Decorative artist Jane Willoughby found the perfect home and perfect backdrop to showcase her artwork in this Victorian estate manager’s house in Co Kilkenny.
Photography and Words: Barbara Egan
This beautiful home in Co Kilkenny has been lovingly refurbished by artist Jane Willoughby; she did all the interior painting, and has hung much of her own art thoughout. Jane is one of those people who seems able to create a really atmospheric interior just by putting together bits and pieces from auction rooms and salvage yards, although I like the fact she incorporates pieces from Ikea, TKMaxx and Dunnes Stores too. It’s a real talent! I loved photographing this house, it’s so individual and original. But what do you think? Let us know; the comments box is at the bottom of the article, and you can put forward any questions you have too.
The big move
Both Jane Willoughby and her husband were brought up in country houses very similar to this one in Co. Kilkenny and neighbouring Co. Waterford. Having lived in Dublin for fifteen years, they were hankering to return to their roots.
‘We had always planned to move back to a country house as soon as the girls were old enough to go to college,’ says Jane. ‘So we just kept an eye out to see what was on the market, something that wasn’t too large or too isolated. Our family have become accustomed to an urban lifestyle and wanted still to be able to walk to the shops, but also wanted a traditional Victorian walled garden, so that we could become as self-sufficient as possible in growing our own food.’
This former estate manager’s home on the Wandesforde estate in Co. Kilkenny was perfect, but it was just a little too early. ‘Sophie and Simone are still in school, which means we will be remaining in Dublin for a few more years,’ says Jane. ‘We aren’t ready to sell there yet, but we love the house and it’s just perfect.’ The house won out in the end, the couple decided to buy and begin a gradual process of renovation and moving, to take place over several years.
‘Although the house was a little larger than we had wanted, it is still manageable, and the two-bedroom cottage annexe turned out to be a bonus. We could have someone living there full-time from the start, and helping to set out the garden and grounds. The house was well-presented, having had quite a lot of work done on it by the previous owners, including the wonderful conservatory. It did need a bit of updating in insulation and heating, but I felt that the real work was to stamp our own personality on the interior, and that quite a big challenge as it is quite a big house.’
The existing colour scheme ran to quite strong reds and pinks, which suited the previous owner’s style and furnishings, but Jane was interested in a more neutral background to showcase her decorative panels and paintings. ‘The sale of the house had been delayed for a year, so during that time I had planned everything in my head,’ she says. ‘As a mural painter, naturally I’m completely at home painting and once the sale went through, I went at it like a mad woman, finishing most of the house during the summer months of 2017.’
Jane had also used the intervening year to buy furniture and put it into storage, ready for the sale to go through. ‘I was aiming for an eclectic scheme, modern pieces that would fit a period setting, with older mahogany furniture, lightened by a light, neutral setting,’ she says. ‘I also wanted to use the whole house as a gallery for my paintings, to show people how they would fit into an interior and complement it.’
The house is still a work in progress. Jane is planning to create a whole Chinoiserie scheme in the conservatory and the couple plan to make the house more energy-efficient with extra insulation and solar power, but this is something Jane is happy to work on over the coming years. ‘We will probably rent it out for a few weeks in the year to help pay for the alterations. But at the moment we already spend every minute we can here,’ she says. ‘This is the house that I have always dreamed about, it’s a real home-coming for us both. The walled garden is a project I am just going to love!’’
Jane's Design Tips
‘If you have a good local auction rooms, make sure to walk by once a week to see what is coming up for sale, this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to furnish a large country home. Put in a price you are willing to pay online, then you either get the piece or you don’t, but you don’t have to actually attend the auction.’
‘If the upholstery is dingy on a nice piece like the chaise longue in our master bedroom, but you don’t have the money to spend on re-upholstering, consider using chalk paint to refresh it. I used Annie Sloan chalk paint; there are demonstrations on how to do it online.’
Check out Jane Willoughby Artist on Instagram !
The conservatory is a little narrow for its length, Jane has hung decorative panels to define the end wall more, but has plans address the proportions with a whole Chinoiserie scheme in yellow. The bookcase at the end is a secret door.
Ingatorp extendable dining table, Agen woven chairs – Ikea.
Cushions – Laura Ashley.
Console tables – Buckleys Galleries.
