At home with Arwen Foley: “We’re still trying to figure out our style”

AA Ireland’s Arwen Foley has spent the past year refurbishing and extending a cottage. Now it’s time to the add the finishing touches as she and her family get ready to spend their first Christmas there

At home with Arwen Foley. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

At home with Arwen Foley. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

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Dubliner Arwen Foley can usually be heard on RTÉ Radio 1 and 2FM in the mornings, keeping the country up to date as AA Roadwatch’s news editor. Foley has just moved into her first family home - a period cottage in South County Dubin with her husband, Brendan Jacobs, and their two small children. They’ve spent the past year completely gutting, extending and modernising the cottage and are getting set to spend their first family Christmas there. Foley has also moved on from the newsroom and taking on a new role in the AA’s management team, acting as both a spokesperson and digital content manager.

Describe your interiors style

I grew up in an old, bitterly cold house, which was filled with antiques and grand paintings. My Dad was a divil for buying old things and lots of stuff at auctions. I think, as a result, I may have gone the other way and I definitely prefer modern interior architecture, with clean lines and raw materials, contrasted with fun colourful pieces. This is our first home and it’s still a work in progress, so I think we’re still trying to figure out our style as we go.

At home with Arwen Foley. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
At home with Arwen Foley. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Which is your favourite room and why?

Definitely the open plan kitchen/living room. It makes up the bulk of the extension and was designed so that there’d be maximum light coming in. It really is the heart of the home even though it’s still not quite finished. We’re saving for a new stone countertop, for now though, we’ve put in MDF and covered it with contact paper (just like the stuff you used to cover your books) so we can wipe it clean. Originally I wanted very dark kitchen cupboards but the prices we were being quoted were extortionate. In the end, we bought a basic white Ikea kitchen and got it spraypainted a very deep navy. It looks exactly how I imagined, with lovely leather handles. I love to cook and my three-year-old son loves to join in. He has his own drawer full of cooking utensils and miniature pots and pans. When he’s not ‘helping’ me in the kitchen, he’s outside playing with the dog, and the big sliding doors mean I can keep an eye on him while I go about my daily tasks.

The miniature pots and pans that her child cooks with.
The miniature pots and pans that her child cooks with.

What are your hotspots for interior shopping?

I do most of my shopping online to save time. It’s a great way to pass time on the bus. I love H&M Home, Zara Home and Amara. I’ve bought a few things for the kids’ rooms in Sostrene Grene too. I think like most first time buyers after you’ve bought the house and done the renovations, the interiors budget can be quite small, so we buy little bits here and there.

Do you collect anything?

My husband is from Zambia, so we have a lot of little African pieces scattered around the house picked up when we go there visiting. Most of the stuff we buy is made by hand and usually, they are made from pieces of rubbish. The most recent addition was bought at the side of the road in Livingstone. Is a little sculpture of a man on a bike made from chicken wire and paper.

African pieces
African pieces

What artists do you like and why?

I’ve always preferred photography to paintings, particularly portrait photography. I took up photography in college and absolutely loved it but I was always better at admiring others’ images than taking my own. I love real life and real emotion in photography. Rich Gilligan is one of my favourite Irish photographers. His portrait of Cillian Murphy is beautiful. There’s a sadness about him, which is very difficult to capture.

What would you save in a fire and why?

I’d have to take my Papa’s chair – my grandfather gave it to me when I was about six or seven and I’ve cherished it since. It has never really been worth much but I adored my Papa so this chair has always been special. With the wear and tear over the years, it began to look a bit dishevelled until my husband decided to surprise me before our wedding by repairing and reupholstering it. My mum was throwing out her wedding dress, as it was taking up too much space in her wardrobe, so he used the lace from the bodice to cover the cushion of the chair. It was beautiful and it was very emotional sitting on it at the top of the church on our wedding day.

Any travel destinations you love ?

We love visiting my husband’s family and travelling around different parts of the African continent. There is so much beauty in the bush in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. If you want a real African safari experience, I tell anyone who’ll listen to check out the Lower Zambezi or South Luangwa National Parks.

Berlin Wall key holder. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Berlin Wall key holder. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Any interiors turn offs?

Cold and dark houses. I need efficient heating and sunlight. I get very claustrophobic in gloomy houses. And I absolutely hate clutter.

What’s your best storage advice?

I love storage, a place for everything. So when we built the kitchen I made sure that we didn’t lose any space. The cupboards stretch just shy of the ceiling so we have maximum storage. Our larder has four pull out drawers so it’s really easy to see what you have. As you walk from the old house into the new extension you pass a wall of built-in storage with cupboard doors that you have to push to open. There are no handles, just a smooth wall of cupboard space. We keep all our cleaning utensils, washing machine and wash baskets in there so they’re out of sight. We also have a deep closet in the hall for all our coats and everything we need for the dog. It’s amazing how much space dogs take up. We also keep his food in a large metal bin, so we don’t have to mess around with bags.

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