When wellness expert and therapist Carmel Hunter and her partner John O’Reilly purchased and then renovated a period home, she added many features which ensure a calm and serene feeling
January is typically ski season and given we Irish don’t have the opportunity to practise all year round, we tend to come back with all sorts of injuries.
A more pleasant consequence of a ski trip is the potential for romance; and though it was the last thing on therapist Carmel Hunter’s mind when she went on a group trip seven years ago with her then teenage children to Italy, she did meet her partner John O’Reilly in a ski resort. “I went with friends,” Carmel says, explaining: “It was a bit of a joke going over that I would have to meet their brother as he was joining them for the trip from the States, where he lived for many years.”
The two singletons met, liked the look of each other and romance developed after the holiday when John came home to Ireland on a visit. They’ve been together ever since. “Nothing happened on the trip but I liked the way he was with his nephews, he was so lovely with them and gave them a lot of his time and he’s amazing with my two,” she says. “My father had passed away in the January and the ski trip was March and I firmly believe that my father sent John to me. My father would have loved him and he’s very like him — in personality, his zest for life, his morals.”
As John was based in New York, there was a lot of transatlantic travel at the beginning. “I remember going over the first time — it was very exciting — then bringing the kids over and them seeing the Manhattan skyline for the first time. That was great. But it’s better now that John commutes from here to New York when necessary.”
John is in property and manages his business via the internet and travelling to New York every five weeks or so. His background in property was invaluable when they decided to buy a home jointly in 2019 and now they both have workspaces in the house which they renovated.
Though John only needs a laptop, Carmel’s workplace needs are much different. Carmel, who hails from Clontarf, Dublin, is a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, acupuncturist and facialist.
She sees clients four days a week in her treatment room at home in Howth, Co Dublin. She also does a day a week in the Escapada Clinic in Fitzwilliam Square in the city centre.
The youngest of seven, Carmel credits her mother with her interest in beauty, health and wellness. “My mother always looked after herself well. She had lovely skin and was always very glamorous, she still is. She’s 93 now and still has a great zest for life, and she and my father were always very supportive of us all,” she says. Her father was self-employed with his own plumbing and property business. She and most of her siblings are self-employed.
Carmel studied at the Bronwyn Conroy college of beauty after leaving school but, through friends, she got into advertising and worked in that industry in her 20s and early 30s. “It seemed like great fun and I did enjoy it,” she says.
During that time she got married and had two children, Michael, who is now 22, and Jane (20). However, the marriage didn’t last. After Michael was born, the elegant blonde found herself going back to her first love, the beauty business, and very quickly developed an interest in skin and health and the link between the two. “If a client came to me with a skin problem, I could often see that it wasn’t just a topical problem. I could see that it came from within, that it was maybe diet related or due to lifestyle,” she says.
Carmel had visited her sister in Australia when she was in her 20s and while there she had acupuncture and was amazed by the results. “I had menstrual issues and I was anaemic and I found it fantastic. Afterwards, even when I was just doing facials on clients, I’d often recommend they go and see my own Chinese medicine doctor around the corner to get the internals sorted. In my beauty practice, I started specialising in skin. I’ve specifically picked skincare companies that had a wellness side to the business.”
She now works with the brand Osmosis founded by Dr Ben Johnson. “He’s a western doctor but he’s very into eastern medicine and merges the two in Osmosis.”
As time went on, Carmel gradually got more into the wellness side and eventually decided to go back to college and become a Chinese Medical Practitioner herself. She studied at the Acupuncture Foundation Ireland for three years and did her clinical hours at the Escapada Spa in Fitzwilliam Square. In her own practice, she now offers a comprehensive menu of facials, acupuncture, cupping and massage. “I’d always wanted to study Chinese medicine so it was a dream come true for me. Chinese medicine is a full system of medicine,” she says.
“Chronic pain is the reason 60pc of people go to their GPs and Chinese medicine and acupuncture are amazing for pain, as well as for digestive issues, for menstrual problems and mental-health problems. And nowadays many health insurers cover it in their policies.”
Carmel is passionate about her work and not content to just sit on her qualifications. She does continuous education with courses on gynaecological issues and fertility. She’s also done a course in cosmetic acupuncture. “It’s like natural Botox. Most health issues come from the way we live in the western world, our modern diet and we put enough chemicals in our bodies with food additives without adding Botox to the mix. The cosmetic acupuncture uses tiny interdermal needles and is reasonably pain-free. With it, we can plump out the fine lines, tone the muscles and help to plump out the fat pads. It’s very lifting,” she says, also saying it helps your internal system, so your whole body improves, as does your skin.
Carmel exudes a sense of calm and serenity. The treatment space in the home she shares with John and her children is also very zen. The decor in the rest of the house, however, is quite bold — black walls in the front sitting room, aubergine units in the kitchen — so the couple have a great sense of drama and confidence with colour.
It’s their first home together. Dating from the end of the 19th century, it’s a detached double-fronted house in Howth. While they knew when they saw it that it would need work, they fell for it. “I always lived in Clontarf but my daughter Jane went to school here and I fell in love with it. We looked at three or four houses in the area but we kept coming back to this house,” Carmel says. “And we met someone later who knew the family who lived here and it was always a happy house.”
It needed major work. It had no insulation, all the cornicings and mouldings had been stripped away, as were some of the fireplaces.
They decided while renovating the house that they would redesign it for their family so they reduced the number of bedrooms from five to three and made them all en suite. They also added an extension — a new, large, open-plan kitchen/dining/living extension with large expanses of glass and big doors opening onto the courtyard and garden.
There are also two beautiful downstairs reception rooms, which are beautifully furnished and are used by John and by Michael as their home offices when not in use for entertaining.
Carmel and John kept as many of the original features as possible, including the floorboards.
“We took them up, put in underfloor heating and the electrics and laid the originals again,” John says. “And there was just enough cornicing [so] the repair guys were able to work from the remains and come back with long pieces of plaster and fibreglass and stick them up.”
They bought the house in summer 2019, got the keys that December and planned to do the renovation, beginning in February 2020. Then, lockdown happened. However, as soon as builders were allowed back on building sites, construction began and, according to Carmel, they were good and so fast that the family was able to move in as soon as the front was finished while the back was still under construction. Obviously it helped enormously that John is in the business.
The original rooms still have a period feel and are beautifully furnished with artefacts and furniture the two collected over the years. The kitchen/dining /living is very modern, very spacious and full of light. The aubergine kitchen area has a lot of storage but the curved peninsula unit is very different to the usual kind. This is because the couple love to entertain and they very much wanted a bar area where they would sit on high stools as if eating out in a restaurant at the bar. Behind the peninsula is an antique cocktail cabinet which John got in New York. ”This area is great for entertaining,” Carmel says.
The kitchen also has many features relating to Carmel’s passion for health and well-being.
This is reflected in her choice of cookery books — she believes it’s very important to eat fresh food and according to the season; and in her choice of the eco-friendly Little Greene brand for paint; and in the different copper features. The tap is copper and there are copper knobs on the units. “In eastern medicine, there are health benefits to copper, which is a natural element. It’s anti-bacterial and anti-viral.”
Whatever the reason, whether it’s her Chinese medicine practice or her happy personal life, something is certainly working for the charming blonde.