Take a look: Standout design in three new or refreshed Irish hotels

Irish hotel sector marries tradition with great Irish design for impressive results

In an era of globalisation, when many hotels look the same whether they’re located in Buenos Aires or Beijing, a sense of place is crucial to the get-away experience.

At home, the Irish hotel sector is conjuring a sense of place by marrying tradition with great Irish design and is going to considerable effort to make properties look and feel the business.

Here are three examples to consider for the upcoming bank holiday weekend that are new or have been refreshed and that each offer their own very different aesthetics.

Modernity in a micro climate

The Wren in Dublin, which is a brand spanking new hotel that opened a couple of weeks ago, champions compact living and is given to calling its bedrooms nests because they come in three intimate sizes, 9.5sq m; 12 sq m or 18sq m, small by even hotel standards. In fact the establishment is classified as a micro hotel. But what you lack in space you make up for in location and affordability.


It’s constructed on the site of the old Andrew’s Lane Theatre, an old ravers’ favourite, where back in the day you might have traded big box, little box moves with Sir John Leslie, then the owner of Castle Leslie. This brand new build is A-rated and has strong eco credentials including an absence of fossil fuel use and free filtered water on tap on every floor.

But it is its on-trend look and feel that will likely determine its choice as a location to bed down in in the capital. While bang in the middle of everything, inside it feels like an oasis of calm thanks to the use of sound-dimming plaster on the walls and extra lagging in all the exposed ducting, which is painted Autumn’s Hill by Celbridge-based Colourtrend.

The design, by hip hotel designer John Henry Boyle of 21 Spaces, who himself grew up in the hotel business, features wall hangings by Mourne Textiles, and what he calls “deliberately raw” reclaimed oak tables by Co Monaghan-based Truwood Joinery.

The same company did the Kavdrat upholstered banquette seating which features pippy oak, a gnarly grain that he describes as “oak’s ugly sister”. Here, wearing a tweed-look fabric made from recycled PET bottles, it looks more like Cinderella’s rustic alter ego especially when you factor in the fields of dried grasses that line the perimeter of the open plan lobby-cum-breakfast room.

Each blade of grass in this harvest swoonscape was installed by hand, by Athlone-based Be Floral, and one wonders how it might gather dust down the line. For now though you expect to see it in plenty of Insta feeds.

In the bedrooms, Elegance 860 Respa mattresses sit atop platform beds built to accommodate suitcases underneath. Nobbly bolster pillows and throws by Mourne Textiles cover the beds. The shower is in a separate cabin to the sink and wc, a practice that used to be standard in homes and one that is returning to favour.

These are an exercise in use of space. Some extend to just the length of the bed, which may feel a little claustrophobic to those of us that like to dangle our extremities over the edge, but what they lack in length they make up for in height with soaring ceiling heights of more than three metres and large windows countering their compact nature.

The establishment does not use fossil fuels. Instead of gas the kitchen has induction hobs and the rooms are powered by 100 per cent renewable sources of electricity. This is a boon to green travellers.

Prices: They start from €99 per room.

Classic country house

Carton House was designed by Richard Castles and the Palladian mansion, the ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster, has always been a seat of entertainment. But when it first opened as a hotel in 2000 its stately reception rooms were off-limits unless you were attending a conference or wedding.

“Guests were coming to Carton House and couldn’t enjoy their splendour and its Irish country house offer,” says director Martin Spillane of MDO Architects, the firm charged with opening up the grand rooms and sensitively reinterpreting them for new uses.

Now there are very grand rooms, thanks in part to the use of hand-printed wallpapers by David Skinner, a world-expert on historic papers featuring gilded inks. He had some scraps found in wardrobes in the house in the 1990s and he recreated the screen print from scratch, all from his hay barn studio in Co Leitrim.

The walls of the Morrison Room, which has columns and a barrel vault ceiling with stuccowork by the Francini brothers, wear a print called Lissadell, printed in gold, aqua and cream. In the same grand salon, Lissoni chandeliers are low-lit, as if by candlelight and at night the metallic inks shimmer almost as if a candle flickering, Spillane says.

Skinner created Carton Damask, a copy of a pattern of around 1820, that has been used in the Mallaghan Room and in the living room of one of the suites. You can buy this for €120 per roll.

New custom furniture was made by Dunshaughlin-based John O’Connell for the whiskey library, formerly the library of the house, while cabinetry by SJS Joinery in Trim has been painted in Salon Drab by Farrow & Ball.

Curtains made by Maireád Maguire of Sew It Seams were knocked-back, or gently distressed, Spillane explains, so as to appear as if in situ for years.

This refurbishment covers the property’s 18 suites all set within the big house itself. Each room now had its own colour scheme so that it all felt more characterful, as if guests were wandering through someone’s house, says Spillane.

“The whole atmosphere we tried to create was that you would feel like a house guest in a country house. You’re seeing the rooms as they would have appeared but with 21st century hospitality add-ons such as ensuite bathrooms,” Spillane says. His company also did the Marker Hotel and apartments and the recently opened Premier Inn Group’s hotel on South Great George’s Street.

Prices: The newly renovated suites are from € 745 on a B&B basis for two people sharing. Rooms in The Garden Wing, not part of this renovation, start from €290 bed & breakfast for two people sharing.

cartonhouse.com; mdo.ie; skinnerwallpaper.com; jocfurniture.com; sewitseams.ie

Top class townhouse

The newly-opened Harrison in Belfast offers chambers of distinction in a townhouse.

Owned and run by Melanie Harrison, it comprises two adjoining merchant’s houses on the Malone Road and was supposed to open its doors 18 months ago but the pandemic and lockdowns delayed its launch.

Harrison had already been living on the terrace at number 47 when the neighbouring houses, number 43 and 45 came to the market and she and her father bought the pair of bow-fronted Victorians. While in offices, their features – marble colonnades, sweeping staircases now covered with an Ulster carpet and ornate cornicing – were all intact and this is what forms the basis of the aesthetic at the 16-bedroom establishment.

Harrison sourced much of the replaced features in salvage yards and from antique dealers. These include the rich mahogany flooring that had been in the Royal Victoria Hospital and the railings outside which had once stood to attention outside Ebrington Barracks in Derry.

Everything that I could get locally I did, she says.

“I wasn’t in a rush. I had the time. I set my limits. If someone was bidding up an item I didn’t get carried away. I’m good at haggling.”

Her search took in some of Northern Ireland’s best black book addresses; Zebra Salvage in Dungannon and Wilson’s Yard in Dromore. She bid on furniture at Laganside, Ross’s and McAfee’s auction houses truffling out French beds from Outhaus in Portadown, and more finds at Natural Emporium, in Comber, and On the Square in Belfast.

Strong floral wallpaper covers the walls and soft furnishings, designed by her friend Gráinne Maher, a milliner who runs Pluck & Devour Studio, while another pal, Emma Birney, a bespoke wedding dress designer, helped out with the throws and cushions and sculptor Gillian Morrow made the octopus that hangs in reception.

Prices: Harrison B&B rates start from £109 (€128) for its bohemian rooms. Its Gallivanter rooms are from £150 (€177) and its Aristocrat suite is from £175 (€206).

chambersofdistinction.com; grainnemaher.co.uk; gillmorrowart.com