Medical rep Niamh Carroll worked extensively in sunny spots abroad, and influenced by the houses she saw on her travels, she has created a fun, chic yet functional home for herself and her dog, Phoebe
We’re lucky in Ireland in so many ways, including the fact that we live on an island, giving most of us easy access to the beach and the sea. However, those from Kilkenny are surrounded by the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Laois and Tipperary, so have no coastline to enjoy.
Niamh Carroll loves the beach — swimming is a big thing for her, and she used to do triathlons — but she also loves her home town of Kilkenny, so her solution was to buy a house in Kilkenny and use the beach as inspiration for the decor. “For me, the floor tiles represent the sand; the blue walls and furniture are inspired by the sea. I use pops of yellow to convey the sun, and I use lots of plants, as I love nature and greenery.”
The visitor to Niamh’s home isn’t hit over the head with the seaside allusions; it’s all very subtle. Instead, one is just impressed with the sleekness and sharpness of her interior design. Functionality and style come together beautifully in the home she has created, and it comes as something of a surprise to discover that her background is in a caring profession — nursing — rather than a creative one.
“When I was in secondary school, my little cousin, Enda, who was about four, developed leukaemia and died. It was devastating for my aunt and uncle. I was around a lot, as I’m very close to them, and seeing the whole care team coming in made me decide to become a nurse.”
When she left school, the caring Kilkenny woman applied to all the hospitals in Ireland and some in England. An English offer came up first and off she went. “At that time, there were a lot of people applying for nursing, and it was hard to get in. I got a place in London South Bank University. I had six months done when I was offered a place in the Mater but, at that stage, I had made friends and was enjoying the course. That was the first time nursing was affiliated to a university, and I got my degree.”
She loved London so much she stayed on for another two years, working in coronary care. She developed a great circle of friends, one of whom, also an Irish woman, went on to marry Niamh’s brother.
“When I went home, I was showing him pictures of my friends, and he looked at Denise and said, ‘She’s beautiful. I’m going to marry her some day’. Sure enough, when he finished college, he and his two friends came to England, and he and Denise got together.”
They did marry and now have two beautiful girls; Niamh is godmother to one of them, Aoife Grace. “I’m very close to all of them,” Niamh says. “Denise and I were the last two of the Irish gang, and when she and my brother moved in together, I left London. It was the right time for me.”
After London, she went to Australia for a year, and combined work with travel. “There were 10 of us Irish people all together, some in nine-to-five jobs. It was great being a nurse. You could do a week of nights — night duty paid very well — and make enough to go off and do a few weeks’ travel.”
Niamh followed her time in Australia with four years in coronary care in St Vincent’s Hospital back here in Dublin, and then took off again, this time to Saudi Arabia. “I worked with Saudi Aramco, and they paid extremely well. It was very hard to get into, but it was very hard to get out of it as well,” she notes wryly, going on to explain the situation there.
“We were living in a bubble, and everything is done for you. The pay was amazing, and it was tax free, and I made great friends. We travelled a lot on our days off and we’d party for a few days, and the weather was fabulous. But it was the time of al-Qa’ida, and it began to be dangerous.
“The hospital had gone on high alert for bombings and the wounded were coming in. We were safe; we were in compounds. But when the trouble started, we weren’t allowed out of our houses, so we had to wait for the call to go to the hospitals and treat patients who had lost limbs. The situation was a bit terrifying. I just wasn’t strong enough; it was outside my comfort zone.”
She came back home after 10 months and worked in a private hospital in Kilkenny, then decided to leave hands-on nursing and get into pharmaceutical repping. “I felt I had taken my nursing as far as I could. I had met a lot of reps while in Vincent’s and thought I’d like to explore that. And I’m good at it. I’m very sales driven, very competitive. I love teaching and I love people.”
She first worked selling drugs, then switched to medical devices, working for 10 years with interventional cardiologists, selling diagnostic imaging devices. However, she always had a passion for women’s health, and more recently, she has moved into the area of obstetrics and gynaecology, spending a lot of time in the maternity hospitals in Dublin.
“I love seeing couples going in, the women expecting a baby and their partners so excited. It’s a lovely environment to be around, and the teams of doctors and midwives are so dedicated. I absolutely love it.
