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Building a Better, Not a Bigger Home

One Bristol couple downsizes into their forever house, with a style grounded in local history and nautical themes

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It was 2012 when Keith and Susan Maloney of Bristol first appeared here in the pages of The Bay. The couple had their spectacular waterfront abode, Homeport, built in 2004 on land once owned by the Van Wickle family, best known for their sprawling estate, Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. More than a decade later, the couple decided it was time to downsize from the 4,000-square-foot manse, and they quickly learned they wouldn’t have to sacrifice the good life to better meet their current needs.

First, the couple searched for an idyllic piece of land and once again,discovered a lot with a uniquely Bristolian history – this time “on the historic Captain John DeWolf Farm property,” Susan says. “His home is next door, built by him in 1796. He was the bookkeeper for his brother who was a slave trader.”

As with their first home in Bristol, the Maloneys sought to build a home on the land that was respectful and contextually relevant to its surroundings. The couple had lived in homes of various styles throughout Keith’s career with Lord & Taylor, the oldest luxury department store in the U.S. This time, they set out to build a modern-day expanded Cape that merged the best of their previous gem – a “contemporary shingle,” as Susan describes it – with modern conveniences, choosing an architectural style that would “be compatible with the DeWolf house.” “This is traditional Cape,” says Susan, “but the back is very contemporary. It’s a very interesting contrast.”

Again the couple turned to George Bennett, Jr., AIA, of Blount Bennett Architects based in East Providence to bring their new chapter to life. “He’s incredible; he gets it when you say what you want in a house,” explains Susan. “He puts on paper what you say in words.” One of the aspects of Homeport that the family loved so dearly was the open floor plan. For the new home, the couple aimed to mimic that feel with rooms and spaces that flowed together seamlessly. “The home features an open floor plan with the kitchen, dining and living area all in one great room, with a bank of triple French doors which open to the terrace and garden,” says Susan. The Maloneys also returned to their original builder, Oldport Homes based in Portsmouth, to construct the 2,700-square-foot residence.

Unlike Homeport, the new home features a master bedroom on the first floor. The spacious suite includes an oversized spa-inspired master bath with double showerheads and a large, walk-in dressing room off the bath. There’s a library/office on the first floor and two guest bedrooms (one with a balcony) and a full bath upstairs. For the kitchen, the Maloneys once again took cues from their previous home for more than just the aesthetics; they worked closely alongside the builder and kitchen designer to build an oversized island with seating where family and guests can gather. They chose a different shade of granite for the island this time around, and an eye-catching pale green for its base. Pull-out drawers for pots, pans and garden-variety cooking tools fill the low kitchen cabinetry, making them easily accessible. Though the completed kitchen is splendid, the couple doesn’t always dine there. “I like to go out to dinner like every other woman who’s been married 51 years,” Susan laughs, citing Le Central, Bristol Oyster Bar, DeWolf Tavern, Judge Roy Bean and Christian’s as some of her favorite local eateries.

With a longtime passion for interior design, Susan was delighted to embrace nautical decor throughout her new home, paying homage to Bristol’s illustrious maritime history. This includes John Mecray’s Herreshoff America’s Cup prints and works by renowned artist John Stobart, as well as a large half-boat and a sailboat model and convex mirror porthole over the fireplace. A compass rose inlay greets guests in the front hallway.

Susan also worked to ensure that the home was built to allow for ample natural light, including details like a cathedral ceiling and an attractive eyebrow window. “Big windows and lots of light were imperative,” she stresses. “I don’t believe in curtains or valances, but in certain rooms I did plantation shutters,” which are positioned to maximize the light.

The home’s color palette, Susan says, was inspired by light shades of sea glass. The maple floors were left unstained for “a beachy light look.” Outside, a crushed seashell driveway leads to a double garage surrounded by original stone walls and mature trees. 

The Maloneys empathize with other homeowners contemplating downsizing – “a very healthy thing to do,” Susan says. “It’s a hard day when you have to go through the stuff, but a lot of it you don’t need.” Her advice is simple: Keep the things you can’t live without. “My daughter has a sign in her kitchen that says, ‘Keep it simple,’ and that’s a good way to live.”