Like many couples who fall in love as undergraduates, Tom and Kirsten DiChiappari returned to their native states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, respectively, after graduating from Providence College. But their love proved something more than just a college romance when within the year, Kirsten moved to Boston to be closer to her sweetheart and to start her career in the Bay State. The two wed and spent more than a decade in and around Beantown. Not long after their son Ben was born, the two reevaluated where they wanted to raise their family, and Tom had suggested they look at towns in Rhode Island’s East Bay, where he had worked during the summers of his college years.
It was 2004, when real estate inventory was low and the housing market was competitive. The DiChiapparis fell in love with a charming home in Bristol only to get to the inspection phase and learn the seemingly turnkey gem was a virtual money pit. The two kept returning to another home that was in a charming, tree-lined neighborhood not far from Bristol’s Claire D. McIntosh Wildlife Refuge, home to the Audubon Environmental Education Center, bucolic trails, fields, woods, wetlands and a boardwalk to the shore of Narragansett Bay. The home was solid, albeit somewhat outdated, and had good bones with heaps of potential. There was one red flag the house had that they seriously had to consider: a pool. “Tom and I both liked pools; we both grew up going to pool clubs,” explains Kirsten, but the ongoing maintenance and safety factor of having a pool with an 18-month-old who was starting to enjoy his mobility and potential future children was a lot to weigh. “We just weren’t sure, but we ultimately caved,” says Kirsten.
While the couple had long-term goals of renovating parts of the house, those plans were put into high gear when an upstairs bathroom leak seeped into the kitchen, ruining the space, the ceiling and ultimately led to the discovery of a second ceiling and boatload of mold. The DiChiapparis quickly had professionals address the issue - hazmat suits and all - and moved swiftly to rebuild a kitchen that was modern, functional and within their design aesthetic. It soon became clear that the home, built around the late 1960s, had many do-it-yourself projects gone wrong, like insufficient and unsafe wiring, and the couple worked with local contractors like Dave Bouvier of Bouvier Interior Woodworking to undo some of the projects.
Today’s living room in the DiChiappari home is a far cry from the original, where the 11 windows added plenty of sunlight and beautiful manicured lawn views but lacked proper instillation and insulation, leaving the room vulnerable to freezing temperatures. With some minor construction, including the removal of a faux brick wall, scraped off wallpaper, new replacement windows, a crafted bluestone hearth, pellet stove and myriad coats of paint, the living room has now become the heart of the home. “That’s the room, everything happens there,” says Kirsten, who describes her design style as “very shabby chic” and heavily influenced by Coastal Living magazine. “I like casual, subtle, tasteful, simple... Lots of khaki colors and neutrals with a pop here and there.” Some of the local Bristol shops she frequents for home décor and favorite finds include Kate & Company, Sea Rose Cottage, Knotty Dog and Copper Quahog.
In the rest of the home, many of challenges were aesthetic, but still required substantial work. “There was a lot of shiny brass and dark greens. Lots of wallpaper with lots of borders - lots of borders,” she says with a laugh. “A dear friend, Sara Diem of One Plus One Design, worked with me when we first moved in to choose the right paint colors. I still have giant swatches that we had taped everywhere while we chose.” As the couple entertains friends and family frequently in informal spaces like the kitchen, living room and roomy outdoor patio, they decided to convert the living room into a playroom for eleven-year-old Ben and eight-year-old Sydney.
Kirsten, a digital media strategist who works both in and outside the home, also created a functional but beautiful workspace where the family dog is often at her side. And that pool that was a red flag? Today it’s the hub of summertime fun, where family and friends gather and enjoy beautiful landscaping and children have their fill of fun. “We absolutely love Brooke from Sunflower Designs who is responsible for the plans that we have adopted and will grow into over the years with our yard.” But the pool isn’t just for wee ones. “Every summer I invite a yoga instructor to come teach a weekly poolside yoga class... it’s one of my favorite things! In the past Christine Reed, co-founder of Bristol Yoga Studio, has taught here and most recently, Jen Moclair, who teaches at Synergy, Raffa and other spots, taught. It’s so nice to walk out my back door for yoga.”
The couple is also very involved in their Bristol community, working with organizations like Bristol Good Neighbors Soup Kitchen and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. This September, the DiChiapparis will mark their 10th anniversary of living in their home, a labor of love. “We came in having a plan as to what we were going to do, and I recently found these index cards I had created for each room,” Kirsten says with a smile. “We looked at all the things we didn’t do; and everything we did do.”