We're kicking off the 2023 At Home series with a super cool east Belfast home. Owned by artist Garret and Creative Director Esther, this home is filled with the couple's much cherished art collection as well as beautiful pieces that they have collected over the years. This house is a work in progress and I have no doubt we'll be be back for a 'part two' in the (hopefully near) future.
Can you tell us about your home and who lives there?
Garret and I live with our youngest daughter Lola (15) and our handsome greyhound Sully. Garret is an artist, and I am Creative Director of my own company working across the creative industries and product development. Together we are the current custodians of a two storey Victorian Semi in East Belfast. There are four bedrooms, a snug, a lounge and a kitchen with a hidden utility and downstairs WC.
How has the house changed since you moved in?
The house has changed considerably since we moved in, well half of it has. The thing about old houses is that you really do pay in many ways to have the beautiful features – I think anyone who has owned a red brick Victorian will understand what we mean when we say the refurb never finishes.
We moved in on a wet November afternoon in 2019 and were greeted with a gas leak! All my numbering of boxes and spreadsheets detailing where each box should go was wasted – we couldn’t even turn on the lights until the gas engineers had been and made it safe.
We soon got over it though when we woke in our new home, and it was very much a love affair from the beginning.
Everyone likes to make a home their own, however aside from painting out all the colours in various rooms (lilac, mustard, dark green and lime green) we did nothing else for a whole year, determined to live in the house throughout each season to really understand how the light fell and which rooms we would use when. The one thing we knew was that we wanted to keep the materials throughout the house to a minimum: aluminium, black or pale oak and stone, keeping the foundation simple and uncluttered.
The gorgeous, but drafty floorboards determined our first move, the thought of another winter with cold feet and huge fuel bills was too much so we insulated and laid a beautiful black wide plank oak floor from the wonderful team at Trunk – they were brilliant and really worked hard to get us what we wanted (the blackest oak floor available). Putting a floor down first (especially a wooden one) is a daft idea, we knew that, so it ended up being covered with a protective layer for most of the next year. The walls in the house were far from pristine, but then it is nearly 150 years old, so we decided rather than try to create a perfect finish, we’d embrace the imperfections but off set them with some bespoke panelling designed by us and made by our most amazing joiner Craig, his craftsmanship is second to none which I think is a central to the great results.
We love to read and play music (not at the same time) and really wanted one room dedicated to that – so the snug became home to our books and an array of musical instruments. When we moved it was a strange mustard colour and very cold due to the large single pane window, initially we thought about knocking the wall through to make a bigger lounge, but we decided against it as there is just such a lovely feeling in the room the way it is, and it looks out into our secret space – possible our favourite place in the house.
Whilst our house is a semi, the return which houses the kitchen is detached, and this has created a big yard on either side; one with a surrounding red brick wall and the other shady side making the perfect place for a fern garden. The walled yard has now become the yarden – a yard filled with an array of potted plants, trees, and climbers. It has its own mini climate (as the bricks retain the heat and provide protection from wind) and so the plants grow well in it. When we installed a new window in the snug, we designed it so it could open out directly into the yard and honestly sitting in the open widow it’s like a little slice of heaven.
Our current project is a reorientation of the front door (from the side to the front) and a new entrance porch again led by the desire to make this handsome drafty old house as cosy as possible (none of us are good at being cold!).
We haven’t begun upstairs yet; our kitchen was a big expense, so we decided to recover a bit before starting phase two
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for your home?
We’ve always been interested in design and I’m the type of person who asks for a tour of people’s houses as I love to see how they live in their homes. With my lifelong career across creative industries, and Garret’s artistic practice we are lucky to meet many very talented inspiring people who live in unique and beautiful houses of all shapes and sizes. I also read design and architecture books more than novels and undoubtedly this has had an influence, but our biggest inspiration is how we want to feel (with a bit of practicality thrown in).
You are obviously avid art collectors; can you talk to us about some of your favourite pieces and where you like to buy new pieces?
