Orla Kelly: 'Why I'm all about blue'

Colour is a big part of Kelly’s Kilkenny home, but she also has a passion for ceramics

Orla Kelly is a designer and a colour specialist who works with a number of organisations and brands including the Irish paint company Colourtrend. Trained as an architect, she worked in Milan as a trompe l'oeil artist before returning to Ireland to set up as a freelance design consultant. She has worked with the Irish Landmark Trust, advising on its historic interiors. She lives in Co Kilkenny with her husband, the artist Blaise Smith and their two daughters Freagh and Morgan Kelly

Describe your style

I would describe it as decorative. I like decoration and explosions of pattern and colour whether it’s in paintings, wallpaper, ceramics or flowers.

What’s your favourite room in your home?

I am in a dilemma because my favourite space at the moment is outside the house, looking at it. I stand here looking at the outside, and it is so lovely, it makes me so happy. It was really dishevelled and I have painted it this turquoise colour which is called Orla Blue – a colour I worked on with Colourtrend – and bright yellow. I fought for this particular blue – it is a radiant blue. People are really afraid of blue but this is a blue that is full of yellow. Even on an dark, cold day it is like a burst of sunshine. I wanted it to feel a bit like Crete. And then there is this really sunshiny yellow for the door, it’s a freshly-squeezed, citrus door. (the actual paint colour is Fresh Scent by Colourtrend). The look is part Grecian, part nautical. This is my way of making me feel as if I am near the sea.

Inside the house, my favourite room is the kitchen. It’s a huge, tall space with a tiny parlour leading off it. You have to bow your head down, and then you are in this double-height kitchen.


What items do you love the most?

I have a red Waterford Stanley that I cook everything on.It never gives any trouble and it will probably see me out. It is really well built. I have a nice rug in the parlour that I designed when I was with Ceadogán Rugs. It’s a circular rug based on Liquorice Allsorts. My guilty pleasure is is flowers by Lamber de Bie – that would be my idea of a really affordable, constantly changing piece of design. You can put them in all kinds of containers from milk jugs to silver.

I have a huge collection of fountain pens but my favourite is a yellow enamel one that I bought in Rome, and I always write in orange ink that I get in the Pen Corner. It’s called Tangerine.

Where do you shop for bargain finds?

Without wanting to sound prententious, Rome is brilliant for all kinds of design. It has a lot of small artisan shops, people who make frames or handmade ceramic figures. Last time I was there I saw entire [Christmas] cribs made of chocolate. And it’s great for shirts, bags, shoes, kitchen knives and more.

I go to auctions, and not just for the antiques. At Mealys I got a lovely 1950s three-piece suite for about €150. Mind you, I try to avoid the boxed lot. If you get in the habit of spending €20 at every auction, you would need to built a shed.

I would wait for a sale in a good shop and get something lovely rather than buying cheaply made stuff.

Do you collect anything specific?

I collect ceramics more so than paintings. I have a lovely Japanese Imari charger for serving fish that I got at auction. A big cup by Cormac Boydell. I have some stuff by Andrew Ludick who is an up-and-coming artist. Dunnes sometimes has some really nice patterned ceramics that you can actually use – they make every mealtime very designer-y. I have a bowl my mother got for me by John ffrench and it has a lovely geometric pattern that you can look at from different sides. I also have four lovely John ffrench ceramic eggs of different colours.

Biggest interiors turn-off?

I have a few. I don’t like slavishly following trends. My main bane is Celtic Tiger interiors, such as cream floor, brown leather chairs, chrome lights. You don’t know if you are in a dentist’s or a hotel or someone’s livingroom. A hotel lobby should not be like your home, or a car showroom, but for a while there they all felt the same.

The artists/designers you most admire?

I love Hermès for their colour and pattern. I think they are best in the world. Eileen Gray is great. That is a bit more obvious. This new ceramic designer, Ruan Hoffmann, whose piece I saw in the vase show [Vase: Function Reviewed at the National Craft Gallery Kilkenny until November 6th] is fantastic. It's a blue-and-white vessel with gold writing that looks as if it is about 100 years old, just wonderful. And my husband, Blaise Smith.

Is there a colour or a shade you would never use at home?

A colour that I don’t like using is white just to avoid using a colour. I don’t like white as a lazy option. If people make a definitive decision, then yes, but don’t pick white because you can’t think of another colour. My kitchen is white, but what you can’t see is the far wall which is all Mondrian blue square.

What would you save from a fire?

At the moment I have my grandfather's collection of photographs – 9,500. I am sorting through them before they go to Brian McGee at the Cork City and County Archives. He was Anthony Barry, and he invented the Barry's Tea recipe. He worked full time with tea, and he was also mayor of Cork and a TD. He carried his camera with him at all times in the 1950s and the 1960s and took pictures of the people in the streets. He used to develop the pictures at home. I have already published a book called Cork in the 1960s but soon the pictures will be available as a record of the people of Cork.

If you had €100,000 to spend on your home, what would you do with it?

I would buy a car. All the windows look out on the yard so I would buy a Mustang Shelby GT 500. It’s a huge, gorgeous American car that’s amazingly designed. And I would park it outside – it would look nice and incongruous outside the house. They go from €50,000 upwards. If I had some change I would buy a lot of ceramics as I love having them around.

Orla Kelly will give a talk on Colour: How to Choose the Right Shades for Your Home at the Irish Times Home & Design Theatre at the Ideal Home Show on October 28th at 3pm. Questions will be welcome. The talk will be repeated on Saturday at 2pm. The Ideal Home Show is at the RDS Simmonscourt from Oct 28th-31st.