Peek inside this architect's dramatically transformed bungalow home with LA vibes
A bungalow in the centre of a village doesn't sound promising, but a talented architect and a really visual couple combined to create an idyll worthy of LA.
As well as big, bold art statements, young entrepreneurs have a fondness for hanging motivational sayings on their walls. Power couple Clifden Foyle and Orna Holland are no different.
This dynamic duo have a sublime home on the south-east coast, and not only is it furnished with edgy, modern pieces and great art, but tucked away in their elegant office at the top of the house can be found framed mantras. In their case, the mantras were given to Orna by former employer Facebook, and bear the legends: "Work it harder" and "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"
Worthy statements indeed, but it's obvious this couple don't need any such advice about working harder; nor are they fearful. Clifden and Orna embrace work and life with an enthusiasm and zest that is at once admirable and energising, both doing several jobs as well as raising their two gorgeous daughters, Farrah (10) and Riley (eight).
Orna, who hails originally from Dublin, says goodbye to the family on Monday morning and commutes weekly from their base in Dunmore East to her job in Stripe, the international tech company based in Grand Canal Dock, which deals with integrated payment solutions.
Not one to put her feet up in her base in Dublin 4, she also has a new business, a blow-dry bar called Roller in Grand Canal Dock, which she started with a pal. While she's away Monday to Friday, Clifden holds the fort back in Dunmore, which includes working in the family businesses. These comprise The Strand Inn Hotel; The Cliff, which is a shop, art gallery and restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch during the summer season; a guest house; a mobile-home park; and, more recently, the River Cottage gastro pub in Waterford, which they bought last year.
Of course, regular visitors to this charming part of the sunny south-east will know the Foyle family; they've been part of the fabric of Dunmore for 50 years, ever since Clifden's grandmother, a hotelier in Connemara, decided to spread her empire back in the 1960s.
"My grandmother came down to buy The Haven Hotel, but actually ended up buying The Strand. But when she bought it, she couldn't make it work. She sent one of her sons, my uncle, down, but then she dragged him home. Then she sent another son, and he was dragged home as well," Clifden says with a laugh, adding, "then my father got involved."
As it happens, Clifden's father - Mike was his name - who was single at the time, worked in the bank in the West Indies and was thinking of coming home. "Granny rang him and said, 'I have this place, I'm going to sell it, but it could be a real humdinger if run properly," Clifden recalls.
That decided Mike; he came home and took over, and, in his first year, he had extraordinary luck that established the hotel as a place to go. "That winter, the herring fishing was phenomenal. Into the bargain, The Strand had a special licence that enabled them to serve drink until 4am," says Clifden. "In those days, they were heavy on licensing, not on drink-driving, so people used to drive for miles for the fishing and drinking. Herrings are winter fish, so his winters were busier than his summers."
Mike's other great bit of luck was meeting Edwina Halley. "Mum is a Halley from Tramore," Clifden says. "Her father used to come to the Strand for drinks and he'd bring his adult children. My dad was 41 and Mum was 20 when they got married, but it really worked."
It sounds as if they had a great marriage as well as the perfect business partnership. Clifden's mum Edwina had been to Cathal Brugha Street and knew the hotel business inside out, while Mike was a larger-than-life personality beloved of locals and tourists alike. "My dad was great fun, very charismatic and charming," Clifden says. "People who came to Dunmore loved to see him and have a jar with him, while Mum kept everything running smoothly. She's a tiger, a great lady."
While his dad died some years ago, Edwina, Clifden says, is still a force to be reckoned with. She is heavily involved in every aspect of the business with Clifden and his sister, Louise, who makes up the third member of the Foyle team.
Clifden says he didn't consciously decide from an early age that he too would end up in the business, but in many ways, even though he did go off and do his own thing for several years, it was almost inevitable; he was learning about the business by osmosis all his life, and from the age of 10, he was working in the business, picking up bottles in the yard, sorting crates.
"After Clongowes, I did trainee manager in Jurys in London, then I went to San Francisco and worked in restaurants for a while. After that, I did a marketing course in Dublin and while I was doing that, I worked in the Trocadero under Robert Doggett. Did I envisage coming back to Dunmore? I don't know, but then Mum rang and asked me to come back and do a summer, and I'm still here," Clifden says.
"A family business is hard on one arm, but it's kinda nice. We can kill each other, but there are great moments when everything goes right. It can be very hard work, but then it's your own business, you can put your own stamp on it," Clifden says. He adds that it's full-on in the summer, but less so in winter, which gives him plenty of time to devote to the girls. "A lot of people ask me, 'How can you live in such a small village?', but I have a real love for life here," says Clifden, who's called after the seaside village in Connemara which was his father's home.
Of course he and his family are constantly updating, with the result that The Strand is highly sought after for accommodation during the summer season, while its restaurant is a favourite among Waterford people looking for a fun night out. "People come to Dunmore East to switch off. There's a lot to do here, but people come here to do very little - to put the feet up and look out to sea, to swim, go for nice walk, eat nice food. A lot of people come from Dublin. Of course, it's only two hours by car now. When Orna and I started dating, it was three-and-a-half hours," Clifden marvels.
