Continuing the connection with China at Birr Castle

Comfort, culture, natural materials and light guide Anna Lin Parsons in creating a home

Anna Parsons, Lady Oxmantown, in Birr Castle, Co Offaly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Anna Lin Parsons was born Lin Xiaojing in Tianjin, one of the main cities in China, studied accountancy and moved to Hong Kong where she worked as a television presenter.

She met Patrick Parsons, Lord Oxmantown of Birr Castle, in Beijing when they both worked for a property company and married him in 2004 in ceremonies in China and Ireland. They have two children and divide their time between London and Birr.

Their marriage consolidates Birr Castle’s long intercultural association with China which began in the 1930s with Desmond Parsons who first went to China in 1934 and whose collection of Chinese art remains in Birr.

Describe your interiors style

Patrick and I lived in different houses in different countries during the 12 years of our marriage due to our business interests, before we finally settled in London, though Birr Castle is our main home. I enjoy designing interiors and would describe my style as primarily about comfort but one that acknowledges the environment and local culture. What’s important for me are natural materials like vintage style white linen for bedding, for example. I don’t like rooms overcrowded with furniture and prefer a few beautiful, well-chosen antiques that are both practical and comfortable. Plants, music systems and lighting are also very important.


Which room do you most enjoy and why?

I love high ceilings and rooms with plenty of light. In Birr, I really enjoy the yellow drawing room which was designed by my husband’s grandmother, Anne Messel, Countess of Rosse. I love the golden silk walls and curtains along with the beautiful ceiling and the chandeliers. Creative decoration like that is inspirational.

What items do you love most and why?

My antique mirror collection and our bookshelves with thousands of beautiful books. I can’t live without mirrors and books. I have been collecting both Chinese, Asian and European mirrors for the past 15 years and in London I love the specialist shops in Pimlico and Kensington Church Street.

Who is your favourite designer? Do you own any of their work?

I have lived in Beijing, Hong Kong, Ireland and now London so I have met many amazing designers, but my favourite is still Patrick's great uncle Oliver Messel, the ballet, stage and interior designer. His designs were so incredibly romantic and creative and there are several of his pieces in the castle like the Sleeping Beauty bedroom set.

In fashion I adore Charles James and wore one of his gowns to the Met Ball in New York and more recently to the Spanish Queen Mother’s birthday. They belonged to Anne Countess of Rosse and we have lent pieces to the Met from Birr. They fit me perfectly. I also love Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy and have many of their pieces.

Which artists do you most admire?

Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso. Da Vinci’s knowledge of mathematics and Picasso’s art never ceases to amaze.

What is your biggest interior turn off?

I dislike plastic in interiors and fake materials used to make something look better than it is. Cheap materials that can’t be seen, for instance, inside a piece of good wooden furniture – good design should not be based on that concept.

Which travel destination stands out?

We have travelled a lot particularly in Europe and I love Stresa on Lake Maggiore in Italy where we have family links and I love South Asia. We had two honeymoons – I took Patrick to Bali, which remains a special place for us, and he took me to Europe. Our next destinations will be South America and Africa.

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

I would invest in some amazing pieces of contemporary art because we have so many Old Masters in Birr. I attend art fairs in London, like Frieze and PAD, and Amsterdam and try to spend a whole day there. I have invested in young Korean and English artists and I try to keep my eyes and ears open. I listen to art professional friends, but make up my own mind because the money is in my pocket and I trust my own judgment.