Living over the shop

Jeremy Irons and David Puttnam often pop into Claire Graham and Tom Keane’s quirky, chic shop in Co Cork


Once upon a time every village had a local shop that was its community hub. The family that ran it lived above it and could be called on to dispense bottles of milk and sliced pans outside opening hours. Supermarket chains have altered the fabric and social-scape of village life.

Tom Keane and interior designer Claire Graham run The Old Mill Stores in Leap, west Cork, and have set about reinvigorating country life in the village of just two pubs and a coal supplier.

The village is best known as being the home of Connolly’s of Leap, the region’s biggest music venue, which plays

host to the likes of Nick Cave and Glen Hansard.

The couple have been in the interiors business for decades, opening Urbana, a shortlived temple to all things cool and kitsch in Temple Bar, Dublin, in the late 1990s.

When that closed, Keane crossed the river to Bachelor’s Walk and opened an antique shop on the quays, selling reconditioned stoves. A Dubliner, from Goatstown, Keane discovered west Cork through Jeremy Irons, who bought two cast-iron stoves from his quayside premises. He bought a small French-style stove for the library and a Danish Capricorn design from 1913 for the snooker room of his controversially coloured Kilcoe Castle in Ballydehob. Keane delivered the stoves and recalls how back-breakingly difficult it was to hoist them up the castle’s many flights of stairs.

Wanting to leave Dublin, the couple went to west Cork in search of the “classic old Irish shop” with accommodation above. They found their ideal property in Leap, beside a derelict flax mill. The house, which had belonged to the Maloney family, was abandoned. No one had lived there for at least 10 years, Keane says.

They opened their doors in 2001. Old Mill Stores sells food and gifts and stocks a mix of cool international brands such as Normann Copenhagen and Kitsch Kitchen, as well as cowbells from Thailand and hand-knitted tea cosies by Mary-Jo down the road.

Irons remains a very good customer, Keane says, but so too are many others from what he calls west Cork’s “cauldron of celebrity” including film producer David Puttnam, musician Maurice Seezer, chef Darina Allen and artist Dorothy Cross. The Maloney family have popped in too to see what the pair has done with their old place.

The couple and their two boys, Austin, 17, and Cal, 15, live below the shop and sleep above it.

The reception rooms and kitchen are downstairs. During refurbishment they reinforced the shop floor, installing a weight-bearing girder underneath. It’s on view in their kitchen, where they’ve made a feature of it, adorning it with some 800 fridge magnets, souvenirs of their extensive travels. An old vintage Ghanaian barber sign hangs on one wall. Keane found the metal Sky Glider sign locally. “It was covered in muck and had belonged to an Irish circus in the 1950s,”he says.

Through his work with Pinewood Studios’ production department Keane’s antique stoves can be seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadow. A black 1920s Nyborg cast-iron stove in their sitting room is similar to one that featured in the wand-maker’s workshop in the Potter film. The calm space has velvet upholstered seating, a peridot sofa and inky blue chairs bought from the now shuttered Sofa Factory.

The stylish built-in shelving framing the sofa was designed by local carpenter Paul Keogh and accommodates books and knick-knacks such as tea and coffee sets.

The rug on the floor was hand-made by Graham’s aunt, Mary Scally, when she was 87, as a wedding present. Aunt Mary is still going strong at the ripe old age of 100.

In a cosy room beside the sitting room they’ve mixed 1950s furniture, bought in London’s Camden Market, with a feature wall, painted a warming burnt orange to give it a mid-century feel. They found the radiators locally and had them sandblasted and coloured with car-exhaust paint. The mirror came from Paul Nolan’s second-hand shop in Clonakilty.

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