Our House: Arthur and Carol in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois
Taking on a derelict farm building in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Arthur and Carol have built a beautiful home.
When you walk into Arthur and Carol’s home in Abbeyleix you would never know that, when Arthur found it twenty years ago, it was a derelict farm building. It is a wonderful home that welcomes you with open arms, just like its owners. It has been a labour of love over the years and what you find is a cheerful, homely, country house that makes you feel comfortable immediately.
Upon entering the house you’re welcomed into a country kitchen; the AGA range is well used. Epitomising a true country house, Arthur and Carol spend more time in the kitchen than they do anywhere else in their home. The kitchen leads to a living room painted a sky blue that is light and airy and from the windows you can see the flowers of the garden.
The house is comfortable, but pared back, it’s functional but not overly serious. There’s a lightness in this house that is a reflection of Arthur and Carol’s personalities.
The aesthetically simple furnishing of the house perhaps has its roots in Arthur’s background. He comes from a Quaker family, and their honest and simple aesthetic is very much reflected in every aspect of this home.
“I guess it reflects the way we are,” Arthur tells us, “homely and welcoming people.”
“Maybe going back to my Quaker roots. Everything is simple and pared back, no nonsense. That goes into my garden design as well, I don’t like pretentiousness.”
Arthur is a garden designer and he has created theirs from scratch. It bears his hallmarks as a designer in that he likes strong structured elements, but he also likes things to go a little bit wild too.
It was Arthur’s upbringing that inspired his love of gardens and the design aesthetic in their home.
“I’m a garden designer, but I’m particularly passionate about this garden here because I was brought up in a very beautiful garden in Clonsilla,” says Arthur. “So I spent a lot of my youth trailing around with my father and working with him and writing everything down.”
“I was lucky I had this absolute passion for it even though I initially trained to be a chartered accountant for six months. Spring came and I looked out the window and I said, ‘I don’t think so’. I’ve just followed my passion.”
“It’s quite a traditional garden, there’s a lot of perennials. I have a passion for walled gardens. I like strong structure and then I like loose, not chaos exactly, but things seeding all over the place, contrasting with it.”
Arthur is a relative of the legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Today everyone is aware of his cousin’s exploits, but as Arthur was growing up he wasn’t overly aware of the figure in the family’s history.
“Wherever I go, even if I’m just handing over my credit card, people say ‘Oh, Shackleton! Are you related to the explorer?” says Arthur. “He was a cousin, of my grandfather’s generation.”
While Ernest took on the monumental task leading Antarctic expeditions, Arthur took on his own task of building a house from a derelict farm building. It’s not something you would take on easily, a renovation like this can become a life’s work. When asked if there are similarities in his own journey, Arthur is agreeable.
“Well, the family motto is ‘Through Endurance We Conquer,’ laughs Arthur, “and Ernest’s ship was called ‘Endurance’, and he did endure... In some ways this home has been a monumental undertaking but because my job is working on gardens, and very often on old, derelict properties, I’m quite familiar with seeing a complete mess being turned into something beautiful, so really it’s not very daunting for me. I see that anything is possible.”
Of course, a house wouldn’t be a home without a personal touch and Carol’s presence is everywhere. A lot of the things you see around the kitchen are made by relatives, the plates are made by Arthur’s sister in law in Vermont, and Carol Booth’s paintings hang on the walls.
Carol’s work is inspired by the Irish landscape, painting the feeling of the landscape rather than the form of the land. There’s a dreamlike quality to her work that touches on the surreal.
“It’s really more colour, than the layout of the land. The sky, the clouds… that type of thing. It’s a funny thing, I spend time in California and when I’m there, even for a few days, my palette is completely different. There’s turquoise and blues. Here it’s more greens and blues, dark greys. It’s amazing how you just pick up on it subconsciously.”
Carol Booth has a separate studio in the garden and it’s a place she loves to escape to. Artists’ need their emotional and physical space to create and Carol is no different.
“I have a studio in the garden, which I love,” says Carol. “I treat it like a business and would spend five days a week in the studio and then take the weekends off. Now, I nip back up to the house and make bread and things, so it’s not very strict, but I love the solitude. I need that to develop my pieces. I really don’t like being disturbed when I’m down there.”
Arthur and Carol have five children between them, so they always have visitors. It’s a great pleasure for them both to have the place buzzing with people. They love to entertain and Carol is a passionate cook who enjoys using their home-grown produce from their vegetable garden to experiment with new recipes.
This home is a pleasure to explore, from Carol’s paintings hung proudly on the wall, to the lush, joyous garden that brings so much pleasure to all who enter it.
If you could design a life for yourself, a perfect country home, with a beautiful garden and an artist’s studio in the back, a welcoming kitchen and plenty of room for visitors, it might just look something like this.
About the Our House series
Our House is a 6-part series created in partnership with Ulster Bank. Focusing on a range of different people in Ireland and how they choose to live their lives, we look at the relationship between people’s homes and the way they live.
Every home starts with a house and the first step on the way to owning that house is your mortgage. Ulster Bank is in the business of helping people realise their home ownership dreams and are there to help you through the process.
Debbie Boyle, a Mobile Mortgage Manager with Ulster Bank, says: “At Ulster Bank, we know that buying a house is so much more than a transaction - it’s a putting down of roots. That’s why at Ulster Bank, we do all we can to help make the mortgage process easier. So the more headspace we can clear for our customers, so they’re free to focus on the next place they’ll call home, the better”.
To talk to Ulster Bank about your mortgage click here.