'The biggest dispute was the island. Four men stood opposite me and said, 'No way! You're not going with a yellow island. Are you mad?' There was Eddie the architect, Martin the kitchen designer, the builder, Keith, and my husband, Simon, and they all told me I was insane," entrepreneur Christine Murphy recalls with a laugh as she sits in her lovely kitchen with her yellow island. Yes, Christine got her way.
When four persuasive individuals - all men - bring the weight of their qualifications and years of experience to bear on an important house decision, it can be hard to face them down but Christine basically told them to take a running jump. She knew what she wanted and she was going for it.
Of course she had her own qualifications and experience to call on.
These days, Christine is concentrating her talents and energies on her new textile venture, Urban Aran, which is all about chic, contemporary soft furnishings, as well as fashion accessories, and in her studies leading to the creation of her label she has learned a fair bit about colour.
In addition, prior to setting up Urban Aran, she spent 23 years in the hotel management business, mainly in five-star establishments where interiors are an extremely important part of the experience. She actually oversaw a huge renovation programme in the last hotel she worked in before she gave up the position to start her company.
"I started in Mount Juliet five years ago and worked there until 2018," she says. "While I was there, we built a new clubhouse and a 92-bedroom second hotel and I oversaw that programme with the owners and the developer. We stayed open throughout the build."
From the beginning of her hotel management career, Christine worked in top hotels - but then she did get an elite training in the highly regarded Shannon College of Hotel Management. Originally from Wicklow, where her dad has a timber business, while her mother worked in auctioneering and interiors, Christine only opted to study at Shannon on a whim. "I had no idea what I wanted to do. Growing up, I loved hotels and food and interiors so I decided to try it as a career," she says.
During her four-year course, she did placements in some places she loved like Dromoland in Clare and others that were not quite as glam, like Sheffield. "You had to go where Shannon sent you. Sheffield was my last placement and I was there for 18 months while all my friends went to glamorous places like Boston," Christine laughs.
Once she qualified she could, of course, decide her own » » locations and went first to Marlfield House for two years. After that, she spent 12 years with the Doyle Collection - the Berkeley Court, then the Westbury and the Croke Park Hotel - with a year in the middle in the Ritz-Carlton.
"Hotel management, particularly with top hotels, is a great career. I travelled a lot to the States, promoting the hotels, and of course in all of them we had star guests, really interesting celebrities," she says. "Some you'd love to ask for a photo but of course you couldn't - you had to be very diplomatic."
Christine is so diplomatic that she refuses to dish any dirt, except to say that she dealt with a few trashed bedrooms in her day and she had some strange requests.
"There was one star who had to have white everything in their room and eight of each item. So eight white lilies, eight white candles, eight white towels, eight white soaps and so on," she says. "The amount of preparation... and then they decided to fly home after their gig without staying at all in the end."
Many of Christine's college friends from Shannon also went on to work in five-star establishments like herself but at least one eventually went into pubs - her husband Simon. They were in the same class but it wasn't quite love at first sight - in fact, 10 years elapsed before they started going out. "We were always great pals," Christine says, adding with a laugh: "I know all his ex-girlfriends." The couple's paths crossed over the years and then, out of the blue, Simon asked her to go to a wedding with him. "I went but then he moved to London and I thought, 'That's that'. But then he came home and we got together again and we married in 2009."
Simon is involved in pubs in Kilkenny and Waterford. He was based in Waterford but Christine continued to work in Dublin and commuted. When she had her first daughter Saoirse, who is now seven, she realised commuting wasn't an option any longer.
"After Saoirse arrived, I went back to Dublin but I struggled. I loved my job but I was gone half the week, leaving my baby in Waterford, and also I had to travel regularly to the States. The guilt nearly killed me," she says.
The move to Mount Juliet - a mere 35 minutes from Waterford - was the perfect solution. And that was the first time she and Simon lived full-time together.
The job in Mount Juliet was challenging too. She threw herself into it but she always had a yearning to start her own venture. As if she hadn't enough to be doing when she was working in Dublin, she had studied textile design part-time and so in 2018 she gave up her job with Mount Juliet and started Urban Aran.
"Mount Juliet gave me an opportunity to design the throws for their new bedrooms. They wanted Aran throws and the only suitable ones they were able to source were in Australia. I was like, 'Surely to god we can get an Aran throw here'. As it happens, I had studied the use of Aran as part of my studies and they told me to go for it. All the top hotels were really good to me. They set me up in business, really. I did throws for bedrooms, terraces, lounges."
Those projects led on to other essentials for hotels - linen placemats and napkins, mats and cushions, and while Christine still does those products, she's widened her range to include hats, scarves, gloves and cardigans.
"I've had to pivot my business due to Covid-19 and the Local Enterprise office has been amazing. Everyone in business should talk to their Local Enterprise Office. I availed of a business continuity scheme; they assigned me a design mentor, a brand mentor, a financial mentor. And I had tremendous support from the Crafts Council too," she enthuses.
Christine uses only natural fibres and designs in her studio. She makes what she can herself and the rest is made up in a factory locally. When it comes to her fabrics, the emphasis is on local, sustainable, natural and chic. It's probably becoming evident that » » Christine does nothing by halves, so as well as starting a new business two years ago, she became pregnant and had a new baby girl, Aydah, who is now one. And, around the same time, she and her family moved into a new house, just a few minutes' walk from the centre of Waterford.
Christine and her husband were living just outside Waterford but it was always temporary while they looked for exactly what they wanted. They were thinking of building in the nearby seaside town of Tramore but they couldn't find a site, so they looked at houses closer to the city and found an unusual home dating from 1995.
The house was originally designed by local architect Jack O'Hare who studied under the acclaimed US architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but it needed modernisation. "It was 'sale agreed' and it fell through. It wasn't the most popular because it's upside down - the bedrooms are on the ground floor and that eliminates a certain demographic, but after doing a build at Mount Juliet, I could see the potential," Christine says, adding, "What really attracted us was the lovely river view."
They engaged local architect Eddie Phelan and builder Keith McCrory and while they kept the upside-down nature of the house, they reconfigured the spaces. They added an extra bedroom, making it four in total. They also added a bathroom and a studio for Christine. What really makes it a fantastic home is the fact that they doubled the size of the kitchen, adding French doors to open on to a gorgeous terrace, to enjoy the river views.
"We ate out there all summer - breakfast, lunch and dinner. The extra bedroom is under the terrace and is quite dark, but that doesn't matter. As long as upstairs was really bright," she says. They added extra windows and skylights to the kitchen/living area making it a really bright space. There are three lovely sitting areas as well, all making the most of the views.
When it came to furnishing the house, they shopped local; the lighting is by the prestigious Waterford lighting company Dlight; all the floors are from Woodpecker - wide panelled oak boards upstairs and herringbone downstairs, A lot of the furniture is from Sienna Home Furnishings, while smaller pieces like the orange chair and cushions and other accessories are from new interiors store Nest.
Christine has put pops of colour everywhere, though no other space is quite as dramatic as the yellow island. And when it was done it was as if there was general amnesia and everyone had always been on the same page.
"All the guys were like, 'You see, the yellow, it's great, it really brightens the place up'."
Photography by Tony Gavin