Pieces of me: Ann Mulrooney, director of the Visual Arts Centre in Carlow

Ann Mulrooney’s penchant for understatement and natural materials was brought to bear when she renovated a coach house, working with its idiosyncrasies

Director of the Visual Arts Centre in Carlow, Ann Mulrooney graduated from Cork's Crawford Art College and then London's Royal College of Art. She exhibited and won awards as a sculptor, and also worked as a freelance curator, before running the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny. She took up the post at Visual in 2013, and has just finished renovating her Kilkenny home.

Describe your style My style is pretty understated. The house dates from the 1700s – it was a coach house, converted into a dwelling house in the 1920s – and I try to respect the idiosyncrasies of the space and use simple, natural materials where possible.

I’ve just finished a big renovation job, and I was conscious that I would be looking at the outcomes of it for many years, so I stayed away from patterns and tried to integrate the contemporary gently into the mix. I like to mix old and new, and I’ve spent the past few months painting everything from walls to furniture to tie it in together. I’ll be happy to never see a paintbrush again!

Which room in your home do you most enjoy? I probably spend most time in the kitchen, which is a calm space painted in shades of pale blue-grey and slate with an old limestone floor.


It's punctuated with bright yellow chairs, a vibrant still life by Elizabeth Cope, John ffrench plates, Pat Scott prints, and small framed works by Maeve Coulter and Vicki Cody – but to be honest I love the new layout generally downstairs.

I’ve installed a deck overlooking the River Nore, and turned a sitting room window alcove into a door out to that, and am really enjoying how the layout works now – there is much more light and space.

What items do you love most? I collected some beautiful ceramics during my years in the National Craft Gallery – it's hard to pick a favourite. It's probably between a large plate by Cormac Boydell and a tall porcelain vase by Marcus O'Mahony. Scattered throughout the house there are pieces by Jack Doherty, Sara Flynn, Sonja Landweer, Derek Wilson, all favourites. I also have a small bird by sculptor Tadhg McSweeney – he made a whole series for our Christmas tree in Visual a couple of years ago, and they are so deft – I love his visual intelligence.

But probably my most treasured possession is a framed poem that my daughter wrote me, with wobbly handwriting and dubious spelling, when she was little. She kills me when I show people!

Who is your favourite designer? Do you own any of their work? I’ve always loved the design that emerged from the Kilkenny Design Workshops, and the more contemporary work that has come from that.

Some of my favourites include a vintage coffee set designed by Sonja Landweer, and a contemporary set by Tonfisk, which is an Irish/Finnish company; plus jewellery by Rudolf Heltzel and James Mary Kelly. I aspire to one of Clancy Moore's beautiful copper lamps, they have a great sensitivity to materials – their Quarry House is probably my dream home.

The artists you admire? Any artist who manages to survive and produce work in current climate has my admiration. We talk so much about the value of the arts but fail to properly understand or support what that actually means.

I am very fortunate to work with incredibly talented people, and I watch with dismay at how hard the struggle to survive is for many of them, particularly in rural areas.

Around Visual we are blessed with lots of creative people, from the Nine Stones Artists who currently have a show celebrating 10 years in existence, to our Dance Artist in Residence, Emma Martin, who has just collaborated on Enda Walsh's work, Arlington, for GIAF [Galway International Arts Festival]. Our current season is focused on Carlow, with artists who are from there, such as photographer Enda Bowe; living there, like the Nine Stones; or responding to the place, such as Frances Hegarty and Andrew Stones, and Fergal McCarthy – inspirations, one and all.

Biggest interior turn off? Ostentatiousness – and spaces that are designed for looking at, rather than living in. However it looks, it needs to be comfortable.

Travel destination that stands out? I love Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. It's very beautiful, pretty unspoilt, you can get everywhere on the local bus or taxi boat and the markets are stuffed with gorgeous fruit and vegetables – what's not to love?

If you had €100,000 to spend on anything for the home what would you buy? Honestly, if I had that kind of budget I’d be buying a holiday home on Ischia and a rowboat.

Visual runs a full programme of music, comedy, film, theatre and workshops, alongside one of Ireland's largest contemporary art galleries. Current exhibitions include Fergal McCarthy Take me to the River, Frances Hegarty and Andrew Stones Ex Machina, Enda Bowe At Mirrored River, and a group show by the Nine Stones Artists The Possibilities of Place; all run until October. visualcarlow.ie