Monday 17 December 2018

'As a child it felt like parkland' - €850k family home of two artists in Howth goes on the market

Artists Barbara Warren and William Carron had studios in Matakana

Matakana is a proto-suburban semi-d, built in 1940
Matakana is a proto-suburban semi-d, built in 1940
The entrance hall
The bright kitchen
The 'good room' at the front of the house
Howth Head
Barbara Warren's painting
Barbara Warren by Eileen Seery
Barbara Warren
The couple's end of garden studios

Eleanor Flegg

When the artists Barbara Warren and William Carron moved to Howth in 1961, the peninsula was farmland, populated by cows that regularly decamped into the garden, with a residual fishing village only beginning to attract a scattering of eccentrics. For artists wanting to retreat from the hurly-burly (but not too far) it ticked a lot of boxes. In the early years, they didn't have to fear too many Dublin visitors - it was considered a bit of an expedition to go to Howth.

Warren was part of a generation of Irish female artists, mostly Protestant, who studied abroad and supported each other within a male-dominated profession. Like Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone, she studied under the Cubist painter André Lhote in Paris and his influence can be seen in her work. Over time, her friendships with the artists Elizabeth Rivers and Kitty Wilmer O'Brien sustained her. A fine draughtsperson, she is best known for landscape paintings, strong in composition and colour, with an overwhelming sense of place. People liked, and bought, her paintings. In 1987, her work was included in the National Gallery of Ireland exhibition, Irish Women Artists Eighteenth Century to the Present Day. She became a member of the RHA in 1989 and of Aosdána in 1990. Warren exhibited regularly at Taylor Galleries.

Born in 1925, Warren had some adventures behind her. In 1943, she volunteered for the war effort and moved to Belfast to work at a training base. Her job was to test the electric circuits on Lancaster bombers before they went out on the raids. To anyone who knew her since, this is a terrifying thought. Warren was a sweet-natured but thoroughly impractical person. After enrolling in the forces in Belfast, she was stationed in the south-east of England on an RAF base.

For both Warren and Carron, the move to Howth was the start of an enduring romance both with the area, which they both painted, and with the house. Matakana is a proto-suburban semi-d, built in 1940 and named by one of its earliest inhabitants, a merchant seaman who had fallen in love with the New Zealand region of the same name. Later, it was lived in by a couple blessed with twins, who converted the attic in a bid to contain them. This became Warren's studio.

The bright kitchen
The bright kitchen

"When you went up the little stairs that go to the studio, you felt that you were leaving the domestic space," Warren's daughter, Rachael Carron, remembers. "The studio was part of the house, but separate. At one stage in her career she made relief carvings on slate. You could hear her upstairs, chipping away. She hated having to deal with domestic things when she was in the throes of her work. The dinners used to become a bit charred…"

Warren's husband, William Carron, was also an artist and built two studios at the bottom of the garden: one for pottery and one for painting. "It was very good for the marriage," Rachael Carron observes. "They spent a lot of time apart." Now, the space might suit someone running a home business, with either the attic or the larger of the garden studios converted to office space.

In the 1970s, they extended the house to build a large kitchen and dining area with a picture window looking out onto the garden.

"The idea of having an open-plan kitchen where you could eat and talk to each other was very modern for its time," says their daughter. The bright red and yellow kitchen comes from Ikea and was installed within the last five years. Visually, the bright colours draw the garden into the house. The upstairs bathroom was modernised at the same time.

The garden is a large and private space with mature hedges, shrubbery and a large ornamental cherry tree. "As a child it felt like parkland," says Rachael Carron. Horticulturally, it is uncomplicated. "Barbara didn't go berserk on the garden. I think she realised that it could consume you. There are shrubs that flower every year, but no herbaceous borders." It's also quiet. Despite the development of Howth, Grey's Lane is mainly used by residents and walkers.

The family room adjacent to the kitchen, also with windows onto the garden, attracts a lot of use. "They tended to spend the evenings in there because it's informal and it has a fireplace." The front room, more spacious and with satisfying proportions, was considered the "good room" and is much grander than the rest of the house.

The 'good room' at the front of the house
The 'good room' at the front of the house

Upstairs are three bedrooms and a recently modernised bathroom. The smallest bedroom might, potentially, be converted into an en-suite for the master bedroom, which looks to the front of the house and has a small ornamental balcony. The attic, if not commandeered as a studio, would make a fine bedroom with a side view onto Claremont Bay.

Barbara Warren and William Carron died in 2017, weeks apart, leaving a house designed to meet the needs - practical, artistic, and romantic - of an older generation.

Now, the house requires a fair bit of upgrading and modernisation, insulation to start with, and the possible rearrangement of the upstairs rooms. The large garage has potential for conversion, as does the attic. It would suit an owner that respects the history of the house, but who also wants to put their own stamp on it.


Grey's Lane, Howth, Co Dublin

Asking price: €850,000

The couple's end of garden studios
The couple's end of garden studios

Agent: Sherry Fitzgerald, (01) 839 4022

Indo Property

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