Cork home with a Mediterranean vibe

It seems almost counterintuitive for a specialist in design to assert that “the best spaces are almost anti-design”. What?

Bear with Fran Walsh, a man with a well-honed eye, a career in brand and commercial design, a savvy background in business and art, as well as a talent for making things — be it a light, a painting, an installation, or just making plain-talking sense.

The exterior of the house at Ballyrussell, Midleton.

Here, his family home echoes and emphasizes his theory in a quiet, calm and considered way, which unsurprisingly didn’t come about by accident.

There’s an understated, almost timeless look to this family home where light is harnessed and left unimpeded (windows are left undressed except in some few cases where privacy from public view, or evening cosiness, might be needed), and where select pieces of art, craft, furniture and heirlooms are given breathing space, on walls that are largely white and grainy-textured with a simple sand and cement finish, with smooth, rounded corners.

'Champagne Life': Self-designed lamp from the remnants of a family celebration.  Jean Paul Gaultier Packaged Piper Heidseick Champagne and Cohiba Cigars.  Made by Colum Burke.  Instagram: lampdbycolum
‘Champagne Life’: Self-designed lamp from the remnants of a family celebration. Jean Paul Gaultier Packaged Piper Heidseick Champagne and Cohiba Cigars. Made by Colum Burke. Instagram: lampdbycolum

The point is made here, in a coastal setting in East County Cork, in a home less than 25 years old, yet almost Mediterranean in feel.

It has been inspired by travels, partly to North America and the Continent for work commissions and consultancy, in bar, restaurant, hospitality and entertainment sectors, and more strongly to sunnier and brighter climes such as Mexico, Italy and Spain for downtime and for inspiration .

Instead of bringing back holiday souvenirs, design sensibility came home instead, and Fran name-checks an artist/architect whose name will be familiar to tens of thousand Irish travelers who’ve been to Lanzarote — the creative César Manrique and his house in Haría on the Canarian island, with white, curved spaces carved into a mountainous hill.

“It’s a space I immediately felt comfortable in and would happily live. Rooms and window shapes have soft lines, natural materials and light is king,” says Fran, recalling its colourful, mosaic-tiled courtyard “bouncing with vibrancy in the sunlight. It had a massive positive effect on me”.

“I have always felt that our climate should not translate to muted dark busy interiors but instead would benefit from the Mediterranean approach. Surely, where there is less light available, then it should be harnessed and its effect exaggerated?” he argues.

So it is in this Irish home, whose dormer outline was dictated by planners, but skilfully delivered by the Walshes with the input of architect Kieran McDonogh in ac 2,400sq ft home plus lofted studio near Ballymaloe and the sea (it came to wide attention after it came for sale in summer 2022 with Hegarty Properties, guiding €695,000).

Apart from the quality of commissioned kitchen and furniture, with lots of split beech by Homegrown Kitchens, and even split beech insert into birch ply internal doors, and some select furniture and lighting from the likes of Mimo Cork in that design retailer’s heyday, this home is notable for its openness and tranquility.

The upstairs living room is a retreat with a rare, dark wall for contrast.
The upstairs living room is a retreat with a rare, dark wall for contrast.

But “there are no obvious design elements or overall design approach,” says Fran: “The unseen is the success… give me well-thought-out, carefully-planned white, bright and light spaces every time.”

Having previously run an art gallery in Cork city, and now creating his own work in both painting and sculpture, he’s also mixed things up with consultancy on visually representing brands, corporate design and other media brands through his firm Fran Walsh Design.

The WIT-trained practitioner’s approach to design projects, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, “is a constant process of stripping away the clutter, retaining the positive essence and, then building a new message”.

HE CONTINUES: “When presented with a brief [essentially, a design problem]the challenge is to analyze that problem thoroughly in order to communicate an effective visual solution.

This process also applies to interior spaces: understand; then break down, and rebuild.

In homes, especially those more northerly than the sun-blasted Mediterranean, “interior spaces are all about light — be it natural or man-made — the amount available, how you use it and choreograph the direction and movement of it”.

Bespoke designed pull-out storage and shelving from dormer eaves.
Bespoke designed pull-out storage and shelving from dormer eaves.

He adds: “Trips to Mexico, Italy and Spain have shown me that all share the same interior design sensibilities. In sunny climates, homes are bright and uncluttered with a focus on maximizing the feeling of space.”

This Ballyrussell East Cork, self-build family home on its c 0.9-acre grounds with garden walls and paths created with sunny climate elan follows that same ethos of white, light and bright.

It has got a thick terracotta-tile floored main living area and large south-facing glazing, opening to 1,000 sq ft of decking, used for parties and outdoor eating, while the site’s elevation above a quiet country back road and restricted lines of sight from there meant no fussy curtains were required, allowing for only select internal shutters and blinds for cosy, night living, because “it’s all about light”.

The kitchen tiles are on the diagonal in this Ballyrussell home.
The kitchen tiles are on the diagonal in this Ballyrussell home.

“I’m unapologetically minimal is my approach to interiors. I like white, bright rooms, natural materials and clean lines.

High-end features, fine art, antique or modern furniture items shine in a minimal space,” he says, adding that “minimal spaces do not have to be soulless, they can serve to highlight crafted pieces and allow them to breathe.

“In my experience, busy interiors date badly and tire easily. They offer a costly and short-lived solution. Within a minimal space, impact features shine and people within the space become more interactive and interested, unobscured by busy design choices.”

The owner of White House, Ballyrussell, previously ran an art gallery in Cork city.
The owner of White House, Ballyrussell, previously ran an art gallery in Cork city.

THIS home is indicative of the point, with a curated cross-section on display, from ceramics, to seating, from the likes of a Martin Finnin painting or a 1915 wall-mounted case clock by Tritschler, Waterford, which was a wedding present to his grandparents.

Another item, a one-off creation by Fran, is in pride of place in an upstairs drawing room (the only room in the house with a dark wall): it’s a lamp made from what he owns up was “from the remnants of a family celebration,” and sees a 1990-Jean Paul Gaultier-designed leather-laced corset cosseting a Piper Heidsieck champagne bottle (the original item now sells online for up to €1,000, unopened).

Wired and with an exposed filament bulb in a copper cage, it’s set on top of an ornate wooden box for high-end Cuban Cohiba cigars, one of Habanos’ favorites and once the gift of choice of Fidel Castro to world leaders of the 1960s well -disposed to all things Cuban and clouds of cigar smoke… so much for allowing things to breathe.

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