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My favourite room: Two's company


Interior designers Eamonn and Jacintha Courtney are yin to the other one's yang, writes Mary O'Sullivan, and they've utilised their complementary talents to great effect both in work and in life. Photography by Tony Gavin

Certain people and things belong together -- two peas in a pod; Romeo and Juliet; Tweedledum and Tweedledee; yin and yang; body and soul. According to Eamonn and Jacintha Courtney, spirit and style are another such combination, and, not only is Spirit and Style the name of their highly successful interiors company, but they have the words tattooed discreetly on their inner wrists in Chinese lettering. In fairness to them, their tattoos came about because of their generosity of spirit. "We were in Hawaii," Jacintha explains. "We were with Eamonn's brother and his wife and their two daughters. One of the girls wanted a tattoo and was only allowed to get it done if Eamonn and I would too, so off we went early one morning to the tattoo parlour. I'm 'style' and Eamonn is 'spirit'," she says with a laugh. It was just a fun thing, yet each word sums up the subtly different roles each half of the couple plays in the running of the company.

It's obvious from the way the duo talk about their many nieces and nephews that they love having them to stay in their homes -- their Kildare base as well as their opulent seaside house in Co Clare -- maybe it's because it was thanks to nieces and nephews that the couple met in the first place. "My parents live near Eamonn's sister and I was babysitting her children when Eamonn came down to visit," Jacintha says, recalling their first meeting. The relationship developed over further meetings at college; he went to Trinity and got a science degree, while Jacintha studied interior design at the College of Marketing and Design. "I used to go up to the Buttery for lunch," Jacintha says.

The second oldest of 10 children, Meath woman Jacintha says she developed her love of beautiful things from watching her parents collecting antiques. Eamonn, who hails from Omagh, is also one of a big family -- he's the second youngest of eight. After graduating, Eamonn got a Donnelly visa and headed to Chicago, where one of his four brothers was based. He found work there and stayed three years, but he returned home in 1989 and the couple not only started their business, combining their talents and expertise, but also started dating seriously. "Some would say that that's a recipe for disaster, but for us it's a recipe for success," says Eamonn, and Jacintha warmly reiterates, "That's the truth". The couple married in the mid-Nineties. Although Jacintha is the one with the formal education in interiors, Eamonn is also passionate about design. While he was directed towards university and science studies by his late parents who were determined that all eight of the children would go on to third level, he has had an interest in and love of colour and shapes going back to childhood. Both Eamonn and Jacintha are involved in all aspects of a project and they use their combined strengths for every project. "We constantly use each other as sounding boards and, by doing that, we nearly start with the finished product. We nearly always see everything in 3D," Eamonn says. It's a way of working that obviously finds favour with their customers. They number among their clients the very chic Dylan Hotel in Dublin, Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa, Ladycastle at the K Club, Carton House hotel and Temple Wood Residences at Carton Demesne.

They work and travel together and look after every element of a design project -- drawing up plans, planning the layout of buildings, dealing with health and fire regulations, as well as the more obvious design details such as colour schemes and soft furnishings. The couple also work with architects and building contractors and are used to dealing with sub-contractors, although they also have their own team for projects. "After so many years we've got a great team of carpenters, fitters, tilers, curtainmakers, electricians, upholsterers -- every aspect of building or renovating," says Eamonn.

This team of craftspeople also came in handy when they were decorating their home by the sea in Co Clare, although they cannot find high enough praise for the builder from whom they bought the house, who himself looked after many of the finishes, including the panelling and tiling.

When the couple decided that they wanted a second home, they looked at the Antrim coastline and Wexford, but then an advertisement brought them to view a house in Co Clare. They weren't happy with its location -- it was on the wrong side of the road. They preferred the views from the house they saw being built on the sea side of the road: spectacular views, which not only take in the sea but also the Kerry mountains. The house was only partly constructed -- the walls were up and the plumbing was done, but that was it. But it didn't matter whether it was finished or not. Both Eamonn and Jacintha say that even though the house wasn't finished they knew by the work that had been done that the final product would be superb, and superb it is. "It was a combination of things really -- the views, the house and finding Ned. You've heard of Waking Ned. Well, for us it was all about finding Ned," Eamonn says with a laugh. Ned Griffin, the builder, it seems, is a craftsman after their own hearts; he, like Eamonn, had spent time in Chicago, which in itself was a bond, but their attention to detail is matched by his. The overall finish is of the standard you'd find in one of their top projects, such as the Dylan Hotel.

Given the location of the house, it's not surprising that it's all about the sea. The sea can, of course, be seen from the open-plan kitchen, which is furnished with units by John Daly.

At least four sets of double glass doors on the ground floor open on to the acre of beautifully landscaped grounds with sea views, while there are Velux balconies from two of the bedrooms upstairs, which also maximise the views. Inside the house, which comprises a kitchen/dining room, TV room and lounge with three bedrooms, all en suite, the decor is full of maritime motifs picked up on their travels worldwide. Their love of the sea even extends to scuba diving -- they are both experts. So here there's a propeller from a ship, there a ship's clock. They even have a full-sized mermaid, which served time as the prow of a ship back in the 1890s; it was given to them as a present by a great friend, Annie Verwijs, of Kilcroney Furniture.

There are models of boats, there are countless beautiful shells from exotic locations, there are corals and crabs under glass domes, bits of driftwood abound and even a crocodile skull. And then there are the countless paintings, many of which feature the sea. Yet, all the artefacts blend with the top-class colour schemes and furnishings. There's a very definite style about the whole house. And, of course, spirit.

Spirit and Style Interiors, Maygrove House, Castlebrowne, Clane, Co Kildare, tel: (045) 892-582, or (086) 258-3977, or see www.spiritandstyle.ie

Sunday Indo Life Magazine