Pieces of me: Denis Kenny and Fiona Gilboy of Ceadogán Rugs

‘Fiona and I enjoy trawling markets, always in anticipation of the perfect find’

Known around the world for their glorious designs and wonderful workmanship, Denis Kenny and Fiona Gilboy of Ceadogán Rugs live in an eco-friendly house designed by Ray Kelly, and set in a secluded site on Bannow Bay in Co Wexford. The couple bought the business from Tom Cadogan in 1989 and, over time, have worked with leading artists and designers including Patricia Murphy, Andrew Ludick and Helen Steele. They have just been awarded the Silver Award for Textile Design at the highly prestigious London City Design Awards for their collaboration with fashion designer Helen Cody.

Describe your style

In a word, eclectic, although I have a strong interest in keeping things simple. The house is warm and welcoming with a mix of furniture and artwork – some of it inherited, and a lot sourced at auction, flea markets and scrap yards on our many travels to Mayo, and through France. Fiona and I thoroughly enjoy trawling markets, always in anticipation of the ‘perfect find’.

Which room in your home do you most enjoy?

The living area, especially on a Saturday morning with the weekend papers and the radio on. It’s a large space and incorporates the dining/cooking/sitting and sun rooms. It’s light filled and airy. Always warm, it invites sociability and interaction. It’s also a great space for a party. If we ever downsize this space will be pretty much replicated. I am also a firm believer that one’s home should need to be discovered. Over the years we have developed a courtyard area, which has expanded and enhanced the character of the house. It’s sheltered and sunny with a large canopy supplied by a cherry tree, a lovely spot.

What items do you love most?

A circular table of Kilkenny limestone made by Clive Nunn. It's timeless, has simple lines and a beautiful reflective surface of polished limestone. It was one of the first pieces of furniture we bought and has found a perfect relationship with four mid-century chairs which Fiona bought from Wild Child a few years back. Then there's The Tumbler, a ceramic piece we bought years ago in Workshop Wales Gallery in Fishguard. Again it has an honesty and simplicity, and the balance of the piece has an enduring appeal. Unfortunately it has lost one or two of its fingers over the years.

Late friend and fellow rug-maker Gillian Friedman made a woven piece which hangs in our dining area – it shows a bowl and some jugs, the domestic every-day, simply and beautifully executed and with exquisite balance of colour and form. And I also love our bathroom, a 1950s suite in mint green bought in Johnny Cash's scrapyard for £150 in 1984, long before we were even thinking of building a new home. Fiona is not so gone on it…

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

I have always admired the work of Irish jewellery designer Erika Marks who is based in Co Leitrim. Her work is contemporary, but evokes antiquity. She is also inspired by the night sky, by old charts and maps – all things close to my heart. Fiona loves them too.

The artists you admire?

I tend to have the feeling that the object of my admiration would be someone with whom I would enjoy a pint. Over the years, in my line of work, I have had the good fortune to have worked with many artists and to interpret their designs. Mainie Jellett was an outstanding person, artistically and politically courageous, badly treated by posterity. Robert Ballagh trusted me implicitly and challenged all of my skills as a rugmaker. Recently I have had the pleasure of working with Donald Teskey and Richard Gorman, at opposite ends of the spectrum in what their work demands. That is the beauty of interpreting other people's designs. Recently I have worked very closely with Helen Cody on three large pieces for the new Central Bank – a wonderful experience. Helen is a national treasure.

Internationally, Sebastiao Salgado would fit the bill to the full. Photography and cinema are my favourite art forms. The Brazilian photographer is someone whose life and work I hold in great esteem. Photography is his absolute passion. Allied with that, his deep and genuine concern for the future of our planet has informed his life and his work. His photographs are incredibly beautiful, an expression of all that is best in human nature. Zaha Hadid… I'm not sure if she would have relished a pint, but quite a lady, and what a legacy.

Biggest interior turn off?

Laminate floors. Clutter and fuss. Perfection.

Travel destination that stands out?

Historically: Sceilig Mhichíl 1979. I have no head for heights, but that heart-stopping climb and descent was worth every beat. Nothing compares. In May I’ll be heading to the Austrian border with the Czech Republic and Hungary, with five friends, to do 500 miles of the Iron Curtain Cycling Trail (it runs through all kinds of terrain, from Finland to the Black Sea). This will be our fourth section. And in my dreams? I’d love to hear a concert at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. At €800 million, it was apparently eight times over budget, but is said to be stunning.

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

For my other half and life-long partner, who comes from north Mayo, I would choose a Donald Teskey landscape of that area – his paintings of bogs cliffs and seashore have incredible energy and scale. For myself, I would opt for one or two very large Salgado prints.


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