Home makeover: ‘My new-build helped release my creative potential’

With no budget to decorate her home, Gillian Tierney gave second-hand buys elegant transformations, and gained confidence to sell her artwork in the process

Good idea! Use wallpaper as well as paint to upcycle furniture, as Gillian has with the terrazzo print on the inside of her glass cabinet

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.

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‘We love old houses and viewed several, but we couldn’t find one that suited our budget in the location we wanted,’ explains Gillian.

With its farmhouse look, you’d never guess Gillian’s new-build hasn’t been there for years
With its farmhouse look, you’d never guess Gillian’s new-build hasn’t been there for years

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.

Blend old and new, as Gillian has, by mixing preloved pieces with a contemporary neutral and blush palette. Gillian’s sofas are second-hand Laura Ashley designs that she had recovered
Blend old and new, as Gillian has, by mixing preloved pieces with a contemporary neutral and blush palette. Gillian’s sofas are second-hand Laura Ashley designs that she had recovered

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.

As well as the budget-friendly prices, Gillian loves the history behind second-hand furniture. One of her favourite pieces is her grandmother’s cabinet, which she painted and wallpapered
As well as the budget-friendly prices, Gillian loves the history behind second-hand furniture. One of her favourite pieces is her grandmother’s cabinet, which she painted and wallpapered

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.

Gillian Tierney

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.

Gillian has used simple tricks to add character throughout her new-build, including period-style wall panelling that’s low-cost but looks high-end
Gillian has used simple tricks to add character throughout her new-build, including period-style wall panelling that’s low-cost but looks high-end

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.

A vintage cello displayed alongside a sleek gold side table is a prime example of Gillian’s savvy mixing of styles
A vintage cello displayed alongside a sleek gold side table is a prime example of Gillian’s savvy mixing of styles

‘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.

To give her kitchen-diner an opulent feel, Gillian added royal-blue accents to the white and grey scheme, plus co-ordinating artwork and new covers on second-hand chairs
To give her kitchen-diner an opulent feel, Gillian added royal-blue accents to the white and grey scheme, plus co-ordinating artwork and new covers on second-hand chairs

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.

The natural world inspires Gillian’s artwork and her décor, too, as in this cosy corner of her dining area styled with foliage, nature photos and prints
The natural world inspires Gillian’s artwork and her décor, too, as in this cosy corner of her dining area styled with foliage, nature photos and prints

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. 

Gillian Tierney

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.

Gillian chose horizontal units from Newhaven Kitchens to echo the shape of the windows. Patterned tiles around the island help zone the open-plan space, plus a mirror finish reflects light
Gillian chose horizontal units from Newhaven Kitchens to echo the shape of the windows. Patterned tiles around the island help zone the open-plan space, plus a mirror finish reflects light

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.

Alongside original second-hand furniture, Gillian has found high-street designs with a vintage feel, like this sideboard and art deco mirror
Alongside original second-hand furniture, Gillian has found high-street designs with a vintage feel, like this sideboard and art deco mirror

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.

Mahogany tones add warmth to the pale-grey hallway. The piano was a gift from their architect, and Gillian has paired it with a velvet stool for a modern twist
Mahogany tones add warmth to the pale-grey hallway. The piano was a gift from their architect, and Gillian has paired it with a velvet stool for a modern twist

‘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.

Gillian chose a deep, olive green for the guest bedroom – the Moneva Meadows shade from her Carlow Paint Hub collection – to echo the landscape outside
Gillian chose a deep, olive green for the guest bedroom – the Moneva Meadows shade from her Carlow Paint Hub collection – to echo the landscape outside

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’s guest bedroom is as plush as a boutique hotel! Get the look by layering gold details against rich green walls
Gillian’s guest bedroom is as plush as a boutique hotel! Get the look by layering gold details against rich green walls

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.

Painting the walls a sumptuous teal and adding a revamped vanity unit gave Gillian’s bathroom a luxury spa feel within her budget
Painting the walls a sumptuous teal and adding a revamped vanity unit gave Gillian’s bathroom a luxury spa feel within her budget

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!’

Inspired by the panelling created by Seamus in the main bedroom, Gillian chose ornate furniture and glass pendants to create a period-inspired look
Inspired by the panelling created by Seamus in the main bedroom, Gillian chose ornate furniture and glass pendants to create a period-inspired look

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.’

If you’re a nature fan like Gillian, bring the outside in with foraged finds as well as pot plants and fresh flowers. Pine cones and dried stems under a glass dome create a long-lasting display
If you’re a nature fan like Gillian, bring the outside in with foraged finds as well as pot plants and fresh flowers. Pine cones and dried stems under a glass dome create a long-lasting display

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.

Gillian has painted three-quarters of the wall mint and the rest white to draw the eye upwards for an airy, spacious feel, accentuating the natural light
Gillian has painted three-quarters of the wall mint and the rest white to draw the eye upwards for an airy, spacious feel, accentuating the natural light

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.

Good idea! Panelling doesn’t have to be a lot of work or money to install. Use timber moulding or flat MDF pieces to create panelling on a bare wall and then paint it for a stylish panelled look for less
Good idea! Panelling doesn’t have to be a lot of work or money to install. Use timber moulding or flat MDF pieces to create panelling on a bare wall and then paint it for a stylish panelled look for less

‘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.’

As the house is built on a farm plot, Gillian pays homage to farmhouse living with country chic accessories like this sweet metal jug adorned with flower motifs
As the house is built on a farm plot, Gillian pays homage to farmhouse living with country chic accessories like this sweet metal jug adorned with flower motifs

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.

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Feature and photos Barbara Egan/Reportage. 

This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in HomeStyle magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?