Love Letter to My Home: Niamh Barry in Ireland
The Irish artist and lighting designer reveals treasures from Warhol to Vasarely inside her 1930s house
For Irish artist and light designer Niamh Barry, her creative process has long been fueled by her home in the coastal region of Clontarf, just outside of Dublin. She’s the type of solitary thinker who enjoys the quiet of her own thoughts, and it clearly works for her, considering the staggering beauty of her designs available at Maison Gerard in New York. She’s currently inhabiting the 1930s home with her husband, children, and dog—it may not be quite as quiet as she needs, but she’s still finding inspiration and beauty in every detail of her home after staying there for a number of weeks. Here, she shares some of her observations.
It’s not a huge imposition to be forced to stay here so much, because I really love our home. We’re on the coast just outside of Dublin’s city center in a village called Clontarf, which is famous for a huge battle that took place in 1014. We are very fortunate in that we are walking distance to the city and the beach, where I walk down every day with one of my two dogs.
The house was built in 1930, but I designed the renovation and extension in 2007. My initial thoughts were to make it a fully glazed, concrete-floored, and concrete-walled open-plan “gallery” space, but as I considered it more, I came to the realization that living in a building with a mix of natural warm materials would be more conducive to an inviting and relaxing space. Throughout the home, there’s a simplistic, pared-back, calming, and sophisticated palette of natural materials, furniture, and objects that are used in a very considered way.
I have always felt very comfortable working from home. As I am a naturally solitary person, I’ve enjoyed the enforced break from the busy studio in North County Dublin, although here I am sharing space with my husband, two daughters, and two dogs. Although the house is relatively small and mostly an open plan, I have found that it actually punches above its weight in terms of a multitude of small private rooms where we can retreat when we need it. I made a decision at the beginning of this lockdown that I would live in every corner every day, and I have and find it’s a great way to reset your mind.
Despite not designing an open gallery plan for this house, our art collection is probably the most noticeable thing about the home. It’s very personal to us, as are all art collections. It’s quite eclectic, because my husband and I both buy pieces with different approaches. I have more classical tastes while my husband prefers street art like Banksy and Ben Eine. In my bedroom, there’s a painting of the French landscape of Burgundy by artist Denise Bonvallet Philippon that’s very classical and beautifully framed.
However, on the stair landing, there’s a print of Chairman Mao by Warhol. It’s a special piece, and because of where it’s hung you pass it a lot. You get to see it in the proximity as you come up the stairs. But as you come downstairs you see it in from a distance. We also hung a Josef Albers print in our dining area—such a classic. And in the sitting room, there’s a pair of Victor Vasarelys from the ’60s that are the first pieces we collected. Of course, there’s some of my own work on the walls as well.
My husband, Killian McNulty, is a midcentury antiques dealer, so there are many pieces throughout that he has sourced. We don’t have much furniture, because space is such a luxury. The pieces we do have I love. Our Jørgen Bækmark armchair to my eye is perfection. I could look at it for hours. There’s a Claritone Project G stereo we would never part with. And I have a floating oak dressing table custom-made for our bedroom that I designed. When you live with these things, they become a part of you.
I take great pleasure in simple things. A handmade Irish linen hand towel, taking a moment to stop and appreciate a painting or a sculpture, the dogs for certain, and most of all music. I even set up a sewing room in our guesthouse at the end of our garden, and it never takes too long before I find myself making something. I’ve also started to redesign the garden. I’ve been working on the project for two years after a visit to Japan. I guess I’ll have to wait another year now. In the meantime, I’ll still be terribly happy in this home.