Tuesday 21 November 2017

Peek inside designer Deirdre Minogue's amazing double-cottage in Wicklow

When our houses get too small for us, most of us either move or extend. Deirdre Minogue was in the lovely position of being able to add on the house next door.

Deirdre outside her home. Dating over 100 years, it was part of a row of stone cottages which originally housed workers at the Fitzwilliam Estate
Deirdre outside her home. Dating over 100 years, it was part of a row of stone cottages which originally housed workers at the Fitzwilliam Estate
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

When a house is furnished with lots of textiles, with beaded bags and pieces of interesting fabric hanging on the walls, wickerwork hares boxing in the hall and serried rows of painted pottery, it's a strong hint that the occupier is passionate about arts and crafts and all things artisan.

Such is the case with boutique owner Deirdre Minogue. For the last 10 years, Deirdre has owned and run the successful fashion boutique at Rathwood - Carlow's popular home, lifestyle and garden emporium - but she was a knitwear designer in a former life, and the fashion ranges she stocks in Rathwood reflect her love of design and craft. Her husband Ian was a woodturner, and for a while they even lived in a craft village in the wilds of Scotland.

The boxing hares made from willow were created by Lynn Kirkham. They are situated in the JUB - the joined-up bit
The boxing hares made from willow were created by Lynn Kirkham. They are situated in the JUB - the joined-up bit

Deirdre, who was brought up in Drumcondra and is the third of seven children, attributes her initial interest in craft to her father, who worked in the clothing business all his life. "He worked in Kingstons on O'Connell Street; the owner was Cathal Brugha's mother. Cathal was expected to join the family business, but when he showed more of an aptitude for politics, she took a special interest in my father," Deirdre notes, adding, "He was very particular about tailoring."

Deirdre showed a talent for design, and when she finished school, she wanted to go to the Grafton Academy to study fashion, but her parents were adamant that she do a secretarial course. They felt fashion was precarious and the course would be something to fall back on.

Deirdre is thrilled with her new Ikea kitchen units and Belfast sink
Deirdre is thrilled with her new Ikea kitchen units and Belfast sink

They were probably extra concerned about Deirdre being able to support herself; she had suffered polio as a child, and spent long bouts in hospital. "I got it when I was eight. I was in Cappagh Hospital on and off for two-and-a-half years. I was an inpatient for the first year, even though I was only getting physiotherapy and we lived down the road off Griffith Avenue," Deirdre marvels, but she shows no self-pity or bitterness. "There were an awful lot of people worse off than me. I can't wear high heels, but that's the only drawback now. Before Cappagh, I was in isolation in Cherry Orchard - at least in Cappagh, the family could visit me twice a week, and there were others to play with. It wasn't the worst," she notes cheerily.

As a result of the polio in her left leg, it didn't grow and the right leg had to be shortened to match it. When Deirdre finished the secretarial course, she had to have that shortening operation. "They had to wait until I had finished growing. I was advised that if I didn't have it done when I was 18, that my back would give me trouble," she notes.

Deirdre recently created this airy, roomy space by removing the bedroom above and opening the whole area up to the roof. Most of the pottery lining the shelves is handpainted by Deirdre. The mantlepiece came from a dump in Scotland. She called this cat Neeps in honour of their Scottish ties
Deirdre recently created this airy, roomy space by removing the bedroom above and opening the whole area up to the roof. Most of the pottery lining the shelves is handpainted by Deirdre. The mantlepiece came from a dump in Scotland. She called this cat Neeps in honour of their Scottish ties

After the operation, she worked as a secretary for a while, but her heart wasn't in it, so she decided to move to Scotland, where her sister lived, and where she wanted to train to be a teacher. However, she was immediately struck by the unusual knitwear there. Her desire to design was reignited, and she decided to start knitting. "I bought a knitting machine and that's how I got going. I started to sell my knits, then I showed at various trade and craft fairs, and it took off from there," Deirdre explains, adding that her patterns involved a lot of colour and her own take on Scottish Fair Isle, then basing her knitwear on Persian and other carpet designs.

The knitwear wasn't the only thing that took off at a trade fair; Deirdre, who was based in Edinburgh at the time, met her husband Ian Laidlaw at one such fair. "Ian was a woodturner. He made toys for a living at the time, but his real passion was for making early Renaissance musical instruments, flutes and fiddles," she notes.

The guest bedroom is imbued with colour and pattern. The bed is covered with an Indian quilt, the wall hanging is an old piece of Chinese embroidery and the beaded bag is by Deborah Von Metzradt, a Wicklow-based craftsperson
The guest bedroom is imbued with colour and pattern. The bed is covered with an Indian quilt, the wall hanging is an old piece of Chinese embroidery and the beaded bag is by Deborah Von Metzradt, a Wicklow-based craftsperson

It was the early 1980s, and as they both enjoyed the craft business, the couple moved to a craft village soon after meeting. "It was a place called Balnakeil, in the north-west corner of Scotland," Deirdre says. "It was built as an early warning system for the RAF, but never used, and the local council rented the buildings to craftspeople. It was great for setting up a craft business; it was very cheap to live there, but it was very remote and very windy."

