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Home with a History

One couple reclaims the former residence of a great-great-grandfather

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Homeowners in Bristol are known for falling in love not only with their century-old abodes, but with the history that comes along with them. Some take to the library, researching ancient property records and census data to decode a home’s past; others take the word of local historians and embrace that truth. But when Tim Sweeney and Erich Haslehurst bought a ca. 1833 Doric Greek Revival in Bristol in 2010, the history of the home was intensely personal and anything but a mystery.

“My great-grandfather purchased this home when he was the Chief of Police for Bristol during the late 1800s,” explains Tim. “He raised his six children in this house with his wife – with no bathroom!”

Located in the heart of Bristol’s downtown seaport village just three blocks from the town’s picturesque harbor and steps from Bristol Town Common, the home became a labor of love for the couple who purchased it from Tim’s family. Naturally, Tim and Erich were eager to continue the home’s legacy of staying in family hands, but its style, charm and locale were equally alluring. “We both love history and architecture and really enjoy making our house our home, with respect to its intended nature,” says Tim.

Erich, a sales manager at Rustigian Rugs in Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood, has a background in design. He says he is inspired every day from the wonderful textiles in which he’s surrounded. He’s equally inspired by the talented interior designers and architects from around the region that he works alongside to make each house a home. “A typical day can have me out at several people’s homes – all different – and each one special,” adds Erich.

So when it came to their “new” old home, the couple looked to pay homage to its past while infusing their own design aesthetic throughout. “When Tim and I were making this ‘old family home’ our home, we didn’t hesitate to go bold with historical flair,” Erich declares. “We do not have a beige wall in the house!”

The two sought wall colors from two distinct Benjamin Moore color collections. The first was from its “Historical Colors” palette featuring 174 time-honored colors inspired by shades found in 18th and 19th century architecture. These “classic, inviting hues” are Benjamin Moore’s most popular. The second was the new Williamsburg Collection, derived from classic American design and based on original pigments developed more than 250 years ago. The color collection was created to embody “where trend meets tradition” while being historic, contemporary and versatile.

The couple chose a rich “Governors Gold” juxtaposed with “Ewing Blue” on the ceiling for the front entry hall, a warm “Wedgewood Grey” for the main parlor, soothing “Providence Olive” for the living room, enticing “Monticello Rose” for the dining room, brilliant “Dorset Gold” for the kitchen and cool “Whipple Blue” in rear entry halls, one of which honors Bristol’s legendary Independence Day Parade with memorabilia from throughout the decades. To make each shade pop, all the trim throughout is a pure bright, semi-gloss white.

Naturally, as rugs are Erich’s area of expertise, the home features exquisite pieces from around the world. “We absolutely love our rugs,” says Erich. “We started with them and went from there... this is what designers often tell their clients [to do].”

“One of the biggest challenges when it comes to taking on any project is to consider whether it would fit the ‘feeling’ of the home,” explains Erich. “We are both very particular when it comes to this and don’t want to take away front the historic nature of our home.”

The couple shares the fruits of their labor by opening their doors to friends and family, entertaining often, including for political fundraisers (Tim is currently serving his second term as a member of the Bristol Town Council). “We love that people seem surprised when we tell them that the house is just 1,300 square feet,” says Tim. “They think it isn’t possible.”

The couple credits the home’s high ceilings, natural flow, deliberate color scheme and interior design with conveying the illusion of more space than actually there. “We love to keep the lights dim at night and use candles and create a calm atmosphere that is comfortable for folks to relax and forget about what’s going on outside,” explains Tim.

But it’s hard for the two to forget about outside, nor do they want to. “We are steps away in either direction from the waterfront and both enjoy leisurely running along the East Bay Bike Path and Colt State Park or throughout the breathtaking landscapes of Mount Hope Farm” says Tim, a proud native Bristolian.

Together, Tim and Erich agree that Bristol, known as “America’s most patriotic town,” is right where they want to be. Says the couple, “Bristol really is one of those special places and we feel fortunate to live here, in our little historical home, in a busy little town, that seems quiet at first glance but is bursting with energy and is full of amazing people that make up our community.”