“I have a device for vacuum-assisted delivery. It’s for women who are exhausted from pushing, and I train non-consultant hospital doctors how to use the devices.
“To get up every morning to go to a job you love is so rewarding. You never have that Sunday-night fear. I did love the cardiology role but it was very stressful and I worked very long hours. I would be on the road at 6am, working until 8pm, Monday to Friday. At weekends, I’d be so exhausted that I hadn’t the energy for friends or relationships. I was burning myself out. I think it contributed to me not meeting the right person yet.”
Niamh does, however, have a constant companion — her Pomeranian, Phoebe. “What happened was, my aunt’s dog died and she was devastated and wanted another; an easy dog. I researched dogs for her, felt that a Pomeranian would be perfect,
and would you believe, I found a lovely litter for sale with five boys and one girl.
“My dad and I went to see the beautiful pups; little balls of fur. Anyway, we picked the girl for my aunt. But Phoebe wasn’t as easy as expected, and my aunt couldn’t cope with her, so I took her. I love dogs, but never had one before as I was travelling so much. My parents mind her when I’m not here, so it’s the perfect solution.”
Phoebe is a stylish addition to Niamh’s lovely home, the second house she has bought. The job selling cardiology devices was so all-consuming that even though she had bought a house in Callan, a small town in Co Kilkenny, after she came back from Saudi Arabia with enough money for a deposit, Niamh never really made her home there.
However, three years ago, she realised the need to settle and decided it would be best to live nearer to Kilkenny town, where her parents and her sister are based.
Before buying again, she sold her house in Callan in December 2019, which had been rented out. “Initially, it didn’t sell, as there were five houses in the estate for sale at the time. So I decided to paint it and make it nice with simple, good pieces.
“I decided to stage it properly and bring it up to date. Essentially, it was a complete transformation. The person who bought it had looked at it in its original state and couldn’t believe how much it had changed. By staging it, I showed how it could look.”
While selling the house in Callan, she found her current home. “I always loved this area. I loved the fact that it was a bungalow. The area reminds me of the houses in Australia with their open gardens. I love the green and the fact that it’s near the canal and the centre of Kilkenny. The lady who had lived here was elderly and had passed away, so while it was in good condition, it needed a lot of work.”
As it turns out, the condition of the house was moot as Niamh changed the layout so dramatically she might as well have razed it to the ground and built a new house. A two-bedroomed bungalow, it also had a sitting room, a small kitchen and a small bathroom, and it had no hall at all.
Niamh got architect Mark Bannon of PBA Architects in Kilkenny to redesign the interior, while another builder did the actual work. By taking a piece of the front sitting room, a hall was created. The sitting room is now smaller, but bifold doors have been installed, which means, if Niamh has a crowd in, the doors can be folded back, thus creating extra space. As she turned the two bedrooms into one large bedroom complete with en suite and walk-in wardrobe, the sitting room is fitted with a sofa bed for visitors.
The size of the bathroom was increased by taking a piece of the original kitchen, but that didn’t matter, as she was able to add a large extension to the remainder of the kitchen, creating an open-plan space, including a new kitchen, living and dining area. There’s also a small utility room here.
The back of the house comprises two sets of glass doors, with one set opening on to a cedar-roofed pergola with a skylight, ensuring extra light gets into the back of the kitchen.
The work was completed in December 2020, and since then, Niamh has been adding and subtracting pieces, trying them out, and editing where necessary. She always tries to buy local. Her kitchen units are from Sinnott Kitchens in Kells, Co Kilkenny, while all the pictures on her walls are from Yesterdays, all her tiles are from Ceramica, and a lot of her furniture is from Meubles, which are all Kilkenny stores (even her clothes for our shoot are from Belle, a local boutique).
Her kitchen appliances are from NordMende. “I really like them. So many appliances are so complicated nowadays. These are really simple.”
The house, though compact, has a luxurious feel, and this is really apparent in the bathroom, with its curved, free-standing bath on a plinth. “I saw this idea years ago and I always said, if I ever got the opportunity to do a free-standing bath, I’d do it like this.”
It’s a house that’s been a long time in the planning, and it shows. And Niamh can bask in her delightfully planted south-facing back garden whenever the sun comes out.
The seaside — who needs it?