Antoinette Moynihan confesses that, though she is pure-bred Irish, a part of her has always felt curiously French. Perhaps it was simply her Christian name, a swirl of petticoat, a slice of cake and, in time, the tragedy of a guillotine. "Or maybe I was a maid in a 16th century château in a former life", she muses. At any rate, the remarkable house she and her husband Peader have built outside Duleek, Co. Meath, is flavoured with more than a hint of Louis Quatorze.
Oak Lodge stands in open-space, sheltered by a line of mature leafy oaks. The 3000 square foot building is shaped in the Victorian Tudor style; slated dormers, steep gables, high-pitched rooftops and fleur de lis ridge tiles. Virginia creeper is beginning to climb the walls. To the rear, a springy grass lawn and a handsome gabled outhouse frame a broad cobbled gray patio.
"It started as a dream, became a haze, and finished up as a wonderful reality", says Antoinette. She orchestrated the interior design, basing much of her concepts on the work of her late grandmother, Sarah Thompson, to whom she was very close. Mrs. Thompson lived at Barnane in Co. Tipperary and memorably designed many of her own fabrics. "To have the opportunity to design a house was a great opportunity for me to try and express myself. I have had so many ideas bursting within me; it is rather like telling a story".
The story opens with a thick Georgian door, complete with fanlight, and unfurls into a generous hall. Antique schoolhouse cast iron radiators and a gilded piece by Harrison & Gill face one another across a checkered diamond floor. A freestanding central staircase runs directly up to the second floor bedrooms. Rooms to the left and right are for relaxing and dining; the kitchen and another bedroom lie to the back of the staircase. It is immediately clear that the space is good, the light abundant, and the feng shui positive.
The kitchen is old fashioned with a modern twist, a marble floor, farmhouse doors, a beefy black Aga and a pretty dresser modeled on one at Mrs. Thompson's lodge. A half-door leading to the rear of the house establishes the farmhouse ambience. Georgian corbelling runs beneath the high ceiling. A 70mm thick door from the kitchen to the main house exudes comfort and security. Leather chairs are grouped around a sturdy kitchen table from Hynes Bros. Peader has ingeniously shielded the face of the Siemens fridge behind a wooden pane, saving all that time spent wiping the smudge of children's paws.
Adjacent to the kitchen is the lower bedroom, painted Persian Green, and dominated by a magnificent brass bed from Arnotts. The bedroom follows a simple floral theme, echoed by classical rose wallpaper in the bathroom and floorboards through out. On the opposite side is the family room, a distinctively soporific den, featuring brick wall, wooden floor, opposing sofas and a sliding door that opens out onto the patio; white cast iron park-benches, chairs and tables, a trampoline, tree-house and lawn offer a variety of options in the near distance.
The warm, wooden dining room carries the confident look of a successful hostess and is set around a brawny cherry-wood dining table. Decoration is minimal - all accessories are silver and glass. Rich Burgundy curtains from Renaissance, a high surround skirting board and stained pitch-pine floor underlie the 18th century influence. The leatherback dining chairs and a pair of cheerful abstracts came from Global Village.
In the "Black and Gold" sitting room, the dual hues of the sofas, paintings, chandelier and mirrors are delightfully sedated by a walnut stained floor, a white Adams fireplace and a games table and writing desk from Theodore Alexander. Perhaps the room's most surprising achievement are the courageously black curtains, supplied by Renaissance Interiors.
The Georgian staircase rises to a cruciform junction with the children's bedroom to the left, a spare bedroom and bathroom to the right and, continuing up the stairs, the master bedroom to the top. The children's bedroom is particularly memorable, a Secret Garden world of white-painted furniture, Raggedy Andy dolls, Victorian wallpaper, cast iron beds from Sage & Stone and other accessories by Desmirean of Duleek. In terms of Potter, this is definitely more Beatrix than Harry. That said, there is a useful "Dreamcatcher" above one bed and all up this is certainly a room for sweet dreams. A large walk-in wardrobe at the back of the room enables the children to keep their bedroom largely clutter-free.
Across the hall is a contemporary guests bedroom, dominated by a king size leather bed and a large leather framed wall-mirror from Renaissance Interiors with suede cushions, sepia-toned walls and classical gold and black paintings. The master bedroom is predominantly French, with an ornate headboard and chandelier, while the subdued colours of the wall, window blinds and floorboards allow the ever-changing hues of bed fabrics, clothes and flowers to stand out.
Bathrooms are fitted with an attractive range of reproduction 19th century toilets, Edwardian scallop sinks and brass-bridge taps by BC Sanitan. The main bathroom features a stand-alone cast iron bathtub set in its own long room of pampas green wallpaper; a trompe l'oeil mirror creates the sort of ambience of spacious eternity that propels one's big toe to flick the hot water tap one more time.
Antoinette now operates as a design consultant; her own house provides plentiful evidence of her talent. It is hardly a year old yet already exudes tremendous character. Everything is symmetrical and clear-lined from the carefully trimmed roadside hedge outside to the pastry she rolls on the marble top kitchen island, which has even me thinking she's curiously French.