Prints charming: Peek inside designer's eclectic and welcoming home
Jane Carroll fell in love with her home because of its large kitchen and because it is double-fronted. However, the more she wanted it, the more elusive it became.
There's a new kid on the block in Blackrock, Co Dublin; it's a shop, which opened 15 months ago on the main street, and it's attracting lots of attention.
Invariably, clusters of kids can be found outside with their noses pressed to the alluring windows, which are full of miniature Georgian houses, colourful clocks, soft toys and wooden playthings; while inside is a treasure trove of hand-knitted elephants, cloth mice in matchboxes, Peter Rabbit ceramics, pretty quilts, children's clothes and bed linen in lovely prints, all against a backdrop of bright, fun colours.
The shop belongs to Jane Carroll, and much of the merchandise is designed by Jane herself, who has created a delightful world of whimsy and practicality combined; a world which is echoed in a more sensible, liveable-with way in her nearby home.
Jane is steeped in the area of children's design; she's been designing wallpaper, bed linen and other fabrics for children's rooms for over 30 years, but her interest in design goes back even further, to when she herself was a child.
Jane's father was Don Carroll, one of the Carrolls cigarettes family. He was a businessman, and at one stage he took a job in England and moved the family over. "I was about eight, and I remember my mother bringing me to Habitat. I couldn't believe such a place existed. I remember being amazed at all the wonderful prints and fabrics and furniture; Ireland had nothing like it at the time," Jane reminisces, adding that even at that young age, she fantasised about working in Habitat and, as it happened, that dream came true many years later.
Her parents returned to Ireland after a few years, but it was decided to leave Jane and her brother in England to finish out their schooling. After her A-levels, Jane got a place to study textile design in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and it was then that "life began", the petite blonde admits, adding, "I loved being back in Ireland, and I loved college".
After graduation in the mid-1980s, Jane and her two best friends from art college, Orla Kiely and Paula Flynn, headed off to New York, and all three got jobs in the same company, Gear, which specialised in interiors for children. "I did a kids-wallpaper collection; I loved it there. We went on J-1s, which expired after nine months. The company was willing to sponsor us to stay on, but the others had had enough, and I wasn't brave enough in those days to stay on on my own," the softly spoken businesswoman reveals, adding that all three girls are still the best of friends.
Paula became a big noise in Baby Gap before setting up her own company in America, and Orla is, of course, a household name in both fashion and interiors. All three have helped each other over the years with contacts and freelance work, and, of course, emotional support. "Orla was here for dinner last week. Orla and I are godmothers to each other's children; we're always in touch," Jane notes.
London was the next adventure, and both Jane and Orla got work in The Conran Shop, so Jane was back to the source of her inspiration. "I worked a lot with Terence Conran's sister, Priscilla. She was wonderful to me, and really gave me confidence in my designs," Jane says, adding that one year while with The Conran Shop, she was asked to design the company's Christmas-lights display on Regent Street for a competition.
"Actually, by some complete chance, I won it," Jane says self-deprecatingly, adding with a laugh,"so off I went to a big, fancy party with Terence Conran, and Prince Andrew switched on my lights."
She freelanced on and off over the next 10 years and then, in the mid-1990s, she got the idea to design quilts for kids. "A good friend had set up a business in India and offered me the opportunity to get whatever I wanted made in a very nice facility there. I've been doing that aspect of my business since then," Jane recalls, explaining that the quilts can be sized for beds, prams or cots, and can also be customised.
She sold the quilts through The Conran Shop and Brown Thomas, until she decided to open her first shop, which was after she came back to Ireland; the shop was right next door to her home in south County Dublin. "The shop really came out of the blue. It had been a shoe-repair place for 35 years, and when I was in hospital having my daughter, Lucy, the owner died. I happened to meet the landlord one day and asked him what he was doing with the premises. 'Are you interested?' he asked, and I said 'Yes', and it all fell into place," Jane notes, adding, "I wasn't really thinking about having a shop, I was wholesaling at that stage and when the shop was suggested, I suddenly realised there was a chance to do it direct."
She goes on to say that it was marvellous to be able to pop in and out from her home when she had customers. "It all tied up so nicely, I even rigged up a bell so I didn't have to be there all the time - it would ring and I'd go in," she explains. "There were a lot of regulars, so they knew the set up."
It was particularly convenient while Jane's children Lucy (13) and Will (11) were small, and she kept it going until late last year, when she got the opportunity to open up on Blackrock's main street. During those years with the shop next door, she developed lots of other designs, including her gorgeous clocks for kids. Typical of her designs is the clock in her own playroom, which features drawings of Will's teacher and all the children in his class. "All the clocks can be personalised," Jane explains.
Just as Jane's shop is full of colour and quirkiness and fun, so too is her house, which has been her home since she and her husband, solicitor Peter Duff, got married; she hooked up with Peter in England. "I vaguely knew him when I was a student here in Ireland," she says. "We got together properly in London. We met through friends. I came back first, in 1997. My dad was ill and I wanted to be with him. He died soon after, so I was glad I got to spend that time with him." She adds that "Peter came back about a year later. His grandmother bought and ran Buswells Hotel - she was the first to bring electricity to Molesworth Street, then his dad, Noel, used to run it."
They bought the house in 1998, thinking it would be a stepping stone, but like many people, they realised, as the years went on and houses became more expensive, that it made more sense to stay put and extend. "Luckily, it had possibilities," Jane concedes.
The main reason Jane fell in love with the house in the first place was the fact that it's double-fronted. "I had lived in London in a house which was very narrow. I knew the pitfalls of that; very dark and limiting," she explains.
However, the more she fell in love with the house, which dates from 1824, the more elusive it became. "The people selling it changed their minds three times. It was very frustrating. They agreed to sell it, we exchanged contracts, and then they took it off the market," she says, adding that six months later, while they were still looking for a home, the owners' solicitor asked if they were still interested, and, happily, they got it.
When they bought the house - which, from the front, appears to be single storey, but, in fact, has an upstairs - it had two reception rooms, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a lovely big kitchen, which was another of the reasons Jane was so attracted to the house.
They completely renovated the house, which is terraced, and it now has five bedrooms as well as two reception rooms and a playroom. The playroom area was a yard that got no sun, so it made sense to build, and turn it into a room. "That worked really well when the kids were young, with double doors so I could watch them," Jane recalls.
The kitchen was a funny L-shape, so when they were renovating, increasing number of bedrooms, and adding the playroom, they added eight feet to the kitchen and made it more square. They also added double glass doors leading to the garden. And Jane drew the line at that amount of glass. "Actually, the architect wanted the whole back to be glass. I said, 'No, we don't live in the Met'," Jane says with a laugh.
Jane's colourful, eclectic style of home interior is a sharp contrast to the glass spaces and hard edges of contemporary design, but like her shop, it's extremely welcoming. Like Jane herself.
Jane Carroll Design, Unit 2, Blackrock Shopping Centre, Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin, tel: (01) 210-8771, or see janecarrolldesign.com
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine