Peek inside model Vivienne Connolly's Castleknock home
The model-turned-actress tells weekend extra how to embrace country-Style charm with a modern twist
Vivienne Connolly isn't shy about showing her country roots. On arriving in the open-plan kitchen of her Castleknock home, guests are treated to a fresh morning feeling as bright sunlight pours in through the large windows, filling the room with cosy country charm.
Her childhood home, a four-bedroom bungalow on two-and-a-half acres in Kilmeaney, Co Carlow, gave her a taste for traditional design, but Vivienne's style evolved as she pursued a career in modelling.
"I love the homeliness of a country house, and I love my family home, but it's a more old-fashioned, 1990s kind of style. From working, I had my own idea of what I wanted. With fashion, you're surrounded by beautiful places, so you pick up a lot of ideas along the way, at photoshoots in embassies or castles or old stately homes," she explains, noting that she prefers to embrace her history rather than smooth over it with a modern look.
"I'm not into minimalism at all. I find it cold and stark - it's great if you're a bachelor, but I like a homely and lived-in feel that people can enjoy, rather than just looking at it and thinking: 'Isn't that beautiful?'"
Vivienne bought this five-bedroom detached house in 2003 with her then-husband Mark Dunne, son of top businessman Ben Dunne. The houses were still in development, but Vivienne and Mark knew this was the right place for them as it offered plenty of space for children, as well as proximity to Castleknock Village and a number of good schools. After the couple suffered two break-ins in the space of a year, they decided to have gates installed outside the property. They have two children, Ben (11) and Katie (8), and, when the marriage ended in 2010, Vivienne got a dog, a cross between a Maltese and a bichon frisé named Charlie.
"He thinks he's a rottweiler," she says, rolling her eyes. "That is a bit of a deterrent if someone's going to break in. Now that I'm here by myself, that's been a huge adjustment. Any kind of creak in a big house makes you jump and scream, 'What's that?', plus you're solely responsible for two kids. But I feel very safe and secure here now."
After a divorce, some women may feel an urge to make changes to the home they shared with their former partner. Vivienne, however, wasn't gripped by any such desires.
"I didn't feel like I needed to make a change to the house immediately. My focus was on the kids, and it was their home too. They loved it and were comfortable with it, so it wasn't like, 'Right, time for a total transformation and I'll go mad!' Instead, it's been a slow evolution. When Mark was here, everything was brown and cream, and then I found I was adding more splashes of colour with the purples and the greens."
Vivienne describes her interiors style as beautiful but comfortable: "It's always been the traditional but with a modern twist, with more colour and plush, rich fabrics."
Paintings by Charlie Whisker, Nina Divito and Mark O'Neill adorn the walls of Vivienne's home, along with portraits of her children. She's also added a few antique pieces, including a bureau and chest of drawers from Flanagan's Furniture in Mount Merrion. When shopping for interiors, Vivienne says: "I really mix it up. I shop in Brown Thomas and Arnotts, but then I go to IKEA for bits and pieces for the kids' rooms, like everyone else. I don't think there's any need to go anywhere else for things like that, because kids' tastes change so quickly that you might change it again in a year or two."
She's not afraid to break out her toolbox either when the opportunity knocks - after picking up new desks for Ben and Katie's bedrooms, Vivienne whipped out her screwdriver and set to work assembling them herself. "I did the two desks myself - I was a real handy Mandy!"
This year, Vivienne and her kids have been joined by a Spanish au pair. "It's a great bit of help," she says. "It allows me some freedom if I have a shoot, so that I won't have to rush home when the kids finish school. Mark is away an awful lot so he can't always pick them up, but we are lucky because he lives just down the road. Our arrangement is that he picks the kids up three mornings a week and brings them to school, and he has them every second weekend."
Upstairs, Vivienne's expansive wardrobe stretches over two walk-in closets, and includes a mix of everything from Zara, Topshop and River Island to fabulously cut pieces by Gucci, Chloe and Alexander McQueen.
"I have quite a classic wardrobe, in that I like my basics and I like good structure and a proper fit. I love wearing Pat Morley and Roz Purcell's suits, and I love a really good shoe and a really good handbag. I'll always buy a great black jacket, nice jeans and black pant-suits, then I'll work around that with nice T-shirts and things. Apart from that, I'm not very experimental in how I dress - if you keep it simple, then you're sorted."
Despite her love for fashion, and her shelves overflowing with stunning clothes, you won't find Vivienne traipsing up and down Grafton Street on a Saturday afternoon. "I actually hate shopping," she admits. "I can't stand the crowds. I go, maybe, twice a year into Brown Thomas and I'll stock up, but that'll be it."
Relaxing in her favourite spot on the living room sofa, Vivienne says she has no desire to move house any time soon. Although she and the kids love their summers away in Marbella and Corfu, her own childhood has given her a huge appreciation for a stable upbringing, and she says she doesn't want to uproot Ben and Katie.
"We absolutely won't be moving for the foreseeable future. Why would I even bring in the stress of moving? If I did move in years to come, my wanderlust would probably take me six months abroad and six months home. But I'm very happy here - I love my house, I love my neighbours, I love everything about it."
Vivienne's top tips
Cosy up with candles
Candles are the easiest and most affordable way to revamp your interiors space. With just a few tea-lights, you can completely change the ambience in a room. Instead of grouping your candles together, dot them around the room to create a warm, romantic glow.
Inspiration is everywhere
While she picked up decorating ideas on lavish photoshoots, Vivienne insists that you can find inspiration wherever you go. "Take tips from everywhere - magazines, YouTube tutorials, TV programmes, or from friends and neighbours' houses," she says. "There's always something you can learn."
Host a kitchen dinner party
For a cosy country feeling, move your dinner party from the dining room to the kitchen. Irish families love to gather and eat around the kitchen table, and with some gentle music on in the background, it's a perfect spot for an intimate meal with a group of friends.
Minimise clutter, maximise cosiness
One of Vivienne's favourite sayings is 'Keep it simple, stupid', and she warns others about the perils of overdoing it when decorating their homes: "I hate clutter. I love cosiness, but there's a very fine line between cosiness and clutter."
You can't beat quality
It's worth investing in furniture you'll use every day, like beds and living room sofas. "When you do invest money initially on quality, it lasts. I think it's best to buy a piece that will last for life, then you can work with the soft furnishings to update it," she says.
Styling: Nikki Cummins Black
Photography: Tony Gavin
Make-up: Paula Callan, assisted by Michelle Field, see callanberry.com