The warm laid-back look lasts the course in classic style

Rural-inspired styling is a perennial favourite, harvested in a variety of forms from season to season.

Across the high street and online retailers, last year saw folksy Scandinavian themed fabrics and colours, which quite honestly. with their cartoonish frolics and searing colour began to grate painfully on this country woman’s nerves.

This year, for many shops keen for a marketing hook, it’s more Colorado than Stockholm, with steer horns, shaggy rugs, home spun fabrics and the prints of more untamed animals covering the landscape of cushions, throws, art-work and bedding.

Harvey Norman, in particular, have rustled up a home on the range collection, with quilts, accessories and enough red, white and blue for the set of Bonanza.

This is a lot of ‘yehaw’ fun and will doubtless be popular, but I’m shy, cranky and nostalgic, preferring a classic comfortably country look that simply does not date. You can nurture this environment in a city apartment as well as genuine Irish farmhouse, without some stagey trend, bristling with synthetic twee inclusions.

The spirit of comfortable country is drawn primarily from the colours, materials and changing seasons of the natural world most immediately familiar to the situation of the house.

To be fair, the French, who go berserk with bling in their suburban apartments, have that pale rustic idyll style in their country retreats, down to a fine art. Like all natural looks, this is actually something of a challenge to the aspiration and the ego.

Let go of the expected, the all-commercial add-water-and-stir approach and let your laid back side back in the door. The key to mixing it all up is simplicity in all things, right down to your way of living.

Colours and pattern

In the case of this interior choice — restrict the colour palette. Colours will offer a weathered softness, muted and relaxed —plenty of white for walls and furniture, over-lain with silvers, soft autumnal russet, the blue of rain heavy clouds, and rubbed golds. Take two receding colours and to this modestly accent with the more determined touch of primaries, and natural dye colours.

Pull back on complicated pattern —less is more — and by that I mean more visual and spiritual space. Introduce florals and ginghams for a more feminine scene or reel it back to checks, ticking, and stripes if the men-folk are rebelling at being attacked by all that sprigged girlishness. Steer away in general from any bullish inclusions in colour, form, pattern or size.

Flooring and furniture

Simplicity of form does not mean all antique, old fashioned or primitive. Don’t preclude those beautiful black Eames shell moulded chairs as diners or one wall in a gorgeous fragile contemporary wallpaper.

Well designed, discreetly coloured things have an integrity and sense of permanence. However, if one thing of ostentatious flash threatens the overall peaceful mood — take it politely to the door.

Furniture can be carefully chosen contemporary, junk-shop or antique survivors and should appear largely made and finished in natural materials — leather, wool, wood, muslin, and cotton — even metal. Chalk paint has a matt loveliness ideal for re-inventing cheap pine storage furniture in a gathering of serene colour.

Bare floors in a wide plank or fired tile is classic, but you can get away with just about anything underfoot, but polished metropolitan marble. Natural hemp rugs are cheap disguises to an annoying carpet or exhausted laminate and can take a lot of abuse.

Ask a carpet supplier to whip stitch a length of plain wool mix carpet for an inexpensive, toe swallowing rug. Texture is vital, and if you’re backing away from louder contemporary pops of colour, texture will step in to create interest.

Weaves, fur, knit, layers of under-painting revealed — this is not shabby but lived in, rather than worn out. Accumulating your interiors organically speaks of a genuine, authentic, personal space. Relax.


As we instinctively warm things up for winter, a pale, neutral ground can take another downy layering of throws, cushions, rugs, and heavier curtains to add a feel of protection and comfort. Vintage fabric in lovely colours, embroidery, appliqué and areas of lace and quilting to rip up and re-invent, turn up not only as remnants and curtains but as second hand clothing and bedding.

When the weather lightens into spring, you can let the house breathe more easily taking down voluptuous windows dressings for sheers or nothing at all. Where money is tight, remnants run up into cushions and comfy throws will be your best friend. Experiment with draping, wrapping and tucking.

Full dining tables, exploded sofas and dining chairs can be dressed up in well worn, butter soft cotton sheeting for special days. Tie them off at the ‘waist’ with a wide ribbon of check or plaid ribbon. If you’re messing around with muslin, calico or hessian — wash first, as they do shrink dramatically.


Informality is everything in relaxed country life, and bringing the useful everyday object out on show is at its heart. Evoke a spontaneous look to the arrangement of founds things, winter boughs and your permanent ornaments.

Group to celebrate their shape and colour with unexpected pieces such as sculpture, glass and children’s collections from the beach or woods. Flowers are a rare treat in winter, but don’t deny yourself a bit of soul-stirring colour. Married into branches and evergreen cuttings, cheap €3.99 bouquets can inflate to dramatic theatrics.

Honest, useful household objects can often be left on show (be picky here). If I had one choice for a new buy — take a look at Helen James’ stunning new copper pans and strainers for Dunnes Stores, ideal for slinging up on cheap butchers hooks over the cooker (€60-€75).


The warm laid-back look lasts the course in classic style

In winter, tree branches, with their textured sculptural beauty, offer free and fascinating forms for centrepieces anywhere in the home. Think about their raw state and form before interrupting with too many distracting flowers and extra leaves.

* Trim end branches only lightly as they often have a perfect organic form. Keep lopping marks out of sight or rub them with a little shoe polish to hide.

* Willow branches with catkins and scarlet dogwood switches are especially prized for arrangements and curly willow will be a rare find. Try spraying them white for a DIY winter wedding.

* Silver birch has an oriental beauty, with its metallic sheen and peeling papery bark. Lifting or textured bark, moss and wrinkles of china blue lichen add interest to branches but be aware that they may carry passengers.

* When your indoor bulbs come into flower, create a lovely support out of a few stout branches partially concealing the containers. This suggests the flowers pushing up from the forest floor and is lovely for a casual evening dinner party.

* Driftwood can offer up suitable ‘planting’ holes for this look. Go Oriental with one or two bare branches with interesting, tortured forms or simply celebrate one interesting Bonsai-style shape against a white wall.

* Lovely empty frame? Use some twiggy uprights to build a minimalist forest. Leave the frame free of a backing board (see image). Rose hips, berries and winter fruits are lovely additions too.

* Experiment with hanging crystals, faux blossoms and even unwanted costume earrings on an armful of winter boughs. Beach stones and hardy fruit can be gathered around the base of the branch arrangement in a shallow dish.


John’s chairs will last a lifetime, but he is also passing on his knowledge to a new generation, writes Ellie O’Byrne.Made in Munster: The ancient art of súgán-making is woven into Irish family history

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