Gillian, with her husband, Seamus, the manager of a tile store, lived with her parents for four years while they ‘saved like mad’ to buy a house.
‘We love old houses and viewed several, but we couldn’t find one that suited our budget in the location we wanted,’ explains Gillian.
The couple wanted to live close to both of their families. ‘That was the most important thing,’ she says. Then they were offered a plot of land on Seamus’ family farm, so they decided to build their ideal home instead.
‘We knew we wanted a house that looked like a farmhouse to the road, fitting into the landscape,’ says Gillian.
The couple sketched out their ideas, using baking paper to trace over the blocks of the basic plan again and again to find the best solutions.
Welcome to our home…
We are Gillian Tierney, an artist and art teacher and my husband, Seamus Brennan, the Tile N Style store manager in Carlow.
Our home Is a four-bedroom new-build near Carlow, Ireland, built in 2019.
My style Is a mix of old and new, a contemporary take on an old farmhouse. I love upcycled furniture, and it doesn’t have to be shabby chic – it can look very sophisticated, too.
They made natural light a priority, wanting their kitchen and bedroom to benefit from early morning light through east-facing windows, the kitchen lit all day from the south and in the courtyard late on into the evening.
The couple worked with architect, PDS Carlow, on the design of their new home, but were very involved with the project management side of things.
‘For example, we knew exactly the type of windows we wanted, but the colour available was limited. We wanted a softer, green-grey, and to buy a bespoke colour was doubling the cost.
‘Online research indicated that we could get a bespoke colour finish for a much better price in Poland, so we decided to buy online. It was a risk, but we’re risk-takers. If it went wrong, we would cope, but taking risks can turn out to be lucky, too,’ reveals Gillian.
The house is tiled throughout the ground floor as, with Seamus working in a tile shop, it made sense to use his skills and contacts.
‘I wanted timber floors, but eventually we compromised with wood-effect tiles, and they work very well with our underfloor heating,’ admits Gillian.
A bit more about our home…
My best bargain Was our vintage hallway sideboard, bought from an advert for €50. It’s a real statement piece.
My favourite room Is our bedroom. I love the dark, luxurious colour and it’s great for relaxing in, day or night. I am also delighted that we went with the wall divider, behind which is the dressing area, wardrobe and en suite. It’s brilliant for hiding mess!
Our biggest challenge Was working to a budget. We didn’t have enough money to complete the house to the standard we wanted so a lot of jobs had to be put off, and we’re working our way through these.
They stuck with mostly neutral colours for the floor finishes so they would stand the test of time, but used pattern for smaller areas, such as in the bathrooms and the area around the kitchen island.
‘I would very much recommend pattern on the floor in food preparation areas, as the pattern hides any mess!’ shares Gillian.
When the couple moved in, the house was finished to a basic level; the floors were down, and they had a functional bathroom and a kitchen, although it was without a worktop at the time.
‘We were so broke by then, we had to do things bit by bit, as we could afford it,’ says Gillian.
They did as much of the work themselves as was possible, including all of the painting and the basic DIY jobs.
Seamus did the panelling throughout the house himself, and family and friends also helped out in return for babysitting. It was then that Gillian started upcycling furniture, and discovered a new way to add unique pieces to her home.
‘I knew the look I wanted, but with no money, I couldn’t just go to a furniture store and buy it all, so we started out in charity shops, just to get furniture to do for now,’ says Gillian.
‘But then I realised that second-hand furniture can be very good quality, and often just needs updating.
People started asking where I had sourced this or that, and I explained that it was furniture I had worked on myself. I started posting my projects on Instagram, with the tagline ‘Champagne Lifestyle on a Lemonade Budget,’ and my account quickly snowballed.
I was using second-hand items, but I wanted to create an elegant look, rather than a shabby chic one, and it just seemed to resonate with people.’
Gillian also loves the fact that many of her homewares are upcycled, having come from family and friends. For example, the display cabinet in her pink sitting room was her grandmother’s and still holds her delicate china cups.
‘It means that there are good memories and reminders everywhere in my home,’ she says.
Her Instagram account also attracted the attention of local paint store, Carlow Paint Hub, and together they developed the Hansel House Collection of paints, which is now available in store and which Gillian has used throughout her own house.
‘I think people relate to my Instagram account, because it is all very genuine and personal,’ says Gillian. ‘I show how I make lovely things, but I also show the mess I make in the process!’
The names used in the paint range also have personal resonance.
For instance, the colour in the main bedroom is called Raspberry Crumble, ‘because I love crumble!’ enthuses Gillian, and the dark grey in the upper landing is Tadhg’s Web, named after her Spiderman-loving, two-year-old nephew, who can be relied on to spot any spider in the house, ‘whether you want to know about it or not.’
The name they chose for their finished home, Hansel House, was inspired by Gillian’s mother; the definition of a ‘hansel’ is ‘a gift given for good luck when entering a new situation or enterprise,’ and her mother was always gifting her little ‘hansels’ for her new home.
In turn, Gillian’s home has given her the chance to pursue her dream. Although Gillian studied ceramics at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, she loves to paint, and her Instagram account, @hanselhousedesign, has helped her to start selling her paintings.
‘That started when I wanted large-scale wall art to finish a room, but couldn’t afford it,’ she says. ‘I thought, ‘oh well, I’ll just do a few myself.’
People started to show interest in them, so I developed my paintings as low-cost interiors artworks, and they sold. My big dream is to have an interiors retail business,’ she reveals.
Feature and photos Barbara Egan/Reportage.