A riot of wallpaper and kitchen chandeliers; at home with Carmel Harrington

The novelist’s remodelled bungalow is a peaceful, vibrant and inspirational home

Carmel Harrington author of 'Cold Feet – The Lost Years'

Carmel Harrington author of 'Cold Feet – The Lost Years'


Novelist Carmel Harrington left a career in sales for Aer Lingus and 3M to write full-time and has six books to her name including the recently published Cold Feet – The Lost Years.

She and her husband Roger relocated from Dublin to Carmel’s native Wexford seven years ago to raise their family. Last year they moved to a bungalow in Screen with their two children Amelia (7) and Nate (5). The house has recently been remodelled with the help of Catherine Kavanagh at Fine Edge Design.

The result is an open-plan kitchen and dining area, which naturally flows out into the sunny reading room and office. The peaceful living space is practical in essence with injections of rich, opulent textures. The walls are lined with framed mementoes, largely gifts from friends and family, while the majority of the decor has been locally sourced from Wexford designers and craftsmen.

Describe your interiors style

I like to mix things up. There’s a high-gloss kitchen because I wanted to have sleek, clean lines with a lot of texture. The room has to be practical as it’s where we spend a lot of our time together, but to mix things up I have my chandeliers from Shaw’s in Wexford, which bounce a lot of light around. The painting and decorating was done by my brother John O’Grady.

The flooring was by PK Tiles, a local tile manufacturer. The blinds are from Tadhg Darcy Blinds. The wallpaper is by Designer’s Guild. I wanted one blind in the kitchen that pulled in the colours from the wallpaper; they put me in touch with someone from the UK who had the exact fabric - it ties it all in together.

The office library off the kitchen in Carmel Harrington’s house
The office library off the kitchen in Carmel Harrington’s house

What room do you most enjoy?

I love my office/library. It really is a space for reading and as my son Nate always says, “there’s no technology allowed in there, except for Mummy when she has to write her books!” It’s a really nice environment to snuggle on one of the little couches which we found at Michael Murphy. The bespoke desk was made by Fine Edge Design. I love flowers and I love nature, so I find the wallpaper quite pretty – it seems to link the garden.

For me, sitting behind that desk and looking at my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, is hugely inspiring. I think about all the wonderful creative people who have infused their little bit of magic into those books on the shelves in front of me. It’s almost as if they’re whispering, “Come on - finish that book!”

The library wall of Carmel Harrington’s home
The library wall of Carmel Harrington’s home

Which items do you love most?

One item is Nina, a china doll that sits on the top shelf of the book wall. She was a gift from from my great-aunt Margaret, who died earlier this year, and great-uncle Terry. On their honeymoon 70 years ago Terry bought Margaret a present – Nina – in Italy. She was one of their most treasured possessions and they both said they wanted me to have her. To me, Nina represents love at its purest form.

My godparents Ann and Nigel Payne live in Australia. When we got married they carried in their hand luggage this beautiful blown glass piece that was done in Western Australia. We talk on FaceTime on a regular basis but I miss them, so having that bowl sitting on the kitchen island reminds me of them.

My niece Sheryl O’Grady is a really talented artist. This particular piece works very well here because it picks up the purples and the blues in the wallpaper. It’s her take on cherry blossom. If people know me, they know I have a thing about trees. There are some trees in my life that are very special to me – that painting pleases me because of that.

I have a gin cabinet, as well. The gin cabinet is very important too!

Nina, a china doll that Carmel Harrington treasures
Nina, the china doll that Carmel Harrington treasures

What artists do you admire?

I plan on getting a piece by Kildare artist Emma Campbell. She has some beautiful rainbow-inspired art. There’s a gallery in Gorey called Gaslamp and I go up there because they support an awful lot of Irish artists - that’s where I came across Emma. There’s a Wexford artist called Kevin Roche and he does some beautiful landscapes. There’s always a slight edge to his work – they always look slightly different.

Biggest interior turn-off?

If you design a room that is totally beautiful but you don’t feel comfortable in it. It’s like colour-by-numbers. I preferred to colour outside the lines as a kid – I think that’s where imagination comes to life. Those houses that have coloured by numbers, where everything is perfect - turn me off. There are some homes that I’ve been in and they’re absolutely stunning but I stand there with my hands in my pockets and have to take my children out of there straight away!

A home can’t just be beautiful – it has also got to have some heart and personality.

Cherry blossom by Sheryl O’Grady
Cherry blossom by Sheryl O’Grady

Destination that stands out?

Roger is 50 this year so we’re going to Orlando, Florida, to my parents’ place there. The children are at the age where they can understand Harry Potter so the four of us sit down together – I read one chapter and Roger reads the next – we’ve told them when we get to the end of the Harry Potter book, there’s a surprise. The last page will say “Guess what? We’re going to Florida!” because Harry Potter Land is in Universal (Studios).

If you had €100,000 to spend on anything for the home, what would that be?

We’ve about a thousand square feet upstairs – the views are of fields and Mount Leinster. Our dream is to eventually to convert upstairs into one big master suite. Somewhere for Roger and I to escape to when the children are teenagers. We’d love to have a beautiful bedroom up there, a ‘his n’ hers’ en suite and a walk-in wardrobe. I think it would be gorgeous to walk up the stairs to floor-to-ceiling windows.

Cold Feet – The Lost Years is published by Hodder.

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