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Home and away – top decorating tips for your holiday homes

Whether it’s the rustic look or modern touch you’re after, expect some trial and error when decorating your holiday property



When my London-based friend arrives at his Connemara home, he puts on his wellies and goes up the back field with a torch and a monkey wrench to sort out the water supply. That’s the way he likes it. He’ll come back from the mountain, often dripping wet, with a happy smile. It’s his way of reconnecting with the West of Ireland.

Other people prefer a more automated system and refurbishing a holiday home often involves a heavy investment in unromantic utilities. There are two types of holiday home: the ones where you spend the first two days of the holiday wrestling with the plumbing and the ones where everything works at the flick of a switch. Both have their place.

“Most holiday homes aren’t built from scratch,” says the interior designer Dana Kallo of Black Fox Interiors. “It’s common practice to strip an old house back to the bare essentials and allocate a large portion of the budget to the wiring and the plumbing. Go for the best quality that you can afford and it will be there for many years to come. The chairs and accessories can come later.”

Kallo is currently working on the renovation of a pair of conjoined cottages in the Wicklow Mountains to be used as a holiday home for an extended family. “When you’re designing a holiday home, it’s all about the view. You orientate the furniture towards the outdoors in a way that you wouldn’t in a house that’s designed for everyday use.”

Housework and holidays don’t mix, so she recommends a low maintenance interior with hidden storage rather than open shelves for items to gather dust.

Most people, she finds, want natural materials on the floor and plain white walls. If they have an old house, they like to keep some of the original features. In her current project, she has installed wood-burning stoves, but retained the floor-to-ceiling fireplaces. Where possible, she uses locally sourced furniture and encourages her clients not to bin outdated décor. “Sometimes an old inherited home in the countryside can be a goldmine of vintage artworks and sculpture,” she says.

Accessorising, which is the fun part, can be done cheaply at this time of year as most of the big stores have major sales. House of Fraser’s Global Artisan trend (“a nomadic spirit with tribal influences and tactile finishes”) would work well in a holiday home. At the time of writing, there are half price reductions on both the Linea Rust matalasse bedspread (now €36) and Linea Traveller print duvet cover set (now €48). You can order online or visit the shop in Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin.

Littlewoods Ireland also has a sale on homeware. Their king size Acacia Bed Frame is currently reduced to €290 (from €755) and they have a good range of smaller items like the Thea Tripod Table Lamp (€62) or Floor Lamp (€110). Relatively plain and practical pieces like these are a good bet for spaces that will need to fit the needs of a floating population.

A holiday home is rarely used by just one couple. Most people let their extended family use the house, while an increasing number use holiday rental sites like Airbnb to help pay the bills.

Mairead McAnallen lives near Schull, Co Cork. Several years ago, she renovated the old cottage beside her home so visiting family members could have a place to stay. Several tax hikes and a recession later, she rents out Fuchsia Lane on Airbnb whenever the family don’t need it.


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