Peek inside the fitted out Wexford home of top kitchen designers
In David and Christine Farrell's en suite bathroom, a large, flat piece of smooth steel protudes from a wall, and because everything else is so contemporary and pristine, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that it's the latest in bathroom technology.
Yes and no. The piece of steel is a very nice sleek tap for a bath, but there's the rub - there is no bath. David and Christine laugh as they explain the reason for its absence. Pure and simple, lack of funds. "We had it all planned. It was going to be a slipper bath, the space is just right for it, but we just ran out of money, so it will have to be showers for us for the moment," David says with a laugh.
The reason he can laugh is that it's actually a very small thing in a very beautiful, very finely fitted-out home, with a stunning high-end walnut kitchen, capacious storage everywhere and superb contemporary wooden furniture, such as the dining table with a stone inset. And it's the couple's first home into the bargain. It helps, of course, that David - who is MD of one of Ireland's top kitchen manufacturers, Michael Farrell Bespoke Kitchen & Furniture Design in Enniscorthy -has a degree in furniture technology and has been working with wood since he was a boy, helping his father Michael, who started the company. "My dad is a joiner and he started making kitchens in his garage back in 1979," David explains, "Since I was able to walk, I've wanted to be in the workshop. I love the smell, I love working with wood. I loved cabinetry when I was growing up. Then, when it came to summer jobs, it was either the workshop or picking strawberries, and with that you're stuck in a wet field, so it was a no-brainer," David says with a laugh.
After school, David, who has two sisters, went to Letterfrack, where he got a degree in furniture technology, and he also credits the college with broadening his horizons. "I got to do placements in Germany and other countries. A good cabinet maker is worth his weight in gold, but a lot of the work is becoming very IT based and it's important to be very computer literate," David notes.
After his four years at college, he travelled around, worked in the States and in Germany for a while, and was going to take a permanent position in the UK but instead, in 2003, he came home and hasn't left. "My dad is still very involved, but I'm running the company and it's a fantastic opportunity for me to drive the business on," he notes.
The Celtic Tiger was just kicking off when David, who's in his late 30s, joined, and they were run off their feet until it slowed down in 2008, but business has become very busy again in the last few years. "We have 22 full-time staff now, more than we ever had before, but we learned a lot in those years - for example, the importance of managing growth. We have to focus on delivering something a bit different, something a bit niche. The main thing we're known for is a very modern-design Irish kitchen, using very high-end materials, and very clean, very sharp lines. We got an amazing response to our product at House last year and we see ourselves as legitimate competition to the German bought-in products," David says, adding, "We travel abroad every month sourcing materials, keeping abreast with what's out there, trying to keep ahead of the curve."
David says he did toy with buying a German franchise at one stage, but ultimately decided against it in favour of making their own home-grown product better and more streamlined. "It's nice not to be a nation of outsourcers," he says.
David says there are two main trends in kitchens nowadays; one is where the doors are hand-made, hand-fitted and hand-painted, and in this case, people can change the colours according to whim and taste. The other trend is a more contemporary design with flat, handle-less doors, made of very textured veneers. Smoked eucalyptus would be typical of one of those veneers.
It's also very on trend these days to only have below-counter storage with very few wall-mounted units. And the below-counter storage is mainly made up of drawers. "Part of the reason why people don't go for above-counter storage is they prefer to use the space for windows, adding more light, and often to maximise the views," David explains.
David and Christine's own home, a few miles outside Enniscorthy, has stunning views of the constantly changing landscape just outside their windows and beyond of Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains. The couple, who had met in 2004 in a nightclub, the week after Christine graduated as a pharmacist, opted to buy a site in the Enniscorthy area in 2009. "My parents live nearby, there is a great community here and it's near work," David says simply. Since then, their two little boys were born - Eoghan (four) and Ben (16 months) - and luckily the house is more than adequate for all four of them.
Designed by architect Fergus Flanagan, it's over two storeys, but from the entrance it appears to be a bungalow, set in a hollow. "We wanted it to be inconspicuous from the road," David explains, adding that they also wanted the design to take advantage of the views. They wanted a lot of glass and a lot of storage. "The bedrooms can be small as long as the storage is right," David explains, adding that Fergus got what they wanted very quickly. "I'm very much about letting the architect bring a fresh pair of eyes. Our initial sketches were very different to Fergus's end plan, but, really, his design was perfect. We spent time at the start thinking out things like electrical points and that meant the build went smoothly," David says, adding it was built in a year. Not only were the couple thrilled with the architect's work, it seems that he was also impressed with David's - Fergus has commissioned David to design many kitchens for the houses he has worked on since. Between the three of them they came up with many extras, like automated lighting; there are no light switches in the hall - instead, the lights work automatically. "It's great if you're getting up five times a night," Christine notes ruefully.
The entrance hall has the bedroom wing to the right and the kitchen to the left, and then, beyond the kitchen, is the dining room, with a huge expanse of glass facing onto the mountains, while a staircase leads downstairs to the sitting room, a study and the utility room.
Wood is used extensively throughout the house, both inside and out. Part of the exterior is clad in cedar, the kitchen is walnut, the beams in the kitchen are French oak, while the staircase is American oak and there are cherrywood bookcases. David himself built most of the furniture. "That was in the days when I had time," David jokes.
Christine says she left most of the design of the house to David, but she did have input into the kitchen, "I do most of the cooking," says Christine, who works in a pharmaceutical company in Arklow. "I was involved in the worktop space and oven." David interjects with a mock eye roll, "She's the most demanding customer I ever worked with."
Christine does gamely declare herself very satisfied with the kitchen, even seven years on. As for that missing slipper bath, with the cost of two little boys and growing demands on both parents' time, they're not too hopeful. "Maybe when the kids go to college, we'll get around to it," David says with a laugh.
Michael Farrell Kitchens will have a stand at HOUSE, Ireland's new high-end interiors event, which takes place in Dublin's RDS, May 26-28, showcasing world-class interiors, art and design. Buy your tickets now at house-event.ie/tickets
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine