Pieces of me: Mary Ann O’Brien, founder of Lily O’Brien’s Chocolates

‘I love our kitchen as it surrounds family and friends in a blanket of cosiness and warmth’

Mary Ann O'Brien founded the Lily O'Brien's Chocolates company in 1992, after a trip to South Africa and the first of many learning experiences in making chocolate.

Based in Newbridge, it now employs 120 people full time, and 140 seasonally, with 80 per cent of its output exported all over the world.

She travels widely for inspiration and believes that when it comes to colour and texture, the boundaries dividing food, fashion and interior design have become blurred. She is currently experimenting with chocolate, seaweed, salt and sesame seeds.

Nominated to the Senate in 2011, O'Brien is married to Jonathan Irwin with whom she founded the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation. They have three children and live in Kilkenny.


How would you describe your interiors style?

It’s very traditional, country, period, old world and most definitely cosy.

Which room do you most enjoy?

I have a giant kitchen with a fireplace at one end and an Aga at the other, two sofas, a couple of comfortable armchairs, lots of candles and an old round table that seats 10.

I love this room as it surrounds family and friends in a blanket of cosiness and warmth and is big enough for multitasking, so the cook never misses any of the fun or conversation.

For warmer days, there is an old-walled, south-facing courtyard off the half-door of the kitchen which extends this room to the outdoors and the garden.

What items do you love most and why?

The Aga is a luxury, but like a close friend. It is always on, always warm, always welcoming when you get up in the morning or return in the evening.

I love our beautiful, big, old open fireplace in the sittingroom which we start to light once the clocks change at Halloween. It acts as a consolation for letting the summer and autumn disappear.

I love our grandfather clock that ticks away by itself in the hall, a comforting sound and an integral part of the atmosphere of the house.

I love our books and every room has bookshelves filled to the gills.

I think these and beautiful pictures on the walls make a home along with the humans and the dogs.

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

Luke Irwin [son of her husband Jonathan Irwin] is an Irish designer based in England who designs the most beautiful and unusual rugs on the planet. I do not own one yet, but am visualising a particular one.

Which artists do you most admire?

Martin Gale. I am lucky enough to have one of his paintings of a pig and another of a giant pineapple. If the sky was the limit, I would love to own a Lavery or an Edward Hopper.

What is your biggest interior turnoff?

Hardcore, cold, contemporary minimalist style, lots of marble and granite and sharp edges and colours.

Which travel destination stands out?

Paris, where I worked for a year as an au pair. I love the style and the Haussmann architecture. I love the way every single room in this city seems to be a home and each area a village in itself. Every shop is lived over.

If we stood and looked around Dublin, at the empty Georgian buildings over the city, and converted them into beautiful apartments – it could help relieve the lack of housing.

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

I think I would add a stunning conservatory in the old style to the south of my house.

I love the outdoors, my garden, the seasons and the changes that they bring. Any opportunity to bring the garden into my home would have to be taken.