unsightly and deteriorating materials,” she says.

As the couple set out to improve and beautify the quaint home, they made a great team. “Mike is amazing, he goes along with my ideas and makes them happen. He is self-taught and brilliant.” Riley herself is blessed with an enviable ability to see possibilities where others might see nothing at all. A drab old sofa, a bland kitchen cabinet, a simple lampshade frame, all have ugly-duckling potential in her eyes. “It’s wonderful to transform pieces,” she observes. “But the downside of that is that it’s hard for me to throw anything away!”

The cottage is an inspirational setting for Riley to work on her design business, Tatters. “I do a bit of everything: clothing, furnishings, bags and jewelry. I’m constantly changing things around. It’s not that I get bored, it’s just that my mind is always working.”

It’s the same creative drive that compelled her to transform an old church in nearby Warren into her very own tea room and boutique named The Church Palace. With the help of the entire Riley family, she has achieved remarkable results.

Whether it’s clothing or rooms, Riley is an expert at bringing in a mix of salvaged, handmade, and reimagined elements. Following her love of things that transcend time and place, the Irish maverick and her enterprising husband have turned a once forgotten cottage and an abandoned church into considered and artful spaces. Both are filled with items that keep pieces of the past alive and celebrate their original stories with both function and soul.


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Tea Time

Along with a steeping hot pot, patrons will enjoy finger sandwiches and treats that could include fresh-baked scones with butter and jam, lemon hearts, fig crumble bars, crumpets, surprise pastries, and more at Riley’s latest venture, Tatters Afternoon Tea Room. It all happens by reservation at the white church transformed into The Church Palace at 324 Main Street, Warren.


Riled Up

Whether it’s gingham drawstring pants embellished with trimming, a patchwork coat made of luxe remnants, or vintage finds, those who like to peruse and be distinctive are sure to have a good time shopping. Check Tatters Handmade Clothing on Facebook for hours or call 401-561-3703.


True Nature

“My style has stayed pretty much the same. Thrift shops and found items.” When asked why, Riley simply states, “the ease of living with it. Unpretentious.” With its timeworn furnishings and floral accents, the cottage has very few of the quintessential trappings generally found in a home so close to the water. Riley muses, “I don’t like the coastal look, to be honest, you know, anchors and lobsters are just not my thing.”



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