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An Old Tiverton Cottage Comes Back to Life

A furniture maker and a photographer turned a 100-year-old fixer-upper into the home of their dreams

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When Maria and Andrew Coughlin started house hunting, they knew they wanted a fixer-upper they could make their very own. Though you couldn’t tell by looking at it at the time, the couple’s shared dream was realized when they discovered a tired, outdated, 100-year-old cottage in Tiverton just steps from the waterfront.

“We had just started looking at houses and literally stumbled upon this house,” says Maria, recalling their 2013 home search. The 2,400-square-foot home featured three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a full basement and an attic, not to mention a garage. But while the nuts and bolts were there, modernity, design and charm were noticeably absent. “The house really hadn’t been updated since the 1970s, so there were a lot of changes we wanted to make,” Maria explains. To say the two could hardly wait is an understatement. “We started ripping out the back living room the first night we moved in.”
Maria and Andrew were determined to make the home worthy of its address on the “Most Charming Street in Rhode Island,” so named by a local magazine the year they bought the house. The couple strategized that the best way to move forward would be to tackle one room at a time.

Armed with determination, patience and a DIY attitude, the couple rolled up their sleeves and got to work. “The back room seemed like a good starting place because it has a beautiful fireplace and we knew we’d want to cozy up there all winter while we continued with the construction,” says Maria. They started by removing the bad wallpaper, fake wooden ceiling beams and unsightly window paneling. Andrew, an accomplished woodworker and furniture maker, built countless pieces for the house in his shop, AC Grayling, including all the interior trim for the back living room and an eye-catching mahogany mantle designed to mimic the shape of a ship’s hull. (Both Andrew and Maria share a background in the marine industry.)

Four years (and five dumpsters) from the start of their renovation journey, seemingly every inch of the house has been transformed. Andrew and Maria essentially deconstructed every room to the studs and redesigned spaces to make each warm, inviting, stylish and functional. They sanded sheetrock and plaster, removed laminate countertops, re-did the plumbing and wiring, tiled in the kitchen and bathrooms, installed baseboard heating, primed and painted again, sanded and stripped again, added new insulation, new sheetrock, new floors and new lighting and installed 11 new windows. They built a deck and a workshop, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Maria’s favorite room, a true labor of love, is the kitchen. “We finished the renovation last October and I just love how it turned out. It literally transformed our house,” she says. “Before it was dark, outdated and crowded. We took out the bathroom, knocked out the wall between the living room and kitchen, put in new windows and made everything white and bright. It turned out to be such a fun entertaining space – very open with good flow and everyone can be together. It’s also a great space for our family to relax at the end of the day and fix dinner together.”

When it came to décor and design, the couple again went the DIY route, working together as a harmonious team. By then, Maria and Andrew had discovered their greatest strengths. “I seem to be most talented at choosing fabrics and colors, while Andrew is great at designing spaces and building furniture, built-ins, doors, etc. We balance each other out,” she adds.

The couple share an affinity for light, airy colors with a “Nantucket vibe” punctuated by subtle nautical design elements. “We both love antiques and unique pieces,” says Maria. “I love going to Brimfield Antique Fair and have sourced some things there. I also really like Chateau and Bungalow in Newport for great antiques and previously owned pieces. Artee Fabric in Pawtucket is where I’ve gotten lots of our fabrics and gotten a few pieces of furniture recovered.” 

Much of the Coughlins’ experience has been featured in Maria’s blog, From Duffles to Drawers and as a photographer (MariaBurtonPhotography.com), she has captured the good, the bad and the unbelievable every step of the way (see: 10+ hours to strip decades of paint layers off the front door).

This summer, Maria and Andrew are enjoying their hard work at home more than ever, but they are also taking time to soak up the simpler things in life that Tiverton captures so effortlessly. “We love going into Newport for all the hustle and bustle and then coming home to Tiverton for quiet and space to breathe,” Maria says. And then there’s the couple’s faithful companion, Moose, a strikingly handsome Bernese mountain dog. “Everyone in Tiverton knows Moose. I take him on daily walks around the neighborhood and we stop to get treats at Bank Newport, the local coffee shop, Coastal Roasters, and to go for a swim down at the Tiverton Yacht Club. We are also almost daily regular visitors to Weetamoo Woods and love the landscape and trails.” Happy trails indeed.