Cosy in the cabin: Nuala O’Connor’s writing hideaway is full of eclectic charm
Pieces of Me: The writer and poet enjoys the peace of her creative space
Photograph: Eoin Rafferty
Nuala O’Connor (aka Nuala Ní Chonchúir) is a writer and poet who has published 14 books, most recently her fourth novel, Becoming Belle. Raised in Palmerstown, Dublin she moved to Galway at age 26, where she worked with Punchbag Theatre Company.
Nuala and her husband Finbar McLoughlin, a software developer, bought their terraced house in Old Mountpleasant, Ballinasloe in 2005. They live here with children Cúán (24), Finn (16), Juno (9), their cats Nora Barnacle and Pangur Bán, Harmione (aka Harry) the canary and Pod their newly adopted Staffordshire terrier pup from the GSPCA.
Describe your interior style
I have collections. I like grouping things, there’s a weird satisfaction in moving things about and seeing what looks best where. Blue and red are my two colours, and a bit of yellow. I don’t really like walking into a shop to buy a new vase, it doesn’t interest me. I’d much rather go to a charity shop or a junk shop and poke.
There’s a great shop in town called Colohan’s that sells about 50 different types of oilcloth. There’s a wonderful shop in Athlone called Lynn’s Antiques and I bought my desk there, my rocking chair, my wooden deer head and my dresser which I did up myself.
It just thrills me to get something that I love at a great price. I suppose more people have cottoned on to the vintage trend – we’ve been into it all our lives.
I will do a car boot sale every so often, because I have a habit of over-buying. The charity shops here are magnificent. I like the Vincent de Paul shop, Angie’s Attic and the NCBI have a shop here as well. I’d go to those three shops in one day. I’m the sort of person who would love to be a minimalist, but I’m a maximalist – I can’t help myself.
What room do you most enjoy?
My cosy writing cabin. I love the feeling of being in a space that’s dedicated to your creativity, to your quiet, to your peace. Even though we’re just on the edge of the town, there’s no noise. Just as I get started in the morning, Finbar will bring me over a cup of mint tea.
I sit there and I can’t believe that I own this. The cabin is the house that Becoming Belle built and the kitchen is the house that Miss Emily built. No matter how big or small my writing advances are, I always feel I have to buy something – a piece of jewellery, for example. I remember getting paid for a short story in the Sunday Tribune years ago and I bought a silk kimono. I still have that kimono and I wear it to special occasions and I always associate it with a story I wrote. Similarly when I did a talk for The Stinging Fly at Christmas, I went to the Dundrum Town Centre and bought a faux fur coat at Biba and it comes out every winter. It wasn’t expensive but if you invest a little of your money in something like that, it feels great.
What items do you love the most?
I have three treasured pieces. The first is a wicker basket that my mother gave me. My parents used to have a stall at Mother Redcaps Market in Christchurch [in Dublin], so they collected a lot of stuff, which is where I got the bug. So that’s something my mother gave me and I use it. The second is a Victorian money box that Finbar gave me for my last birthday. It still has its key. My other treasure is my Alan Ardiff dream machine pendant, which I love. I bought in the Bastion Gallery in Athlone.
Who is your favourite designer?
I’m a big Orla Kiely fan. I like her backpacks because they’re really sturdy and when you’re teaching, they’re good for carrying your A4 folders. I’m such a practical person, so I find her stuff really hard-wearing and long-lasting, well-made and gorgeous. My husband is very good; for birthdays and Christmas he’ll buy me something by Orla Kiely. I love Nicholas Moss as well. I think every house in Galway has a piece of Judy Greene pottery.
Regent Street in London is lovely and my character Belle Bilton lived just around the corner on Conduit Street, so she would have passed Liberty on a daily basis. It’s in a Tudor building and so small in terms of what department stores are. All that Liberty fabric is in there in bolts, it’s beautifully old-fashioned. They have things for £5 as well as things for thousands and thousands of pounds!
My favourite shop in the world is Anthropologie [in London]. What I love about Anthropologie, Liberty and Avoca [in Dublin] is a sense of the stuff being curated. I’m a big fan of the Kilkenny shop – every time you go in, you feel there’s something new for you to look at.
Which artists do you admire?
Frank O’Sullivan is a Cork artist and I bought a painting of his from an exhibition in Portumna a few years ago. I had a grey cat when I was a kid, called Ziggy Stardust. I write about the moon a lot. I just did a piece for the Sunday Miscellany 50 anthology about the moon. When I saw that painting I thought I wouldn’t mind being her; the scene of the woman and the cat, the moon, the chair, the sea, the serenity of her, because I’m anxious and melancholic as a person. The woman and the cat seem very at one.
I also have a painting by Una Spain, of Annaghmakerrig lake at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. I bought my Marigold the cow painting at a sale in Cappataggle for €40. I can’t find a signature on it, but I absolutely love it.
Biggest interiors turn-off?
I’m not a fan of very neat, fitted kitchens. I much prefer the oddness of many different pieces thrown together. I’m not mad about brand new furniture, I like pieces with age and stories to them, knocks and batters.
We fell in love with New York, I suppose. We went in 2007, then we ended up going back and getting married in City Hall.
In Ireland, Clifden is where we’d head to. The Abbeyglen Castle hotel has a Prosecco reception on a Friday night when you arrive, and they are not mean with it at all – it just flows and flows! We’ve also stayed in Cashel House Hotel in Roundstone. I had my launch for Joyride to Jupiter there last year in artist Rosie McGurran’s gallery.
Lisbon is a city I love. It’s got this fabulous old town, the metro is so cheap and straightforward, the food is fantastic. You can buy individual vintage tiles at the Lisbon Feira da Ladra (Thieves Market) for a few euro and just make them into a trivet or something. It’s magnificent and some of the stuff is so cheap. This summer in Lisbon I bought a solid silver decanter label for €1.
If you had €100,000 to spend what would you buy?
I’d knock through the separate loo and bathroom into one large room. I’d also get a landscaper in to make the garden pretty; I’d love a flower-filled cottage garden, easy to keep.
Becoming Belle (€15.99) is published by Hachette Ireland and available nationwide.