Take a walk on the Wilder side

A former home for ‘bewildered women’ has become Dublin’s latest boutique guesthouse

 

Anyone walking along Harcourt Terrace, a quiet backwater adjacent to the Grand Canal, with its mix of handsome Regency and Victorian houses, will be surprised to see an elegant new patio at No 22 furnished with traditional green metal French bistro chairs and tables. For the sole use of the residents of The Wilder, Dublin’s latest boutique townhouse which opened six months ago, the city garden terrace cafe is just one of the many appealing features for those staying in this 42-room guesthouse.

Cork-based owner Frankie Whelehan, the former hotelier and founder of the Choice Hotel Group, bought the late-Victorian listed, three-storey, redbrick building two years ago, entrusting architect and interior designer Grainne Weber with its renovation and transformation. Weber had worked with him successfully on his previous project – the €5 million reinvention of the Montenotte Hotel in Cork in 2017, which opened up breathtaking views of the Lee.

The Dún Laoghaire-based Weber began her career after graduation, with Studio 11 Architects. Her first big project was the Morrison Hotel with Douglas Wallace Architects 20 years ago. She went on to become inhouse architect for the then owner of the Morrison, the late superpubs boss Hugh O Regan. She set up her own practice in 2006, and her recent projects include a private club in Soho called the House of St Barnabas as well as the Montenotte. She is currently “gutting” the ground floor of the Dylan and giving the Meyrick (formerly the Great Southern) in Galway a facelift.

Distinct character

The Wilder has its own distinct character and personality – a far cry from the more corporate style of many big hotel chains.

“What I was trying to achieve was something a little bit different, a bespoke guesthouse catering for a niche market that is under-represented in Dublin and with limited food and beverage,” says Whelehan. The name Wilder “is a little bit of playacting because we are focusing on the international market coming into Dublin and Oscar Wilde is synonymous with the city. Dublin Tourism is marketing the city for the culturally curious who are fed up with bland hotels. It is all about experience. A notice in the deeds calls it “a home for bewildered women”, so with all that in mind we called it The Wilder,” he says.

Built circa 1878 as a home for “aged governesses and unmarried females” by the Church of Ireland, the formidable seven-bay Dublin building has had a long history – extended in 1895 with further extensions in 1930 and finally 1970,  when it became a nursing home.

“From an architectural point of view it was trying to put a clean face on the building without making it look like a new pin. I love the facade and what it presents to the street and the rooms were beautiful,” says Weber when we meet at the house, adding that most of the original features such as fireplaces, windows and shutters were retained. “We completed gutted the place and dropped the ceilings to accommodate heating, cooling, sound and fire proofing – things you can’t see.”

Quirky

Research for ideas for the building’s new role took her to Paris and London – Whelehan and his wife, Josephine, are fans of the playful style of the Firmdale Hotel Group’s Kit Kemp, owner of the Charlotte Street Hotel, Soho’s Ham Yard in London and the Crosbie in New York.

“We saw a lot of lovely places in Paris and London – small and quirky, that were appropriate to what we were doing here like Les Bains in Paris and the Laslett in Notting Hill. It’s the scale that’s important – with anything else you are dealing with big numbers and storage. We wanted it to be discreet and understated,” says Weber.

The entrance boasts a long, narrow, bright and airy vista achieved with white marble flooring, white walls and mirrors; ground floor rooms are located on either side. The Gin and Tea bar is small and cosy with an oak panelled parquet floor, velvet seating and William Morris fabrics. The adjoining breakfast rooms are simply furnished with marble-topped tables made in Wexford with decorative leafy wallpaper panels creating a feeling of the outdoors. It comes as no surprise that Weber was a fan of interior designer David Collins.

Playful touches

The rooms vary from shoebox size (for short city breaks or solo trips) to popular-size rooms and suites but all with the same furnishing details – velvet chairs, Matthew Williamson fabrics, specially designed carpets, rainforest showers in marble mosaic bathrooms with Maison Margiela toiletries. The suites are named after famous governesses from the 19th literature such as Lady Jane, Miss Sharp, Lady Audley and Miss Wade.

Wallpapers, mostly from House of Hackney, add playful touches here and there such as the Art Deco monkey motifs in an assisted bathroom or another with multiple images of classical buildings lining the walls of the original back staircase. Bewildered or not, visitors so far have nothing but praise for Dublin’s latest guesthouse.

Managed by Brian Fahy, room prices are from €130 low season and from €275-€400 for the suites.

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