The couple met in September 2003, at the first ever Electric Picnic. Both remember it well. "It was 27 degrees and we met on a waltzer," says Orna, while Clifden elaborates. "I was there with my sister and some friends. Orna was quite vocal and we really connected. I said, 'Come on, we'll rock around for a while', and we did. I was dating somebody else; nothing happened, we were just hanging out. A month later, I rang Orna and said, 'I'm single now, maybe we should go out for dinner?'" Orna remembers the date well; he brought her to Shanahan's. Not too shabby! "On our first date, he said, 'I'm going to marry you'," the bubbly blonde recalls with a laugh. She adds, "I said, 'Yeah, yeah'. He told me he was from Dunmore East; I didn't even know where that was. I thought it was Wicklow. I was always a total Dub."
Born and reared in Mount Merrion, Orna did business and human resources in college. Her first job after college was in Microsoft, and, ever since, she's worked in tech companies, rising further up the ranks with each job. She did five years in Microsoft, then six in Google, followed by four years in Facebook, and for much of that time - since 2003 - she's been commuting from Waterford to Dublin. "I like it here, but there are no tech companies," she says. "After Riley was born, I worked one day in Waterford and four in Dublin, and it's been like that ever since."
Apart, that is, from a two-year stint with King.com, commuting from Waterford to London. "I wanted a role where I ran things globally, and sometimes it's difficult to get those opportunities in Ireland. That was the draw in moving to the UK. Be careful what you wish for," Orna says, admitting that that particular commute was exhausting.
However, she then got the call from Stripe back in Ireland and she returned to her comfort zone, a zone which to the rest of us would seem like an impossible challenge. "I've got a lot of energy and I don't find it difficult. I'm used to it, and I love my job, and honestly it doesn't feel like work," she insists.
Last year, she even found time to set up Roller with her friend Sonia Flynn. "There were no blow-dries in the area. I used to say to my regular hairdresser: 'You should open a blow-dry bar. She didn't, so myself and Sonia did it," Orna says.
Sonia and Orna worked in Facebook together; they both work full-time, they both commute - Sonia works in Brussels; they are both mothers, so they have a lot in common. "We have a great relationship, so we decided to go into business together. There are a lot of tech companies in the area and we thought they'd be our clients, but it's been the Marker and the lawyers in the law firms; they've been great," Orna enthuses.
"It's my first business. I wanted to see if I could do it. I didn't realise how much hard work it would be, dealing with builders, signage, hiring staff, branding, deciding which products to use, payroll etc, but it's been a great learning curve and it's going well."
Given that Orna discovered she has an entrepreneurial streak, it's a wonder the bubbly blonde didn't get involved in working in the Foyle family business. "They tried to get me involved many times over the years, but I just laughed every time," she says. "It's nice we have our separate things, we bounce ideas off each other. We're lucky - we have a great relationship, we make things work, and we manage to get everything to gel."
The interior of Roller was designed by Clifden's uncle, Pat Halley, an architect from Tramore, the same man who designed the renovation of their gorgeous home. "The house was single storey and was owned by a doctor when we bought it. It had been built in the 1970s and had won a design award at the time, so it was quite modern anyway," Clifden recalls.
"We bought it 10 years ago and lived in it for four years. When Riley came along, we felt we needed more space. Pat designed it for us. We had a good idea what we wanted - we wanted open plan; we wanted lots more light; we wanted sea views, with views of Hook Lighthouse; we wanted it to feel like a home you'd see in Australia. Light was really important to us, and Pat was amazing at getting it into the house," Clifden marvels. "It took a year, but sometimes, even in winter, I feel like I'm living in LA or Ibiza."
Pat had the house practically levelled, with the exception of one wall. He created a ground floor with large spaces leading from one to the other through double doors, with extra high ceilings and massive expanses of glass.
The ground floor consists of a hall with double-height ceilings, a large living room and a huge open-plan space that comprises kitchen, dining and playroom. From the kitchen window, Hook Lighthouse and the sea are visible. A concealed door in the island leads down to the basement, which has a utility area and a shower room.
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms and an office, and, above that, a superb terrace with stupendous sea views. The floors are lime-washed throughout, and the walls are all white, while the furnishings make simple, strong statements. "Clifden and I both get involved in the interior design. We have very similar style and taste, and we argue and argue until we agree," says Orna.
Two of the bedrooms are guest bedrooms to welcome friends and their kids. "We love our friends to come and stay," says Orna. "We've had loads of parties - we've had 140 people in the house for 18 hours. We started at 2pm and went on til 7am," Orna laughs.
Who'd have thought these floors and walls could take such a battering but they do, according to Orna who, despite her Dub-ness, adores her home. "We moved back in five years ago on Christmas Eve, and every single day, no matter what mood I'm in, every single day, I walk in and I love this place just as much every time," she says.
So lots of special things to look forward to after the work week - two gorgeous daughters, a loving partner and a wonderful home.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photograply by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine