Charmed by the landscapes and coastal villages she saw as she toured Ireland with a group of fellow artists on a painting trip, Sue realised there was something very special in the light and the way of life there. After renting a local artist’s cottage, American born Sue was totally won over by the house and its surrounding area.
‘Everywhere I looked, inside and out, I saw a painting. So from that point on I started painting Irish landscapes and interiors,’ says Sue. ‘The paintings turned out to be really popular back in the States, so I knew a few more trips to Ireland would definitely be on the cards.’
Owners Sue Gilkey, an artist, and her husband Mark live here. The couple are originally from Stowe, Vermont, in the United States.
Property A two-bedroom cottage built in the 1950s on the Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland.
What they did French drains were dug around the house. All the windows and doors were replaced. A new gas heating system was fitted along with new stoves. The whole cottage was redecorated.
Sue planned a second trip the following year, bringing husband Mark with her this time to see the landscape she was so inspired by. Fortunately he loved it too and on their next trip they decided to buy a place. ‘I had always been charmed by this cottage and had driven past it many times in order to paint, so when I saw it was up for sale I knew it was meant to be,’ says Sue.
The couple completed the sale in 2013, when buyers were ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’ according to their solicitor. Having spent just 20 minutes inside the cottage they admit they were a little nervous about buying it and did have a few sleepless nights. Despite this they embraced the decision and with great enthusiasm they booked a container to bring over their things, scouring the States for items that would suit the property.
‘I went all over New England to my favourite antiques shops,’ says Sue. ‘I found the table and chair in Essex, Massachusetts. They were made in Iowa in the 1920s and set the tone for the American Gothic style I tend to gravitate towards.’
When Sue and Mark arrived in April, as the new owners, they were a little fazed by the amount of work that needed to be done. The property needed a complete overhaul, and there were damp problems stemming from the old stone structures, which needed urgent attention. The couple had to install French drains around the house to help dry out the walls, and all the doors and windows needed to be replaced.
‘The first night we stayed in the house the rain was driving in under the doors and windows and we hadn’t brought enough warm clothing,’ recalls Sue. ‘The old Stanley boiler took three days to warm up the house and our container hadn’t arrived. All we had was a mattress and blankets, two chairs, two plates, a saucepan and some cutlery, lent by kind neighbours.’
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Undeterred by all this, they set about getting advice from the locals on the best tradespeople to use and while waiting for their belongings to arrive started painting the downstairs rooms, creating a light, tranquil interior.
‘I love Little Greene paint and I have used it in most of the rooms and on the exterior, which I painted in Loft White. It reflects the light and shines like a gem on sunny evenings.’ says Sue
‘This year we painted the kitchen floor in a diamond pattern with Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue and Off-White. It took us over a week to do with seven separate coats of paint, but was well worth it.’
Next they turned their attention to the bathroom. They have kept the décor simple with white tiling and installed a wet room shower with a heavy glass partition. In the living room they removed the old Stanley stove and had gas central heating installed.
‘We put in a small Henley wood stove and hired a local stonemason to build the fireplace. We asked him to copy the shape of the old window in nearby Kilcatherine Church, mirroring the shape of our arched windows,’ explains Sue.
The front door of the cottage had a similar arched shape when they bought it. It has since been replaced by a bespoke window inspired by a painting by Grant Wood, appropriately entitled American Gothic.
Over the years, Sue has filled the cottage with her still lifes and paintings of the surrounding landscapes, and the couple have gradually added furnishings that they have sourced locally or brought from the States. ‘I found the chandelier in the kitchen in the nearby town of Bantry, for just 35 Euros. We often go to Bantry’s Friday market, where we have picked up some great bits. Each little town has a market and we have found some interesting pieces in the different villages.’
With the major renovations now complete, Sue and Mark are delighted with how the cottage has come together. Everything they have done has been carefully considered, as they have tried to reflect the colours surrounding them and the traditional feel of the local vernacular.
‘Among the best things about living here are not only the spectacular coastal views but also how welcoming our neighbours have been. We both
feel really connected to our Irish life,’ says Sue. ‘I enjoy painting in my studio and meeting up with friends to paint outside, and Mark spends a lot of
his time cycling through the countryside with the local cycling club, so our lifestyle here is idyllic.’
Words and styling Penny Crawford-Collins | Photographs Philip Lauterbach