Feng shui and a farmhouse feel: at home in D4 with hatmaker Anthony Peto
The traditional town house is full of wonderful surprises inside
British milliner Anthony Peto in his elegant Victorian terraced house in Sandymount which featured in RTÉ’s Home of the Year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
You have to take your hat off to Anthony Peto. Since moving to Ireland four years ago, the British milliner has seriously landed on his feet. His hat designs quickly caught on with Ireland’s best dressed, and he’s also found himself the perfect place to lay his hat – an elegant Victorian terraced house in Sandymount that has featured in RTÉ’s Home of the Year.
It all looks reassuringly familiar from the outside – two storeys over basement; stone steps up to the big front door with its stained-glass fanlight. I think I know what to expect when I get inside – I know nothing.
Peto greets me in the large, welcoming hallway – he looks every bit the hip 1960s Londoner in his rollneck top; his partner, Vanessa, exudes a similarly sixties chic. We step into the two interconnected reception rooms, with their big marble fireplaces and intricate plasterwork, but I’m about to have my assumptions overturned. The large window in the rear sittingroom has been transformed into a mini-balcony looking down into an enormous double-height, open-plan kitchen and sittingroom extension. The effect is dizzying and delicious.
The refurb was done by the previous owner, an interior designer, and Anthony and Vanessa had little work to do after buying it in 2015. “We did change a couple of things. For instance, the downstairs area wasn’t as nice as it is now.”
Descending the contemporary-looking hardwood steps, it’s clear the downstairs is very nice indeed. The couple replaced the floor tiling with rattan weave carpet to make the downstairs feel more comfy and cosy, added lighting to some of the darker corners, and closed off a second balcony upstairs to allow that room to be used as a bedroom. But most of what made this a Home of the Year contender is still there – including the warm grey colour scheme and little touches such as the sliding pantry door made of scaffolding timber – giving it the feel of an old-fashioned farmhouse larder.
The downstairs has all the feng shui you want – a sweeping flow from the front room which currently serves as Peto’s office, through the sittingroom and kitchen/dining area, all the way out to the 21m west-facing garden. You could just stay here all day, and – when not working in the South Anne Street shop, or travelling to Paris where his company still has its headquarters (both now off the agenda due to the current coronavirus crisis) – Peto likes to spend much of his time here.
In the front office, with its big desk, your eye is drawn to a large-scale painting of a hazy, silhouetted figure, which Peto commissioned from a French artist. The figure is, of course, wearing a hat. “I like it because although it’s just a man in a hat, it’s also to me a reassuring presence, almost like an animal with horns, and this redness here which to me is the human presence. There are times when I look at this and feel it’s a benevolent presence. His paintings are loosely about the perception of identity.” In the main reception room upstairs is another figure in a hat by the same artist – doubly reassuring.
Like many people with an artistic bent, Peto doesn’t navel-gaze too much about the creative process. “I don’t know where my ideas come from, but when I need them, they’re there.”
Born in London and raised in Yorkshire, Peto lived in Paris for 20 years, where he honed his craft as a chapelier. “I loved it and I was drawn to it. My aunt, Judith Lieber, was a famous handbag designer in the States, so I knew I’d end up doing something in the artisan space.”
So what made Peto choose Dublin?
“I recognised something here I remembered from an earlier existence in England which I just didn’t feel anymore, which is a sense of community, and a friendliness and a willingness to just chat take the time of day - it’s just something that I don’t see anymore in the UK.
“When I came here I had not appreciated how much Irish people love hats – particularly Irish women. And that’s got a lot to do with the races. I hadn’t quite cottoned on to this. When we started here we were just doing men’s hats, like trilbys, and so we opened a showroom and started making women’s hats, and I discovered that I loved doing that. And that’s due to Dublin.
“Customers here are so nice. In other countries, it’s just a transaction. I also feel that there’s some purpose to me being here. I feel I can contribute something. There are lots of good milliners here, but I think the mix of what I do fits in.
“And this house is perfect for us – I wouldn’t move again. This is the place.”
Since we met, the coronavirus crisis has meant Anthony and Vanessa have had to stay home, so I phone to see how they’re getting on – I could certainly think of worse places to be stuck in during lockdown.
“I can’t complain – we’re very fortunate, although we all share the same fears,” says Peto. “But I have to pay tribute to our wonderful health workers who are putting themselves at risk every day.”
Peto is using the time to adjust to a new reality – and getting used to the idea of dealing with his customers online instead of in person.
“I’m preparing for a different way of running my business. I think a lot of mindsets have shifted – people are becoming more open to the idea of buying online.”
The couple are also settling down to a regular routine at home.
“We’re spending a lot of time out in the garden, and chasing the sun around the garden. We’ve reconfigured the room with the TV so we can sit comfortably and watch Netflix. We’re enjoying Life on Mars at the moment, and catching up on classic movies that we haven’t seen.
“In the evening we’ll have virtual drinks with friends, and then we’ll have dinner. We’re doing a lot of cooking – well, Vanessa does the cooking. And we’re just trying to appreciate what we have.”
Something old: A pair of old leather armchairs, well-buffed by many a derriere. “I like to go into corners where I can relax, so I often sit here. It helps me concentrate. Vanessa would happily throw them out, but I like them, probably because I’ve had them a long time. Men tend to get attached to things like an old shirt or an old pair of shoes. But I’m more attached to Vanessa, so if she wants to get rid of them, that’s fine.”
Pet items: A multicoloured dog sculpture. “I like the way it draws your eye in. We bought it at an affordable art fair in London – I know it looks like it’s made of Lego, but it’s actually made from clothes pegs.”
Artwork: Abstract painting by John Redmond: “He’s the creative director of BTs, and he’s a really prolific painter, gets up early in the morning to paint. This one reminds me of circuses and trick cyclists – all the circles and shapes really work well together.”
Heirloom: A small painting of a woman in an antique frame. “This belonged to my grandmother, who was born in Vienna. It was in her dressingroom in London, and I would often chat to her there. It was a beautiful, intimate space with lots of mirrored walls. The painting is from the Biedermeier period of the 19th century. I loved Victorian literature, and that’s probably why I like this. You could imagine this is one of the Jane Austen heroines.”