Artistic vision brings drama to Monkstown home

Having trained as an artist, interiors stylist Niamh Mac Gowan brings an artistic perspective to her work


Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to offer a new perspective on how you can make more of your home. Interiors stylist and artist Niamh Mac Gowan offers just that service, to people who don’t have a lot to spend on new furniture and accessories.

As a child she recalls visiting Irish big houses with her family, Powerscourt and Russborough stand out. The decorative elements she saw there: “Flowers in the hall, artworks on the walls and strong paint schemes” stayed with her. “It’s the decorative detail that brings a sense of individuality to a home,” she says, a doctrine that she has scaled down for use in her own home, a 1980s cottage between Wicklow town and Brittas Bay.

She has a good eye, one she got from her illustrator father, Dermot Mac Gowan, whose best known work is the sign for the pub Durty Nelly’s that he designed in Bunratty in the 1960s – a commission that paid for the engagement ring he bought her mother. Her aunt, Jean Bardon, is the well regarded botanical print maker.

She trained as a graphic designer but went into print making, something she had also studied at NCAD and says she doesn’t want to create homes with matchy-matchy curtains and upholstery. “It’s more about bringing out the style of the home owners rather than exerting my style on them.”

One secret weapon in Mac Gowan’s arsenal is that she knows how to hang and position art. Two and a half years as assistant manager at the Graphic Studio hanging a different exhibition every month taught her how to frame works to bring the work to the fore and how to be bold about how you position the art.

The way Mac Gowan works is that she will come to your home, suggest a paint palette that will complement your existing furnishings, hang your art in a more compelling way, reframe some of the pieces you already own so that they better compliment the work rather than the decor and even offer to source more pieces for you. She finds out which pieces you like and prioritises their positioning within the home and suggest ways to group artworks together so they enhance each other and add more drama to the space they’re in.

This house in Monkstown, Co Dublin is one of her recent projects.

The biggest mistake people make is to hang their art too high, she explains. Her rule of thumb is to position pieces at eye level but sometimes she discards these rules. In a corner of the kitchen of this period redbrick she positioned a printer’s ladder against the wall and hung an oil painting she found in Enniskerry Antiques almost at the level of the cornicing. The effect is very painterly with the scene resembling a Dutch master still-life. By using a decorative object to draw the eye up, she effectively draws your attention away from the kitchenalia.

In the kitchen, designed by Noel Dempsey from Rathnew, the room is painted in tonal shades from Little Greene (; the units in Tracery II, the island Sage Green and the walls and windows in Pearl. The primitive wooden horse, from UK-based Anton and K, striding across the island adds a touch of whimsy.

For this project Mac Gowan also offered advice on building works. An un-used doorway in the dining room became an alcove with shelving made from scaffolding planks. She suggested leaving the bare brick exposed to add texture. Hidden lighting will be added at a later stage.

In the hall a painting of the regatta at Henley was taken out of its original box frame and fitted with a decorative distressed moulding to draw the eye in. On the hall return, a bronze hare stands sentinel.

How did the owner of the house feel about its new look? “I wanted to be brave with colour and Niamh challenged me to take that chromatic step,” explains Ann-Marie Dillon.

Overall there was very little revision in the colour choices, although she did need persuading to paint the downstairs wc a deep aubergine, Brinjal by Farrow & Ball.

“What I do is add polish to the things that you already own,” Mac Gowan explains. She charges €70 for the first hour of her consultation and €35 per hour after that. She estimates that her consultation time and the framing work for this home cost about €1,500.

Interiors stylist and print maker Niamh Mac Gowan is running one-day interior styling masterclasses on August 15th and 16th in her Co Wicklow home. Priced €125, they include lunch and a glass of fizz. Tel: 087-9118236 or 0404-64979, This Monkstown, Co Dublin house is available to hire for shoots and films. Contact Ann-Marie Dillon, tel: 087-7937 220.

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