A picturesque house that paints a thousand words

This west Cork oasis is a feast for the eyes, which the public can drool over at next weekend’s open days, writes Tommy Barker

IT would be difficult not to be inspired to artistic endeavours when you come across the garden oasis of this west Cork home — but it wasn’t always so picturesque.

The family home of artist Geraldine O’Sullivan and Swiss-born teacher Alex Streuli, it’s a home that has evolved (with an unerring eye and sensibility) for its growing family. It developed by dint of long summers (!the teaching job’s upside) of manual toil, and thousands of wheelbarrow-loads of earth-works as the gardens are landlocked in such a way that you can’t get a digger in to its most secret parts.

A private oasis for most of the year, this Ballylibert home near Castlefreke, between Rathbarry and Ardfield does, however, go on limited show every year for the past couple of years.

Painter Geraldine O’Sullivan whose family roots go back generations in this Clonakilty locale, had used the nearby Galley Head lighthouse for annual shows of her year-long art endeavours. When that venue was quenched as an option a few years ago, she decided to turn her home, gardens and outbuildings into a pop-up galley for a day. Also run as a charity fundraiser, it has swiftly become hugely popular. Next weekend, Geraldine is doing Open House on August 20 and 21, from 11am to 7pm, raising funds for children’s charity the Jack and Jill Foundation through a painting raffle.

House, gardens, sheds and art are all on vigorous display, melding to create a welcoming atmosphere, conducive to viewing original art, variously presented as collages (some with inkjet-inserted images for longevity), memory boxes, acrylics and limited-edition giclee prints. Landscapes figure strongly, but often only as a springboard for deeper explorations.

Set to display dozens of works next weekend, inside and outdoors, the long, low house has portions going back to Cromwellian times, says Geraldine, who’s steeped in the west Cork environment, from cottages to castles, and from meadows to mansions.

She worked for years for her father, the late and legendary Matt O’Sullivan, whose estate agency business chronicled family life cycles of birth and death, via buying and building to executor sales and house clearances.

“We always took such pride in it and you are in such a position of trust, when you were selling for an estate, you did everything so properly: if you had five plates in a set and a sixth was under a plant, you rescued it and cleaned it and made up the set again,” she recalls.

Later, Geraldine worked for west Cork LEADER, at a time when the Fuchsia brand was being fostered, and she’s still a one-woman whirlwind for the lifestyle attractions of this gentle slice of west Cork.

Her and Alex’s patch of the coastal county is a cultivated swathe of colourful heaven: the main house, extended several times over, is a strong egg-yolk or mustard yellow hue outside, an antidote for dull and dreary days, while inside all is mellow yellows and honeyed, aged timber hues. It’s unusual and what works is the way a few large picture windows have been snuck in without over-compromising the vernacular integrity. There’s one naturally placed in the dining space off the kitchen, under a hefty timbered and beamed ceiling. Another finds its way into an evening room/study, with a warming solid fuel stove and a seating space by a window for garden views. Back on the house’s far gable, a two-storey extension had a clear gable which — as it had no end-wall chimney — allowed for two large windows top and bottom, one in a living room, the other overhead in the master bedroom. Combined with the more traditional tall and narrower portrait windows, these landscape windows really open the house to the adjacent and even encroaching garden glories. Every window really is a rival picture frame.

There’s about three acres here in all, with lots of trees planted that include naturally-adapted species (plus Lebanese cedar, ginkos, oaks willows, and lashings of fuchsias, as well as montbretia and marguerties spilling out in colonising rows and columns) with pathways scythed through meadows, hidden orchards, ponds and patios — the whole place is indeed a picture.

The house now includes Geraldine’s first-floor studio above an office in one of the latter additions, and the whole vibrant mix of buildings is made by the retention and adaptation of old byres, cow sheds, milking parlours and converted outhouses.

One derelict, old stone outhouse has been turned into a secret raised observation post, fenced in with fishing nets and rope, and it links two sections of the gardens via raised wooden walkways — very galleon ship-like.

Many have had their old galvanised roofs replaced by clear perspex and have whitewashed walls, creating light and airy rooms to defy any gloomy overcast Irish days. One, in particular, is now re-christened the vine room, and is home to heavy-hanging boughs and bunches of grapes, there for the picking and certainly likely to be lightly plundered on next weekend’s open days. For more, see geraldineosullivan.com.

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