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Re-Purposing A Dewolf Family Home

This Bristol house has historical connections


Few names in Bristol hold as much distinction as DeWolf. The famed family boasts Bristol roots dating back more than two and a half centuries and the town’s lauded DeWolf Tavern pays homage to the brood. So when the Brito family purchased waterfront property that included the former site of the Mark Anthony DeWolf house, they knew they not only owned something extraordinary, but a piece of history.

Mark Anthony DeWolf was born in 1726 and married Abigail Potter of Bristol, daughter of the wealthy Simeon Potter, at just 17 years old. He reportedly fathered 15 children, many of whom became leaders in Bristol’s banking, insurance, trade and slave industries.

“Apparently what survived was the foundation of the home,” explains Betty Brito. “We used that to outline what has become our garden area.” Betty’s husband Joe, a born and raised Bristolian, bought the 14 acres on Poppasquash with his father, later selling off a third of it. The land they kept for future development included a home and old boat house. By the time Betty and Joe were getting ready to build there in 1999, they had the existing home demolished as it had fallen into disrepair but kept the boat house as they had been summering there with their two sons, Jay and Chris, through years.

“I wanted to renovate the original structure but it was so far gone,” says Betty. The couple turned to John Rodriques Construction Co. of Westport, owned and operated by John Rodriques, to build a 5,125 square foot single family home featuring four bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms in the style of an old English country manor. “They broke ground in March 2000,” says Betty.” Three or four guys built the house from the bottom up and it was truly amazing.” An unforeseen but fortuitous event forced the Britos to change addresses sooner than expected. “We had a house in town which was our year-round house. We put it on the market thinking it would take forever to sell but it took eight weeks, so we moved into the boat house,” says Betty. The family of four nested in the approximately 1,000 square foot home. “It was like camping. It was really fun... we survived,” she laughs.

The main house was completed in September of 2001. The Britos worked with Rodriques to include columns along the exterior in homage to the Mark Anthony DeWolf house that once stood there based on historic photos they had seen. “It’s a nice tribute to the heritage of the property,” adds Betty.

Inside, the couple lets the view of Bristol Harbor take center stage with floor to ceiling glass doors. “No windows or drapes – we like it just the way it is,” tells Betty. “We designed it so the living is all on one floor since it’s our ‘forever’ home, the home we will retire in.” The layout and design of the kitchen was a priority for the couple who enjoy cooking together. “[It] was important to us, we knew people end up congregating there.” Double ovens and double dishwashers make cooking and cleaning a seamless affair, while a pair of deep sinks flank the expansive island. The home also features a state of the art video and security system.

The library is one of Betty’s favorite rooms in the house this time of year as it features a gas fireplace and provides and area to relax and unwind. In addition to the three bedrooms upstairs, there is a sitting area that overlooks the water. “When we moved in that was really the boys’ area... a common area for the TV set and where they can relax.”

To create the warm, coastal ambiance they sought for the home, the Britos turned to Richard Sadow Design of Dartmouth, MA. “Our palette is definitely earth tones and we really credit our interior designer with helping to create the feel we wanted... I don’t think we would have ever come out with what we did if it weren’t for Richard,” says Betty. “In the dining room especially, the palette is warm and soothing with terra cotta and yellows and grays. It’s authentic to an old country house.” Many of their custom furnishings were created by Richard’s contemporaries at The Design Center in Boston. For tabletop and décor finds, Betty shops locally at Bristol shops including Kate & Co., The Knotty Dog and The Studio in Barrington.

While Betty was confident with the design choices Richard suggested, Joe was a little more of a harder sell. “We hadn’t worked with a designer before and my husband and Richard had a love hate relationship... over time it resolved,” she says with a laugh. Betty goes on to explain that Richard tested their boundaries, introducing colors, fabrics and furnishings that they admittedly may not have chosen themselves. “Ultimately, we always went with all of Richards suggestions,” she admits. In a testament to their satisfaction with Richard’s eye, when their son Jay celebrated one of two wedding ceremonies at the home (a Christian ceremony was held at the Brito’s home and a traditional Hindu ceremony in Newport to celebrate Jay’s bride’s Indian heritage), Joe and Betty turned to the designer to make some design upgrades in the home. When Richard would approach with ideas, Joe, says Betty, simply replied, “Oh Richard, whatever you think.”

Like any home, there are always a few lingering projects that Joe and Betty plan to tackle in the future, including converting the fireplace in the living room from wood burning to gas, and updating the old boat house. In the meantime, the Britos are enjoying writing their own chapter of Bristol history.