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The Darling family. Photograph: Eric Luke
The couple's bedroom
For Liz and Philip Darling, home is where the heart is, with tokens of their love and their family life decorating every room. By Alanna Gallagher
Meet the Darlings, whose home is decorated with mementoes of how the couple fell for each other, had children and got married.
Romance is everywhere in Liz and Philip’s Victorian detached house in Greystones, Co Wicklow. The couple met at Five Steps dancing, a type of movement meditation, and knew each other to see for five years before they first stepped out.
Together 10 years, they will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary next month. They have four children: twins Tadhg and Luka (2), Oisín (5) and Lia (7).
In their simple, white Ikea kitchen stands a bronze statue of Pavarti, the Hindu goddess of love and devotion. The couple had been going out about eight months when Liz, a dance therapist, got the offer of a two-month job placement in Chennai, in India. “Why don’t you come with me?” she asked Philip. And he did.
The decorating piece de resistance is the mural in the dining room where Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss – a wedding gift from Liz’s brother, Patrick – looks down on family life. Together the couple pasted the paper into place, without a single row breaking out. Liz chose the piece (from muralsyourway.com) because of its tenderness, she says, and the rich colours used in the painter’s golden period.
These art nouveau and arts-and-crafts movement influences are mirrored in elsewhere in the house’s detailing, including the brass finger plates on the internal doors. The book shelves that frame the painting were built using money friends gave them as wedding gifts.
“Philip is very romantic,” says Liz. “He’s romantic in the everyday, not just on special occasions.” For her 40th birthday he made her a “card”: a Kilner jar containing 40 stones painted with the names of people and places that evoke happy memories for her. This has pride of place on the sitting room mantelpiece, which is home to several more love tokens.
These include a fertility symbol sporting a pair of cowrie shell earrings. Philip unwittingly gave it to Liz last Christmas, and she believes it is African in origin.Last Valentine’s Day she received a wooden box filled with straw. Concealed within were 10 little gifts, to mark their 10 years together. They included a piece of rose quartz and a framed print of Robert Frost’s poem Love Came Down At Christmas.
The couple inherited the six-arm chandelier that hangs from the sittingroom’s central ceiling rose from the previous owner. They took it down to clean it and broke one arm. The pendant has now been converted into a five-arm light fixture. Beside the fireplace is a teak chest, one of three that the couple shipped home filled with souvenirs of their Indian adventure.
Over the mantelpice in the master bedroom hangs a second Klimt print, Mother and Child, bought at Ikea two days after Liz discovered she was pregnant with twins. A mahogany-framed mirror on the dressing table is another gift from Philip. A marble angel, a piece Philip bought on Portobello Road in London, guards the fireplace.
“She was a holy-water font once upon a time, before she made it to the antique shop,” says Liz. It reminds her of the couple’s first date when she saw it in Philip’s bachelor pad covered in fairy lights. By the mantelpiece is a papier mache heart, made by Philip and their two eldest children as a Valentine’s Day present to Liz when she was eight months pregnant with the twins.
A purple upholstered wingback chair is positioned on an upper landing. the sash window behind it home to row of coloured glass bottles. They are Christmas stocking fillers given by Philip to Liz. He bought them at car boot sales and in antique shops.
The master bathroom has a freestanding tub, the first thing the couple bought for the house. Around the front door is a rambling rose, given as a cutting to the couple by a close friend who died just a few weeks after their wedding. But his memory lives on in the rose, Liz says.
Outside the house sits an old caravan Liz bought for Philip for his 50th birthday. She bought it from a sheep farmer who used to sleep in it during lambing season and redecorated it using the same fabric as on the stools in their bedroom.
This Valentine’s Day the couple is getting away on their own for the first time in three years. They’re heading to Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa for some rest and relaxation, where they plan to revisit some of the sights they took in while on honeymoon in Co Cork four years ago. Who knows what Corkonian keepsakes they will bring back to add to their Darling story.