At home in a glam-rock French château with Karl O’Hanlon
Pieces of Me: The Irish property developer opens up about his renovation projects
Karl O’Hanlon and his wife Anita at the Château St Pierre de Serjac in France’s Languedoc region.
Dubliner Karl O’Hanlon is a developer, hotelier and interior designer who specialises in restoring and operating wine estates and historic French buildings. O’Hanlon graduated from UCD in 1993, with a degree in philosophy and politics, before going on to study European politics and society at Oxford University.
While working in finance in London and Dublin, O’Hanlon satisfied his more creative side by doing a diploma in interior design. In the early noughties, he took on a side project restoring boutique properties in the south of France, a process he enjoyed so much it eventually morphed into his development company, Domaine & Demeure.
He moved to Languedoc in France permanently in 2006 with his wife Anita and their three children.
The couple opened their first estate, Château Les Carrasses, in 2011. Château St Pierre de Serjac, a 19th-century stronghold, was their next renovation project, and the place where the family now lives and runs a hotel and spa.
Their third restoration resort venture, Château Capitoul, is scheduled for completion in early 2020.
Describe your interiors style?
In our work we always try to create interiors that clients and guests will love and what suits the building or situation, rather than what we necessarily love ourselves. But I suppose our signature style is kind of rustic, country French with varying degrees of château glam and a touch of rock ’n’ roll – comfortable and chic.
Which room do you most enjoy and why?
I love the salon at Château Les Carrasses, where the grapes were once brought in from the harvest then dropped through the floor into the vats below. Today it’s the reception, the restaurant and the heart and soul of the estate, especially in winter. I particularly love the original vaulted roof, which we just sandblasted back, and the 19th-century steel pillars.
What items do you love the most and why?
The thing I love most in our own house is a 19th-century Italian basket chandelier, which I found in pieces in a box at an antique fair and which my daughter Cara restored, along with lots of other pieces for St Pierre. Our buying trips to the antique fairs and to Indonesia will be lifelong memories for me and I hope for her. She wants to be a jewelry designer, and has had a lot of practice restoring chandeliers to feed her fashion addiction.
Who is your favourite designer? Do you own any of their work?
I particularly love 19th-century and pre-war 20th-century design – especially mirrors, chandeliers, Art Nouveau and pre-war Métiers style. We’ve got a few nice things, mostly unsigned. For contemporary design I really admired David Collins – his restaurant and bar interiors set a totally new standard, and his work definitely served as an inspiration for the hotel at Château St Pierre de Serjac. I also love Brian McGuigan’s furniture at Orior in Newry - we have a pair of Thurman couches which will last forever and never date.
What would you save from a fire?
Wife, kids, dog. Nothing else is worth the risk.
Your favourite gadget or machine?
Definitely Rainette (French for “little green frog”), our robot lawnmower. Like a friendly little electric dog, she’s the sixth member of the family. Gets loads done, never complains. Occasionally digs unnecessary holes.
Do you collect anything specific?
Rock photography - I get tipped off by my friend Mark Overton, who owns the Off Beat Lounge gallery in Norwich. I also have a collection of vintage cocktail shakers, picked up at antique fairs over the years. I love the look of them, and the call-back to the 1920s and 1930s. You can’t use them though - everything tastes of silver polish.
Which artist do you most admire?
There are so many. Dalí, Gaudí, Haussmann, Frank Lloyd Wright, Francis Ford Coppola, Steinbeck, Pininfarina and countless others. Bob Dylan most of all though.
The biggest interiors turn-off for you?
Different colour chairs of the same style. And fake books are an epic fail.
Your favourite travel destination and why?
Indonesia for both work and holidays. We get a lot of our furniture made there, and the trips out to the factories are always great. I love the people, the landscape, the food is terrific, amazing beaches and great surf.
What does home mean to you?
Ireland will always be home, but having been here for so long France has become home too, and the Languedoc has become a part of who we are. The heart is in both now I guess.
If you had €100,000 to spend, what would you buy?
Anita wants me to work less and have more fun, so probably an Alfa [Romeo] Spider duetto from the late 1960s. The most beautiful car and only a little bit mid-life crisis. There’d be plenty of change to pay for the towing.