‘I really wanted delicate French-style wrought iron furniture for the courtyard tables and chairs’, but it was so hard to find as rattan is very fashionable just now; I eventually tracked these down in Argos,’ says Jane.
Heart of Jasmine 4 seater patio set with cushions and parasol – Argos.
Vintage milk churn – Buckleys Galleries.
Pots and topiary – Windy Ridge Garden Centre.
With three large windows, this is a bright room and Jane wanted to create a light, elegant scheme. ‘This is a room for sitting and reading or listening to music, I wanted it to be calm and inviting,’ she says.
Stocksund 3-seater sofas, Liatorp Coffee table – Ikea.
Bee scroll embroidered cushion, insect embroidered cushion, mini butterfly embroidered cushion – Marks and Spencer Home.
Floor lamp – Stillorgan Décor.
Artwork – Jane Willoughby.
Jane felt that simplicity was the key to this area, ‘it needed very little,’ she says. ‘I added the window-motif mirror to add light and interest to the blank wall.’
Wall colour, ‘Greengage’ interior matt – Colortrend paints.
Georgian window mirror – Windy Ridge Garden Centre.
Floor rug, Carolyn Donnelly – Dunnes Stores.
Artwork – Jane Willoughby.
‘This room was a beautiful deep red when we bought it; I considered it long and hard, but in the end decided to repaint in a light neutral as our furniture was darker than the previous owners and needed a lighter touch.’
The walls are painted in Elephant’s Breath from Farrow and Ball, sideboard and over mantle mirror, from Buckleys Galleries.
Artwork – Jane Willoughby.
Ingatorp extendable tables – Ikea.
Floor Lamp – Stillorgan Décor.
‘The gilded mirror was part of a set with the console table in the conservatory; together I thought them too ornate, so I teamed the mirror with a much more restrained mahogany table, which still picks up the gilding in details.’
The console table and mirror are both from Buckleys Auctions.
Table lamp – Flanagans.
The hippo motif tray came from Hedgeroe Interiors.
The magnificent old Aga with original tiling was intact; Jane only needed to repair and re-grout around it; the kitchen units had been made from reclaimed Georgian shutters.
The kitchen units have been painted in Stoney Ground from Farrow and Ball.
Ingatorp extendable tables, Ingolf chairs – Ikea.
Zoological themed plates – Marks and Spencer.
Artwork – Jane Willoughby
With three windows, two doors, a fireplace and a built-in wardrobe, the question in this room was where to put the bed.The previous owners had compromised by placing it in the centre of the room, Jane and John decided to cover the fireplace with a removeable panel.
Bed – Flanagan’s.
The chaise longue came from Buckleys Auctions, Jane painted over the faded pink upholstery in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.
Console table – Irish Design Gallery.
Chair – Sostrene Grene.
Paper shade – Woodies DIY.
Jane changed the bathroom colour from soft pink to a more neutral ‘Skimming Stone’ from Farrow and Ball, and repainted the clawfoot bath in ‘Old Violet’ chalk paint from Annie Sloan.
Mirror – Buckleys Galleries.
Side tables, baskets – Ikea.
Artwork – Jane Willoughby.
‘This had been a boys room and was painted bright red, I wanted something light and simple, emphasising the beautiful windows, as the room faces the road, I just added muslin curtains from Ikea. I bought the daybed for sleepovers.’
Versailles daybed, Katrina Stone bed – Flanagans.
Floor rug and bedside lamps – Ikea.
The table and chest of drawers – Buckleys Galleries, painted in Antique White Chalk paint.
Cushions and throws – TKMaxx.
Wall colour, Pavilion Grey, Farrow and Ball.
‘The guest bedroom is a lovely bright room with a cute fireplace, it was finished in yellows and greens, I felt it just needed refreshing with a coat of neutral wall colour and a contrasting white for the fireplace.’
Bed and chest – Buckleys Auctions.
The mirror was an old piece, part of a dresser which Jane painted in chalk paint.
Toile de Jouy bedspread – Arnotts Department Store.
Floor mat – Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic Collection for Dunnes Stores.
Pink Girls room
This girls bedroom had been painted Ointment Pink, Jane retained the pink ceiling but painted the walls in Farrow and Ball’s Stoney ground, freshening the scheme while keeping the pretty feminine look.
Filscov floor rug – Agen.
Woven chair – Ikea.
The bed – Buckelys Auctions, but Jane had to get an expensive bespoke mattress made as it was off-size.