It wasn't suitable for kids as there were no schools, so they moved to Inverness, where their two children, Angus (now 30) and Laura (now 27) were born. "We had bought a premises to set up a craft shop in a place called Drumnadrochit, just outside Inverness, on the edge of Loch Ness, but unfortunately, just a few months after we moved in, the Lockerbie disaster happened. That really affected tourism in Scotland for a few years," Deirdre explains, adding that when Angus was three and Laura a baby, the family decided to come and live in Ireland. Deirdre's mother was the only grandparent the children had and the couple wanted their children to get to know her and their cousins.

Each house for the estate workers came complete with a sizeable plot so that the tenants would be largely self-sufficient.
Each house for the estate workers came complete with a sizeable plot so that the tenants would be largely self-sufficient.

Deirdre's reputation in Scotland at this stage was such that when the Canadian government were looking for a knitwear consultant, they gave her the job. "The fishing industry had collapsed in Newfoundland and they were trying to build up their knitwear. The contract was only for six months, but it was fascinating," she recalls, adding that when they came back to Ireland, in 1990, just after her Canadian experience, she was able to continue her knitwear business. By this stage, Ian had changed careers and had gone into computers, and he got work here in that area.

Deirdre set up a workshop in Tinahely. She had a team of knitters who did piece work for her, and she put the garments together in her workshop, where she also had a shopfront. She began to buy some fashion ranges to complement the knitwear, and the whole business went well.

The living room is in the adjoining cottage. Deirdre had the plaster taken off the walls and the beams exposed to give a more rustic look. She added the stove and the bookshelves
The living room is in the adjoining cottage. Deirdre had the plaster taken off the walls and the beams exposed to give a more rustic look. She added the stove and the bookshelves

However, the knitwear business changed in the early noughties, and work started to be outsourced to China.Fortunately for Deirdre, she knew the Keoghs in Rathwood. They told her they were extending and asked her would she like to set up a clothing boutique under her name in Rathwood, so that's how Deirdre Minogue Boutique was born. She stocks unusual labels, several of them Danish, including Cream and Masai, which appeal to younger clients, though she says her clientele is aged from 30 to 80. "I have a loyal clientele, people come from all over Carlow and Wicklow to the shop," Deirdre notes.

Given the couple's love of the countryside, when they moved to Ireland, they naturally wanted to live outside the city, and, as it happened, an aunt had decided to sell her little weekend bolthole in Co Wicklow - which, though small, was perfect for their needs at the time. Over 100 years old, it was part of a row of stone cottages which originally housed workers at the Coolattin Estate; there were just four rooms in each, but attached to every house was a large garden for growing potatoes and vegetables, plus each house came with a pigsty for the pig, so the residents were quite self-sufficient. It's a very pretty terrace and as there's a preservation order on it, the facades can't be changed. "Some of my windows have the original glass," says Deirdre.

The dining room is simply furnished in cream. The corner cabinet is made largely of a door that Ian found in a dump
The dining room is simply furnished in cream. The corner cabinet is made largely of a door that Ian found in a dump

A few years after moving in, Deirdre and Ian approached the owner of the house next door to buy. "It was owned by an English lady who just came once a year to check it out; she never, ever stayed in it. Anyway, she agreed to sell," Deirdre says. "We combined the two by adding the conservatory, what we call the JUB: the joining-up bit." Their original cottage houses the kitchen, the dining room, the office, a bedroom and a bathroom, while the cottage next door houses the living room, two bedrooms and another bathroom.

Sadly, Ian suffered from a heart condition, and he passed away nine years ago, and the children have their own homes, but Deirdre continues to love living in her home. Just last year, she took the kitchen apart. In her can-do way she explains how. "It was only a question of taking out the stairs and losing the attic room." There had been a little bedroom above the kitchen, with a stairs to reach it; she took out the stairs and removed the bedroom floor, raising the ceiling of the kitchen to the roof.

Deirdre had the bathroom extended and the bath, which was already in the house, re-enamelled
Deirdre had the bathroom extended and the bath, which was already in the house, re-enamelled

The result is a bright, airy kitchen. But she kept the layout of its opposite room in the other cottage as it was. This serves as a sitting room, and with its low ceiling, it's very warm and cosy.

And, of course, there's no shortage of crafty things to liven it up.

Deirdre Minogue at Rathwood will be having a promotion of Cream fashion range and Fraas scarves, which starts from Thursday, April 6. A fashion show is planned for May 5 at Coolattin House.

See rathwood.com

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

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