It’s so hard to pick out favourites, and it’s hard to talk about our love for art without sounding completely pretentious but being married to an artist and working with artists means I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by art every day. I host and curate exhibitions and most recently worked with Household Belfast on Uphold,an exhibition of contemporary Northern Irish artists. It was from there that we bought our first sculptural piece by John Rainey, John disrupts classical forms with a contemporary digital aesthetic resulting in fascinating curious work that Garret and I are hooked on, we’ve wanted one of his sculptures for ages, now I just need a marble plinth to put it on!!
A special painting is a small original by Ray Duncan, (a fabulous gentleman who works out of Creative Exchange, and to our mind is one of the most talented artists in the city). The colours are incredible and the painting transforms throughout the day as the light changes.
(Garret Faulkner / Ray Duncan)
Paloma King very generously gifted us a painting which looks like tiny gold stars emerging from denim cloth, one day we’ll own a giant one of hers, I could get lost in the colours and textures she produces for days.
We are big fans of Bernadette Doolan’s work, and a unique painting that we cherish is of our boy Sully that she painted as a surprise – she’s captured our handsome devil perfectly.
A recent gift from Garret, is a stunning print of an ink on paper piece from Ainé Fitzgerald which was featured in the amazing Páipéar exhibition by Hang Tough – it’s a thing of beauty.
Garret’s work is also all over the house – and when each piece is sold it is replaced, which means we are constantly creating a new feeling.
That kitchen is stunning, please tell us all about it.
Ah the kitchen of our dreams – literally. I’ve have had this design in my head for about twenty years. It’s a very Japanese aesthetic which if we could create throughout the whole house we would. The pale kitchen is handmade (by the fabulous Craig of course) and has been designed to create a sense of space whilst also providing plenty of storage and food prep area.
The original kitchen was very long with three doors, two external and one internal and oddly placed windows, which meant there wasn’t a long run of cabinetry or work surface anywhere. Nothing worked and it was freezing. So, when designing the layout, we moved doors and windows, this allowed for an extra-long (5meter) counter with low level storage and our bling moment a giant brass sink from Devol Kitchens – aside from being gorgeous, the golden light it reflects is a bonus we didn’t expect. The sink is set below a bespoke slim profile concrete counter which is as lovely to touch as it is to look at and it’s pretty durable.
Having gone back to the brick, we knew we wouldn’t be doing this again and so we wanted the kitchen to be timeless, warm, and durable. We insulated every wall and the floor, installed a Jotul stove and underfloor hearting – we were possibly a bit overzealous with heating as we were working from the memory of how cold the kitchen was when we first arrived, in hindsight, whilst a nice luxury, the under-floor heating wasn’t necessary, and we rarely have it on.
We are not fans of kitchen clutter, so we also created a false wall of floor to ceiling storage cupboards (which also house our fridge and pantry), Craig did an amazing job creating drawers within drawers and the piece de resistance, a secret door into a newly created utility and downstairs loo. We still get giddy showing this to people as we didn’t extend but just used the space in a much better way, which bizarrely makes the kitchen feel bigger.
We knocked out the wall into our yarden (yes, I know how up my backside that sounds but who cares!!) and installed the crittall style doors. It was a real task to source a manufacturer and supplier here but just as we were giving up another artist (Trina Hobson) who had done something similar came to our rescue with invaluable advice. Eventually 6 months after ordering them they arrived, and our kitchen was complete.
What is your favourite bit of your house?
The kitchen, especially when the doors are open out onto the yard and the fact we are surrounded by trees.
Have you got plans for any more projects at home, or are you happy with where it’s at?
Oh, sweet divine lord yes, upstairs hasn’t even begun, although of course we’re currently dreaming and plotting, but to be honest we don’t want our house getting us into crippling debt, so we are happy to pause and save for a bit.
If money was no object, what you buy for your home.
We’ve chatted about this a lot; I’d have a cedar wood Japanese soak tub; Garret would have a wood clad sauna and Lola would have an ensuite – it seems we have a preoccupation with bathing and preening!
How would you spend a perfect weekend?
At home, reading a good book, listening to music. We love it most when people are here as we love spoiling our friends and family and are happiest when they feel relaxed and comfortable in our home, so enjoying a long drawn out meal around the kitchen table is definitely up there. A Sunday gallery visit, a good coffee, topped off with a trip to the QFT and we’re well and truly sorted for the week ahead.