Life of Riley

A Bristol artisan outfits her cottage with vintage vavoom


Carol Riley is busy. A self-described maker, she designs clothing, accessories, and decor using vintage and new fabrics, salvaged trimming, and notions under her “Tatters” label. She upcycles the occasional piece of furniture; and is currently at work transforming an old church into her own boutique. Says Carol, “I’m hoping it will be a destination spot for anyone that loves things that are a bit different and one of a kind.”

Carol and her husband Michael are known around town for their perfectly named bed and breakfast, Bristol Cottage. The Rileys have lived in the 1946-built Cape for 25 years. Carol was instantly drawn to the architectural style and property, noting “I fell in love with the flowering cherry trees that flanked the house; sadly, they are no longer there.”

Inside the home, Carol has her studio, which she describes as her happy place. “I can go sit in there and lose myself. I will confess – it’s a total mess – not fit for public viewing.” While the studio may be “unfit,” the rest of the house has received national attention, once profiled in a Boho Style magazine spread.

“Vintage Eclectic, with a little Shabby Chic thrown in,” is how Carol describes her aesthetic, noting that her choices can be “totally contradictory.” In rooms throughout the home, Carol sets a creamy backdrop for a riot of colorful prints – in similar tones – on textiles, resulting in spaces that are lively, not busy. Says Carol, “I swing between all neutrals... and then mad colors!”

With its timeworn furnishings and floral accents, the cottage has a relaxed welcoming feel but none of the quintessential trappings generally found in a home so close to the water. Carol muses, “I don’t like the coastal look to be honest, you know, anchors and lobsters are just not my thing.”

Instead, elements like the casual simplicity of open shelving, washable slipcovers, piles of pillows, and splashes of aqua blue on everything from furniture to the enclosed porch ceiling lend a breezy waterside vibe.

While Boho and Vintage might be trending design terms, Carol says that she’s always decorated in this way. “My style has stayed pretty much the same. Thrift shops and found items.” When asked what she likes best about this style, Carol states, “the ease of living with it. Unpretentious.”


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