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Peace and radiant simplicity are what people seem to be looking for nowadays when they design their homes and work areas: a meditative interior for body as well as soul. We all know we cannot go back in time, we cannot relive our grandmother's life. But we can choose to treasure what grandmother has left to us, and keep the best of her lifestyle in our homes as well as our hearts. Here in Ireland the changes over the past thirty years have been so overwhelming that much has been swept aside, but there does exist a new and vibrant appreciation for traditional craft and custom, for Irish country style.
Before I begin, it might be worthwhile to explain briefly how Irish style evolved, which is really the story of how Irish country people lived their lives. Its very simplicity seems idyllic to us today, as there was so much more time for contact with other people, for talk and banter, than today's stressful lifestyle can provide. Imagine a life in the middle of green hayfields, steely blue skies, and stone walls stretching for miles. All your friends live just across the road and you see them every day; you share tasks, problems, joys. Your life revolves around the simple repetitive tasks of the country, when you use every object over and over again. Everything in your house speaks of the simple shapes of usefulness, made by hand, made to suit. There is not the slightest trace of pretension, not one false note. The constant demands of the countryside provide the inspiration for your life and how it is fashioned; the community fills each house with life and warmth and a bit of fun.
THE TRADITIONAL IRISH INTERIOR
The rural Irish dwelling was usually quite small, with ahearth-centered main area, which could be used for any purpose. The daily routine could be altered at a moment's notice: with a few chairs brought forward or a churn pushed back, the same room could provide space for a winter gathering of friends and neighbors. Each item of furniture would be made locally and to order, as quirky as the notions of the owner. The slope of a meal bin or the size of a chair would be altered to fit the inhabitants. Big, pared-down shapes prevailed, as scarce materials and basic skills ensured limits to the housewife's imagination. Colors of whitewash and earth pigments were enriched by peat smoke and by touch. The stark ironwork utensils around the hearth were balanced by the colorful complexities of the Delft on the hutch and by the large, warm shapes of dairy crocks. Browns, blues, oxide red, and all the colors of the landscape make up this special style, while the wonderful, relaxed cheeriness of an Irish cottage provide all the inspiration that is ever needed.
In my childhood, my parents would take us on outings to the foothills of Wicklow, where I would plonk myself down on a brightly painted form of bench and listen to the stories and gossip issuing from our wonderful hostess Biddy. Biddy's house had everything-smooth round corners, a glorious hearth complete with three-legged pot and crane, a settle bed, and the obligatory hutch filled with colorful pottery. Its simplicity allowed room for the spirit to fly around a little, especially when the stories were particularly frightening. It was also amazingly flexible: the table was used to prepare food when placed lengthwise along the wall, but when brought out into the room and dressed with a cloth, it instantly became a dining table. Nowadays, the space Biddy lived in would be considered suitable for an apartment. This apartment might have one bedroom, a bit of storage, and a central living and working and dining area. I often think how clever we would all appear if we could live as simply and as flexibly as my old friend Biddy did.
In spite of the very basic minimalism of poverty, old cottages had an open, welcoming presence, yet you always knew whose house it was. The color of the door, the horseshoe feature, or the carving on the settle bed were the individualistic touches that mirrored the inhabitants. Homemade and useful, the objects were cheerful as well. I do feel that handmade objects carry extra vibrations with them, they give you a different feel. I definitely prefer them and have found that once you start looking out for and using things made directly by hand, you get hooked. In my pottery, we do everything the hard way, or, as any industrialist would tell you, the wrong way. Because of this passion over handmade quality, I built up my workshop to make sure everyone in it was spending time over an actual plot instead of a machine.