Pink paint and butterflies: The interior style of Geraldine O’Riordan
Every surface of the artist’s home is a potential canvas, including the garden wall
Paintbox home: Geraldine O’Riordan in front of a wall painted for her grandchild. Photograph: Clare Keogh
O’Riordan’s house is a place where the lines between work and leisure, home and studio blur. Moving into her Glanmire home, which she has owned since 2008, has given the artist space to have her own studio – and a showcase for her work as a decorative painter and interior designer.
As a fine art painter she has a particular interest in classic interior scenes. It’s a career she is excelling at; her work was chosen for last year’s prestigious RHA Annual Exhibition. Currently working on a number of commissions, she is also preparing for the upcoming annual exhibition at the Royal Ulster Academy, in Belfast, where, she says, she’s honoured to have a new painting, Cross Pollination, included in the show.
The Glanmire house also doubles as work space and showroom, with feature walls and rooms decorated to show clients the range of her work as a decorative painter and interior designer.
While a trend towards more modern interiors has spelled a wane in demand for decorative painting, she still loves the very hands-on decorative painting work, which she teaches and takes commissions on.
Ideas and inspiration come from a range of sources and, she says, she is always on the look out. She regularly takes city breaks to visit galleries in countries around the world where she is, she says, like someone watching a tennis match.
“Other people go to galleries to look at paintings. I’m there with my head moving from paintings to walls, to interiors, to fabrics.”
O’Riordan’s constant search for inspiration is reflected in the Glanmire house where, for example, a feature wall in her garden was inspired by a tiny image in a book of fabric patterns.
Her interest in art and design has been lifelong. Looking back on her early years, her most vivid memories are around colour and images. She remembers fondly her weekly art classes at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork city, where it wasn’t just the pleasure of messing with paint that appealed to the young aesthete. While other children in the class were hands-to-the-page as they got on with their work, O’Riordan would find her eyes wandering around the walls and ceilings of the fine building.
The family home was an 1850s house, where, even at a very early age, O’Riordan was keen to volunteer in assisting with any painting or decorating.
It was a childhood recollection of the inspiration her grandmother took from TV that was to be pivotal in shaping aspects of her later career and helping her to understand that inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. One day, she recalls, she arrived at her grandmother’s to be greeted by a new curtain on the back door.
“It was beautiful. Layered with a plain voile trimmed in lemon cotton. I said ‘Granny, where did you get the idea for that?’ And Granny looked at me and said she had been inspired by Sue Ellen Ewing, from Dallas! ”
As time went by, the young O’Riordan aspired to be an interior designer. Life had other plans for her in the years following school, and it was some time later, after staying home to take care of her young son, and when personal circumstances led to a house move and pressure to earn a living, that O’Riordan took the leap and decided to follow her childhood dream, heeding her sister’s urgings to do something she loved.
She thought of her grandmother a lot as she started to build up the skillset she needed to set up a decorative painting and interior design business.
“She was a big influence on me. Granny was an interior designer before there was any such thing as interior designers.”
She set about getting her interior design business off the ground by working on some interiors for friends, then getting a brochure printed in black and white. She left blank spaces where she hand-pasted photos of her most recent projects and sent the brochure to interior designers. Jobs started coming in. She launched the business, employing herself and her sister full-time for the next 10 years.
The move to Glanmire has been a good one for O’Riordan. She loves the house and the neighbourhood, and has enjoyed putting her own touches on an interior which, she says, was a “blank canvas”.
At the moment it’s a wall O’Riordan recently painted for her first grandchild, Lily Grace, that she’s particularly fond of. It was inspired by a set of Royal Doulton china she inherited from her grandmother. The pattern is from the floral Lady Carlyle range, but O’Riordan didn’t want to paint flowers. She painted butterflies instead, based on the colours of the china, sporting gilded wings of gold, with a few escapees fluttering across surrounding walls in more muted tones.
It’s a nod to the new generation, and the passed generation, that has a sort of circle-of-life resonance befitting the living and work space of an artist whose life and work pulses intimately with themes of colour, art, home and family.