Friday 24 February 2017

Creative bloc

With backgrounds in pottery and basketry, Heike Kahl and her partner have designed a truly unique home, says Blanaid Hennessy

Blanaid Hennessy

Heike Kahle, a basket maker and owner of Baurnafea WillowWorks, lives with her husband, potter Klaus Hartmann, and two sons Lukas (16) and Roman (13) in Kilkenny.

Klaus and Heike came to Ireland in 1993 from their home in East Germany when travel to countries outside the Eastern Bloc was finally permitted.

They intended to stay in Ireland for six months, working as roofers in Baltinglass, but ended up undertaking weaving and pottery training in the Camphill community in Dingle, before arriving in Kilkenny to train with the Thomastown Craft Council.

There, they began the process of building a home that would include pottery and basketry workshops and a little showroom. They modelled this home using a shoebox as a guide, with Klaus developing skills such as plastering along the way; a skill he developed, they joke, by starting in the less important rooms and working up to the living areas.

A stipulation was that the house would be south facing, and, luckily, the planning permissions required the same. It is all about light and views -- large windows look out on to three acres of cultivated gardens and a willow plantation for Heike's weaving, while white flowers were planted outside the conservatory so they would be visible at night.

There is further intrigue in the garden -- old council wagons now used as a sauna and sleeping quarters. They found the two wagons years ago in council yards in Gowran, Co Kilkenny, and Paulstown, Co Carlow.

Steamrollers pulled the wagons from job to job for council workers to stay in during the working week. At the time of discovery, however, they were just being used as lunchrooms. The couple bought both and put them together in the garden.

Inside, Heike concurs that the space is more Scandinavian than German in style, with whitewashed floors, raw materials and a certain minimal feel.

The couple are fond of auctions and flea markets, and have received some amazing furniture. Heike says this is what makes a home interesting, collecting and curating over years, rather than trying to put it all together in the first few months in a house.

In the living room found, bought and inherited items sit together comfortably. The Chesterfield couch was a gift from friends, while Klaus inherited the armoire. Heike inherited the decorative writing desk from an aunt, and they purchased the antique display cabinet at an auction in the Royal Oak Auction Rooms, Co Carlow (059 972 1006).

This cabinet is filled with decorative tins they have collected over the years, and Klaus found the tin cars in dumpsters in Germany. The council set up the dumpsters in each village for people to throw away their unwanted items, but different collectors search through them first and divide the finds.

The doors throughout the house were salvaged from a property being torn down in Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny. In the kitchen, a Godin stove was a generous gift. Ovne in Cork has similar ones (www.ovnestoves.com).

Heike's advice is to "surround yourself with things you have a connection with.

"It makes me feel safe having all these things around me, without family ties to the area; putting your stamp on your house is important. It becomes your anchor, and then you create a family in this home."

Baurnafea WillowWorks and Baurnafea Ceramics, Baurnafea, Castlewarren, Co Kilkenny. Tel: 059 972 6947, heikeklaus@eircom.net

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