Google the word “cabin” and the usual design sites will proffer all manner of weird and wonderful escapes, from the most basic wood hut to the chalet variety. A cabin in the woods by the shores of a lake is one of the dream homes.
They are rare enough in Ireland. That's what makes this ordinary-looking hunter-green timber cottage so special. Situated on the shores of Lough Ree, the middle lake on the River Shannon, it is obscured from view by sky-high deciduous oak, beech and hazel trees, and evergreen ivy and holly.
The setting may feel remote but it isn't. It belongs to interior designer Egon Walesch who inherited it from his parents. It had been built in the mid-1960s as a holiday home and his father bought it in the 1970s.
Egon’s father, Henri, who was originally from outside Dresden moved west to Cologne before the war and came to Ireland to help construct the peat-burning stations at Ferbane and Shannonbridge.
While here he met Egon’s mother, Margaret from near Clonmacnoise, fell in love and stayed. He set up an electrical business but his real love was the lake where he set up a business marketing the cottage and a number of chalets to German and French fishermen.
The Killinure chalets near Glasson, Co Westmeath, are still in business and run by Egon’s brother Manfred.
On site is a restaurant that is in constant demand from April to October, such is the demand, serving up top-class steaks on slabs of wood.
Egon grew up in Athlone but in his mid-teens his parents decided to move closer to their work and built a house next to the wood cabin. The family lived in it for a couple of years while their new home was under construction. Though basic, it was here he realised his father’s creative talents. He built the chalets. His mother liked nice furnishings and so Egon too became interested in interiors.
Equipped with great memories and a strong aesthetic, the interior designer wanted to modernise the house without compromising its past. He enlisted the help of his partner Richard Goodwin, a management consultant, who trained as an architect.
The property needed serious insulation. The walls and floors were lined and Walesch used the opportunity to remove the roof, raise its ceiling heights and expose the beams and rafters to enhance the rustic feel.
Several builders recommended knocking it down and rebuilding, Walesch recalls. But he wanted to maintain the connection to his past. “The builder we hired, local man Liam Clancy, got what we were trying to do and worked with us, even distressing a piece of new timber to form a rustic-looking mantel over the Charnwood solid fuel stove.”
The entire project cost approximately €100,000.
Inside just two colours have been applied to create uniformity throughout. The tongue and groove woodwork is painted Cornforth White, really a pale grey and the ceiling and rafters are painted in Strong White, both Farrow & Ball colours.
The original floorboards were stained using Woca Extra White colour oil from Danecare.
A fan of mid-century design, Egon wanted the house to have a connection with its past but chime with contemporary living, so he knocked through the dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room to create an open-plan arrangement.
In the sitting room, tweed upholstered Mistral sofas from Heals sit at right angles to each other. A throw by Angie Lewin for Knockandoo features a woodland motif, while a footstool has been upholstered in a Luna Apple from Welsh company Melin Tregwynt.
A 1970s vintage chair in its original fabric knits the elements together.
In the background, through a fanlight, there’s a glimpse of Acquario wallpaper by Fornasetti.
The wildlife motif goes beyond the décor. Swans glide into the harbour in front of the house a couple of times a day. At weekends Walesch loves to get up, make a cup of tea and go back to bed to await their arrival.
The couple transported a lot of the furniture from the UK, making so many journeys in hired vans that they eventually invested in a Ford Galaxy to make the remaining trips.
The pair divide their time between London where Egon runs his interiors practice and Westmeath where he operates a second practice now that broadband is up and running. There is only one downside to living here, he says. “The leaves that fall in autumn fall constantly from October to December. I have to spend far too much time sweeping them up.”
The cabin in the woods is one of the many properties featuring in the TV series Home of The Year which returns for a second series on RTÉ 1 on Thursday, March 3rd, at 8.30pm. egondesign.co.uk