Flair and form hallmark Louise Kennedy's style

At the helm of Irish design for 30 years, Louise Kennedy is not afraid to mix styles. The key is ensuring every component has merit

 

She has dressed presidents, politicians, actors and royalty and created new robes for the judiciary, uniforms for Aer Lingus and even priests’ vestments. When it comes to design, Louise Kennedy’s reach over three decades has extended beyond clothes to crystal, perfume, handbags, interiors and even Irish stamps.

Most recently, the Tipperary-born designer was appointed as one of David Cameron’s 26 ambassadors for the “Great Britain” campaign to promote every aspect of industry and culture, joining luminaries such as Zaha Hadid, Stella McCartney and David Bailey. With creative industries now the UK’s fastest growing economic force, Kennedy and chef Ken Hom OBE are the only two non-British nationals in the group.

These days Kennedy divides her time between her flagship store in Belgravia and her Dublin headquarters on Merrion Square with several visits a year to India, which she calls her second home.

Georgian architecture

In Dublin she lives on the top floor – above the shop, so to speak – with breathtaking views of the Dublin Mountains on one side and the garden square on the other.

“I love this living space. When I worked with John Meagher [the architect] on this, we were not listed and this space consisted of seven or eight small rooms, so we opened the whole thing up,” she says.

“At the time Claudio Silvestrin [the celebrated Italian architect] was in Dublin because of his interest in Georgian architecture and he suggested hiding the handrail behind a floating wall and allowing the lightwell to be seen, so it has a different feel to the rest of the house. The light here is exquisite.”

Irish interest in interiors has grown since the 1980s, she believes.

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I first launched crystal there was a huge interest in interior design. People had lived in different cities and returned back to Ireland to set up home: look at the number of interior shops that existed then and architects who specialised in interior design.”

Her own interest in mid-century modern furniture began two years ago with the major refurbishment of her Belgravia flagship.

“We took it back to the brick to create a bigger changing room area: we wanted to create an environment that felt different and more like a gorgeous New York apartment, a little jewel box. Bergdorf Goodman’s entire first floor with all its pieces of mid-century modern furniture was a huge inspiration.”

Mixing periods

Her pieces, including a magnificent enamelled credenza and a glass-topped table on gilded ornate rams’ horns in the entrance hall, have come mostly from Killian McNulty, a mid-century modern specialist who sells online from his base in Lusk, Co Dublin.

“I never really buy a piece to fit the place. Every piece I buy is on its own merit. I like mixing periods. I am sitting in an Andrew Martin chair: I love its finish, the silver with light gold leaf on the wood and over there is a traditional sofa by Hodsoll McKenzie; I didn’t want a high-back sofa as the ceiling isn’t so high here.”

This spacious, low-lying room featuring comfortable seating and a Stark carpet in soft shades has a restful, welcoming air. It is filled with books, paintings (including several Mildred Anne Butlers) and side tables with family photos and various objets d’art. Pride of place goes to a bold abstract bronze of a horse by Patrick O Reilly.

“I love it for its noble head, its mane, its fluidity and strength. It is a very powerful piece,” she says.

Colour schemes

Her most treasured item, however, is a Louis le Brocquy tapestry of a hurler from the in series made by Aubusson. This was purchased with her father, a celebrated Tipperary hurler, 20 years ago.

“It is so beautifully crafted and it hangs opposite a black marble fireplace in the hall and is protected from light,” Kennedy says.

She dislikes colour schemes that aren’t soothing to the eye. “I hate contemporary for the sake of contemporary and when you see oversized pieces where there is no sense of scale or proportion or when something is badly made.

“I am very definite about colour and feel that I couldn’t relax in a place where the colour jarred. It’s an instinctive thing. “

“Though she admits to some admiration for contemporary design, “it’s not my thing. There is too much sameness and what I like is a little bit of quirky and a little bit of kitsch. I like mixing period with modern.”

Her favourite website is 1stdibs.com, which features furniture, jewellery, fine art and fashion. “You can go to it over and over again.”

Two Irish designers she particularly admires are Joseph Walsh and lighting designer Niamh Barry.

“For me Niamh is one of the most extraordinary designers. She has collaborated with Peter Marino [the leading international tastemaker] in New York and Paris. Her work is exquisite – she creates really different forms and shapes. Joseph is one of my great heroes and I would love a piece from him.

“And I would have liked to have worked with the late [Irish architect and designer] David Collins: I loved his use of colour.”

She describes her personal style as pared back and understated, but her personal signifiers have always been high heels.

“I love my Manolos for their colours and as they are so beautifully made, but now I love my trainers too.”

Her taste has moved on over the years, she reckons, but “I have pieces that I still covet and I like to move things around. I would love to do a hotel but I wouldn’t be interested in collaboration as I am too strong-willed. It would work only with an architect I respected and our vision would have to be the same and the budget would have to be there, too.”

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