The Story of Home: 'People need a sense of belonging'

In the second in The Story of Home series, we meet a designer whose business is built on creating a sense of heritage and occasion


There’s a wonderful flavour of Dublin to textile designer Jennifer Slattery’s story of home. Her description of life in her small artisan cottage in Arbour Hill stretches back through generations of family who have built a life within its walls.

Her great-grandmother moved in when the house was first built and her grandmother (pictured on her wedding day), grand aunt and father all grew up here. Her own young daughters are the fifth generation to take up residence and her stories of the house and its lived experience tell a rich story of a close-knit Dublin life.

There’s a great sense of comfort in the rooms, each furnished to reflect Slattery’s very personal take on modern city living. The rooms are dotted with tales of the past – lamps, cutlery, china and ornaments that have been handed down through the years – but there’s also a rich layer of texture and comfort. The throws, pillows and linen that make up the core of Slattery’s work are a very real presence in the house, following a path that is forging a clear link to the past.

When Slattery was starting out, her business became deeply rooted in her grandmother’s story when a cutlery set that she had owned became a central motif for her first collection. This motif remains at the heart of her business today and is instantly recognisable but the functionality and intention of everything she creates is a lot less precious she says.

“I like to create things that have a bit of character, that have meaning,” she explains. “But I don’t make ornaments. I design and make things that I would use myself, every day. We live differently now to my grandmother’s time. This would have been the good room,” she says laughing. “My granny would have lived entirely in the back room with the fire on all day. This room would have been for the piano, the good carpet and good curtains. It would have been immaculate. Now we use every inch of the house and we’re not precious about things at all.”

Despite her strong Dublin roots her story of home has taken her much further afield. When only seven years old she and her three siblings followed their parents to Zambia where her father worked with CRH, the company forged from Irish Cement and Roadstone.

“It was an idyllic time. We ran free, swimming every day, going to school with lots of different nationalities - Zambian and other African nationalities, Indians, Europeans. Zambia was very much a ‘third world’ country at the time but for us as children it was a really wonderful lifestyle, a sheltered time.”

She returned with her family to join sixth class in national school in Ireland. It was a very particular experience she says that saw her and her siblings going from class to class to relate their “African life”. She was a little at sea she admits, having spent the past few years watching very little television and spending only short holidays in Ireland.

Jennifer Slattery: “I like to create things that have a bit of character, that have meaning.” Photographs: Rob O'Connor
Jennifer Slattery: “I like to create things that have a bit of character, that have meaning.” Photographs: Rob O'Connor

“I had no sense of pop culture. I didn’t know any of the references or how to be. It was a strange experience that leaves me struggling even today to fix on where I’m from.” Soon after, her family moved to Ashbourne in Co Meath, a place she loves but only spent a relatively short time in.

And so the house in Arbour Hill provided her strongest sense of home. “I’m most connected to this house. This for me is home. I have a sense of my granny. There’s a feeling that she’s still around. But also it’s the community.

“There is a fantastic group of people in this street – people who knew my granny and my family. People who have lived 50 or 60 years here and that’s really important. Home to me is about creating a sanctuary. People need a sense of belonging, a sense of community. Home to me is family and I have so much of that here.”

Ten minutes away is her studio. It’s a dynamic space on the Luas line between the Smithfield and the Museum stops that for many decades was the local butchers. The redbrick building, its large windows and high ceilings are perfect for a studio space and local people are delighted to see it open for business again.

“My granny bought her meat here. People call in all the time to tell me stories of the people who owned it and what it was like. There’s so much happening in this area as it starts to come back to life. I’m really happy with that and to be here.”

The future now is all about progress. “I’ve had good success with my embroidered Irish linen and I’m expanding the range with a collabarative collection of throws and scarves with McNutt, the Donegal weavers. I’m also planning a range of bed linen. It’s really important to have special pieces that have a stamp from generations past. It makes me happy to have nice things. You don’t have to have lots of things, just a few.”

For more see jenniferslattery.com

Next week: designer Shane Holland

About the Story of Home series

The Story of Home is a six-part weekly print, video and online editorial series, in association with Ulster Bank, that explores the idea of home through the eyes and work of six inspiring Irish designers.

We are all writing our own Story of Home and, to help inspire you, we’ve turned to a group of people who have made design for the home the core of what they do. As well as Jennifer Slattery’s story today, the series includes the stories of Garvan de Bruir, Shane Holland and Orla Reynolds, among others.

Thinking of your family is the starting point for many people in creating their own story of home, explains Peter Murphy, a mobile mortgage manager with Ulster Bank: “I have assisted many customers in purchasing their family home which can be a very emotional and stressful time, but at Ulster Bank we like to think we make life a little easier and provide ‘help for what matters’ by making ourselves available at times and locations that accommodate their busy lifestyles.

Extended opening hours that match a busy family routine are central to this, he says. “With branches open late during the week and also Saturday mornings, we can be as flexible as people’s lifestyles.

“We can also travel to meet customers at their work place, own home or local cafe, which is a great convenience to them. We also offer the same great rates for new and existing customers, which is an important consideration when choosing the mortgage provider for your ‘Story of Home’.”

For more see ulsterbank.ie