Bernie and Feargal Connell’s Victorian-inspired home has all the details one would expect to find in a period property, with the creature comforts of a modern build
The facade of this Westmeath home has impact — not many recent builds are covered with dense greenery, with a bright pink front door peeping out among the leaves. Bernie and her husband Feargal built the house 13 years ago, but they did not want anything like the stereotypical contemporary houses that had been popping up like mushrooms around the countryside. The couple adore antiques, and wanted their home to be a fitting showcase for their beloved pieces. Attention to detail, an eye for a find, and a network of talented craftspeople ensured their home had the old country house style they were after.
“We wanted something traditional. We spent a lot of time looking at old houses and through old books to look at layouts, as period houses have a very definite scale especially in terms of windows and doors. Feragal would stop the car if he saw an old house and he’d go off and measure the windows,” Bernie says. “It is a very simple house and yet there is a lot of detail, which was really important for getting the finished look we wanted.” They were positive that they didn’t want anything open plan; having lived in a open plan bungalow, they found it noisy with their three children and also wanted different rooms for entertaining. A lot of thought was put into architectural details; the ceilings are high, the doors are wide, there is lots of panelling, tall skirting boards and coving in every room. The most important detail of course is the timbre sash windows. “If we had put in PVC windows it just wouldn’t have worked. You do have maintenance with sash windows as you need to paint them every four years or so, but it was the price we were willing to pay for what we wanted,” Bernie says. “We went to a company that do a lot of restoration work for the OPW and they were able to make the windows we wanted.”
They were realistic in their commitment to the Victorian aesthetic. “We could have gone a step further and put in shutters and had thicker walls, but we had to draw the line somewhere,” she says. “It may look like an old house but it has an inbuilt vacuum system, underfloor heating upstairs and geothermal heating upstairs and downstairs. That meant we didn’t have to have radiators anywhere in the house.” Feargal is a building surveyor so he was able to do much of the planning and project management for the house, while Bernie adores interiors magazines and taking on a project in her spare time.
They put a lot of work into finding tradespeople who could help them create exactly the look they wanted in the home. “It is important to find the right person, which can be tough in the countryside compared to in a city. You want to know that when you ask for something to be done that it will be done how you want it. I have used the same painter decorator for everything, Owen Murtagh, and John Shaw in Mullingar does all of our upholstery.” Bernie was careful to invest in quality where it mattered, such as with the kitchen tiles. “Those tiles are marble and I got them in Graphic Tiles in Mullingar. They were expensive but I knew they would be worth it, and they are so easy to keep clean,” Bernie says. “The tiles in the downstairs bathroom I go there too, originally I had wanted smaller ones but I got these instead accidentally but I actually ended up loving them. They look perfect with the panelling.” Another favourite shop is Laura Ashley, and Bernie has picked up lots of textiles and pieces of furniture from there. “Our bed came from Laura Ashley, I have a lot of cushions and a couch from there. You know when you buy from there that you will pay a little more but that it will last, because it is such good quality.”
It took a year to build the house, and they decorated it over time. “Feargal left the interiors to me for the most part, but we have a very similar style. If he had his way the whole house would be filled with antiques, but I mix it up a little bit,” Bernie says. “It’s a mix of old and new and that is what we were trying to do. I think we achieved it and I really wouldn’t change it.”
One more modern feature is the impressive wall of shelves in the study. Before the days of Pinterest and Instagram, Bernie saw the idea in a magazine and asked Pat who does our garden and carpentry to build it. “It came together so well and it uses up very little space in the room. I found an antique desk for the room and it just looks exactly right,” Bernie says. “I used Colourtrend paint for that wall and throughout the house. I always use that brand, it is so good and they are like the Irish Farrow and Ball.”
Many of their finds came from auctions and markets, while others were scouted for online via eBay or Donedeal. “We go to England quite a bit on holiday and I love going to markets and antique shops and picking up little bits. We don’t buy expensive things, but if we see something we like we buy it. It could only be €2 but if it looks right we get it,” Bernie says. “We couldn’t find a lot of what we wanted in Ireland but England has a wealth of antiques. Once we got started on eBay we didn’t know where to stop! We bought all of our solid silver cutlery on eBay. It took us a while to build a collection but when you set your kitchen table with silverware there is just no comparison. Even the feel of it is nice.”
This article appeared in the September edition of Irish Country Magazine 2017.
Words: Róisín Healy | Photography: Ramona Farrelly
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