Lakeside Hotels in Ireland
The mood board for your room renovation is quite possibly the snapshots you've uploaded onto Pinterest as your reminders of the colors, textures, proportions, and atmosphere of the places where the decor made you feel at home, glamorous, cherished and welcome. Recreating that feeling in your actual home means you've to ruthlessly shave down the materials you're going to try and use within the one space.
Renovating an already functioning room so you're making the most of the stuff you've already got, or adapting the room to accommodate sharing the space, means that you're probably deciding on one new thing for this make-over, while everything else is just getting cleaned. (A quick reminder of part one of this article on creating a mood board is that the for instance at the moment is the biggest room in our house, which is the sitting room.) But if you're adapting a room to include romper space for a toddler, the whole house to accommodate a lodger, foster-child or either of your parents, the knock-on effects of re-arranging the storage and functions in your family home rooms, mean you've to re-assess the space in a coherent way.
Two of the most impressive hotels I've been to in the past year have been in Ireland: one is a castle in Co Leitrim and the other is a modern, purpose-built one in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
Lough Rynn Castle, County Leitrim
For the sake of Gonzo Journalism I'm going to tell you that this was built before God knew where Leitrim is, that ballad singers know Lovely Leitrim is where the Shannon waters flow, has a town of saints and sages and there's ancient abbey walls re-echoing through its halls as we speak. So enough about Leitrim. (There's another hub on how pretty the county is on the way, but for now, the focus is on a spectacularly beautiful synthesis of ancient meets modern in construction and decor.)
The castle sits in an estate with a manicured garden that rolls down to the lake, has a fairytale boathouse on that lake that looks like it was made for the kids in Swallows and Amazons with a roof designed by The Brothers Grimm when they were dreaming up Hansel and Gretel's candy house in the forest. There are lakeside walks through forests, and the garden walls have an olde worlde stone tower house on one corner that'll have kids and adults fed up with the boating game, swap it for Dragons and Dungeons or Game of Thrones-themed make believe for their hour of running about outside while mummy sips her green tea on the terrace. This hotel is worth traversing oceans to spend a couple of weeks together as the castle has been thoroughly updated with sympathetically designed self-catering options as well as the opulence of the main building.
Having said that, part of its charm lies in the fact that the specific features of the grand old building add up to hundreds of years history and sit happily together in a way that offers a beguiling calm for whatever mood you need during a holiday that's primarily aimed at restoring you to your higher self.
The proportions of the rooms within the castle range from reception rooms with a giant stone fireplace, and another with aged teak wood panelling so it's ideal for a large-scale wedding, (we were there for a modern Irish wedding, and the hotel's glamour added another layer of excitement to choosing our outfits). The contemporary ballroom is in the modern, glass and concrete addition that encircles another lovely garden that's planted and landscaped to the style of the Modernist additional wing.
Back in the main building, the public bar shifts the mood from the cavernous stone fireplace and teak-clad reception rooms to a more intimately laid out series of public seating. The bar opens into a lounge (in the pub sense) that was once a sitting room (in a family home sense) and that sitting room now has tables and chairs for people to snack or drink at, while they catch up on their emails or friends' news. This part of the hotel still has the period yellow and blue wallpaper on it that was too beautiful to strip off when the additional modern wing of the complex was being planned. Shallow name-dropper that I am, fellow wedding guest Shane McGowan was in the bar when I visited it and I resisted the urge to rock up to him and tell him that I missed him in the nightclub down in the dungeon of the hotel at 5am that morning when I was holding forth on how fabulous it is to be up at this hour of the morning and still not having fallen down or anything. (I'm in my 50s so being in a nightclub is a rare and weirdly disorientating event for me, I get automatically hurled back to scanning the crowd for The One even though I've happily long since found him.)
This hotel is big enough for the staff to move the party from the ballroom down to another place to play while they get the conference centre back into daytime cleanliness and functions. It's a little village in itself in that you can walk the grounds or leave them to see the rest of the county's attractions but its success as a model for ideas for your own home lies, for me, in the way they're maintaining the house and gardens' decorative features.
Stately homes on TV
The Enniskillen Hotel
Though different in history, its grounds and its atmosphere, this modern building in the middle of a bustling market town has a similar quality of serene organization. It's got a young, vibrant, clever sense of fun as its overall atmosphere even though it's as flexible and adaptable as the castle in county Leitrim.
I've partly compared these specific two hotels because you could have many of the same cultural activities during a vacation in either. With the Enniskillen Hotel, because the town's sitting on a river and is a 10-minute cycle or drive to fishing (or whatever water sports are set out on the many lakes round here), all of the daytime high-energy action jaunts are carried on off the premises. (It's just 'out the road' from ancestral castles in estates quite like the Loch Rynn Hotel, you can see the set of the BBC's comedy Blandings at nearby Crom Castle.)
The interior design here is as giddying as the Lough Rynn Hotel experience is soothing. The color palette is on the sophisticated and fashionable silver, bronze, pewter band of the color-wheel and it's been given its sense of fun, and youthful ambience by the choices of materials for fixtures and its sense of comfort in the choice of furniture. There are references to all ages of homely touches in the accessories (there's a wicker creel for turf or logs for the open fire in the whiskey room and it's only feet away from the Eileen Gray-style Bibbendum-ish custom-made sofas in the lobby/library in front of the restaurant). There's a small dining room that seats about a dozen if you want to have the restaurant's glam served just to you and your party, next size up is the restaurant, and finally the ballroom/conference room can cater for up to 200 people.
I said shortly after being in it that if I was planning a wedding, I'd have the bachelor party in the Enniskillen and the wedding banquet in its bigger sister hotel (Lusty Beg Hotel is on its own island and has a swish upmarket health spa in it too) but the reasons for this were that the Enniskillen hotel, being in a great town, has the benefit of offering a restaurant and pub crawl for the evenings' revelries and some wonderful interiors stores for furniture, light fittings, antique ornaments and wall-hangings on a grand scale and craft stores for sweet hand-made bric-a-brac for homes already furnished.
The bar here serves not just as the hotel lobby, but the sitting room on the way to the restaurant. The atmosphere of clean-lined design is softened with the happy mixture of sturdy, old-fashioned chairs in here and urbane, custom-made furniture in the restaurant. The bedrooms are sexy because they've luxurious materials from the marble and chrome showers to the lustrous satin in the bedlinen. They've short-pile carpets so whomever (see how posh I am) whomever is vacuuming (not I, don't you know) isn't sculpting their upper arms, waist and buttocks while they're hoovering.
But whether you're on a holiday trail with The One or with your mates while The One's still just sketched in broad strokes in your mind, keep these two hotels on either end of the conservative/modernist spectrum in mind. Checking out how the professionals compile their materials for a mood board can be a fabulously extended affair.
Taking a break from the DIY
Doing It Yourself, once you've tried it, is often remembered as a very bad idea.
It's perhaps a reflection of our priorities that we still do much of the maintenance decorating in our house and obviously call in the professionals when there's a structural task or series of improvements to be made.
Getting to the point where you're as fast and skilled as the tradesperson you need takes a lot of time and experience, with many, many mishaps along the way. Some of the funniest reflections of doing the renovations yourself are classic comedies you'll enjoy when you've put the paint brushes away for the evening.
What surprised me about the Cary Grant and Myrna Loy movie is how comfortable and comforting the decor in Mr Blanding's dream house remains to this day.