Thursday 22 February 2018

My home is my canvas

Artist Polly Minett and husband Ivan have transformed a traditional farmhouse into a bright, cosy family home

The table in the dining
room was made by Martin O'Neill. The mirror is from
Eclectic Interiors and the dresser came from the
Royal Oak Auction House
The table in the dining room was made by Martin O'Neill. The mirror is from Eclectic Interiors and the dresser came from the Royal Oak Auction House

Amanda Cochrane

The 17th-century farmhouse of paper maker Polly Minett and her husband Ivan Powell shows what can be achieved with imagination and a splash of paint. Keeping the original features of the house, Polly has updated the interiors with strong colours, bespoke and salvaged furniture and bright accessories.

Revamped pieces add a new dimension to a traditional setting, while a careful selection of junk-shop discoveries add character.

Originally from Oxford, Polly discovered the art of paper making while living in Japan, where she taught English for five years. It wasn't until a visit home when her father, also a lecturer, was attending a paper-making course that she really became intrigued.

"I wanted to spend some time with him; he was doing this course and he booked me in as well, so it was kind of by accident," Polly explains.

Back in Japan, Polly was determined to find out more, taking courses with Japanese paper makers. When she moved home to Oxford (where she met her husband, Ivan from Dublin), she sought to learn more. She now teaches craft in primary schools in association with the Crafts Council and makes paper artwork in her studio.

Made from a wide variety of natural fibres -- from denim and flax to fibres found in her garden -- her ethereal pieces are dotted around the house. The delicate screens and lightboxes contrast with Polly's strong colour schemes.

As newlyweds, Polly and Ivan settled in Oxford, but when Ivan decided to return to Ireland to run the family business, The Packaging Centre, nine years ago, the family moved to Ireland.

Polly remembers Ivan finding the house: "He had his heart set on it; he used a picture of the house as his screensaver. We came to have a look and fell in love, too." For their two children, Eloise and Max (now 11 and 13), it was a big change.

"When we moved here they were very little and suddenly we had this huge walled garden, compared to our tiny garden in Oxford. The space was almost overwhelming to start." However, they soon adjusted and now love the house and living in the countryside.

An avid recycler, Polly doesn't find it easy to throw things away. They grow their own vegetables and keep chickens but, as their home is a listed building, they have been unable to make all the changes they would like.

"It would be great to maintain the character of the house while making it more eco-friendly," Polly says. "At the moment our energy rating is higher than I would like it to be because we can't make the necessary renovations, such as double glazing."

Part of the Wandesford Estate in Castlecomer, the oldest part of the farmhouse dates to the 17th century, although there was a Georgian front built onto the old farmhouse at a later date. "The Wandesfords owned the coal mines in Castlecomer and lived in a huge house that has since burnt down," Polly says.

When they moved in, although the house needed renovating, the basics were in place. The long, polished pine floorboards throughout the house are original, as are all the fireplaces. Mostly, it was a case of putting things back where they belonged, such as the roll-top bath, which they discovered in the yard.

"The Aga was in the kitchen but had been used as a press, so the lids were in the stables," Polly recalls. "It wasn't a case of searching for pieces that were authentic; they were all here, but not necessarily in the right place."

The master bedroom is dominated by an impressive four-poster bed, which Polly found at an auction house in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. She suspects it was there because someone had bought it and couldn't get it into their house.

"We had difficulty getting it in the front door -- even in pieces we only just got it in."

The bedroom walls are a dramatic blue, in keeping with the bold scheme throughout the house. "They're big rooms with high ceilings, so they can take strong colours," Polly explains.

Before moving to Ireland, Polly visited Ikea and filled a van with accessories and textiles, and the clean Scandinavian designs work well in a traditional setting. "In Ireland 10 years ago it was much more difficult to source things and they were much more expensive."

When Polly moved to Kilkenny, she befriended fellow artist Selina Gittens and they shared a studio in the Estate Yard in Castlecomer Demesne. Polly would find pieces of furniture in salvage yards and Selina would paint them. Many of these pieces are still around the house.

"When we first came we didn't have enough to fill a house like this, so people gave us lots of their old furniture," Polly says. The mismatched kitchen chairs are from junk shops and gifts from friends, as is much of the colourful glassware displayed in the kitchen.

Since then, Selina has founded her own interiors shop, Eclectic Interiors, and Polly has moved her studio into the house. "When we talked about her starting out, I told her to just go for it, as she's absolutely brilliant," Polly says.

Today, the mix of modern and antique furniture, bright colours and her delicate artwork is a reflection of Polly's eclectic taste and breathes new life into this traditional Irish farmhouse.

For details on Polly's artwork and classes, call 087 223 5946;

Image Interiors magazine is out now

Irish Independent

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