When my London-based friend arrives at his Connemara home, he puts on his wellies and goes up the back field with a torch and a monkey wrench to sort out the water supply. That's the way he likes it. He'll come back from the mountain, often dripping wet, with a happy smile. It's his way of reconnecting with the West of Ireland.
Other people prefer a more automated system and refurbishing a holiday home often involves a heavy investment in unromantic utilities. There are two types of holiday home: the ones where you spend the first two days of the holiday wrestling with the plumbing and the ones where everything works at the flick of a switch. Both have their place.
"Most holiday homes aren't built from scratch," says the interior designer Dana Kallo of Black Fox Interiors. "It's common practice to strip an old house back to the bare essentials and allocate a large portion of the budget to the wiring and the plumbing. Go for the best quality that you can afford and it will be there for many years to come. The chairs and accessories can come later."
Kallo is currently working on the renovation of a pair of conjoined cottages in the Wicklow Mountains to be used as a holiday home for an extended family. "When you're designing a holiday home, it's all about the view. You orientate the furniture towards the outdoors in a way that you wouldn't in a house that's designed for everyday use."
Housework and holidays don't mix, so she recommends a low maintenance interior with hidden storage rather than open shelves for items to gather dust.
Most people, she finds, want natural materials on the floor and plain white walls. If they have an old house, they like to keep some of the original features. In her current project, she has installed wood-burning stoves, but retained the floor-to-ceiling fireplaces. Where possible, she uses locally sourced furniture and encourages her clients not to bin outdated décor. "Sometimes an old inherited home in the countryside can be a goldmine of vintage artworks and sculpture," she says.
Accessorising, which is the fun part, can be done cheaply at this time of year as most of the big stores have major sales. House of Fraser's Global Artisan trend ("a nomadic spirit with tribal influences and tactile finishes") would work well in a holiday home. At the time of writing, there are half price reductions on both the Linea Rust matalasse bedspread (now €36) and Linea Traveller print duvet cover set (now €48). You can order online or visit the shop in Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin.
Littlewoods Ireland also has a sale on homeware. Their king size Acacia Bed Frame is currently reduced to €290 (from €755) and they have a good range of smaller items like the Thea Tripod Table Lamp (€62) or Floor Lamp (€110). Relatively plain and practical pieces like these are a good bet for spaces that will need to fit the needs of a floating population.
A holiday home is rarely used by just one couple. Most people let their extended family use the house, while an increasing number use holiday rental sites like Airbnb to help pay the bills.
Mairead McAnallen lives near Schull, Co Cork. Several years ago, she renovated the old cottage beside her home so visiting family members could have a place to stay. Several tax hikes and a recession later, she rents out Fuchsia Lane on Airbnb whenever the family don't need it.
The cottage is traditional in style so she has kept the furniture and fittings simple but functional. "If I were to start again, I would keep that sense of simple traditional design. It works for the house." She describes the furniture as "a mixture of things that get on together and that nobody would be afraid of damaging".
A lovely white rug in the seating area was removed when she realised that her guests were worried about marking it.
"I tend to be minimalist in a monkish rather than a stylistic kind of way, but you have to remember the weather. When you're confined to the house, you don't want it to be bare boards only." So, while she prefers uncarpeted rooms in her own house, the holiday cottage has a cosy carpet upstairs.
She has also made sure there are plenty of reading lamps - a common fault with holiday houses is insufficient lighting - and really good beds. The quality of the beds is vastly important, as anyone who has spent a restless holiday on a cheap foam mattress will be quick to tell you. The rest is a work in progress.
"We invest a little bit each year. This year we're fitting the bedroom with blackout blinds. Some people don't like the light and if you have the blinds fitted, then they have a choice."
Needless to say, the interior design of a holiday cottage involves a certain amount of trial and error. "I made a bad selection with an electric kettle. I went for one that looked like a vintage kettle and our German visitors absent-mindedly took it off its cradle and put it on the gas. I foolishly replaced it with a similar one and the next year it happened again!" The current kettle at Fuchsia Lane is a plain unmistakable jug kettle in stainless steel.
Another mistake was painting the main living area in a sophisticated off-white. "It looked very fresh but it was difficult to touch up. In the rest of the house, we used plain white and that worked much better. It shows the dirt but is easily refreshed."
It's a fact of life that ceramics don't last forever, so tableware that can be replaced piecemeal is a wise choice. McAnallen's tableware is the traditional blue and white crockery made in Carrigaline, Co Cork, until the 1980s. "Although the factory is gone, it's easy enough to find companion pieces."
The cutlery is from Ikea, which is reasonable from every point of view. "We lose some of it every year because people take it on picnics, but we factor that in," she says.
See blackfoxinteriors.com; littlewoodsireland.ie; houseoffraser.co.uk; airbnb.ie.