ook store shelves are cluttered with volumes devoted to running a house. Hefty, hectoring, they are curious perennial favourites as Christmas gifts — gee, thanks Ma. The reader can choose from metaphysical wanderings through immaculate lime-planked lofts, purified hourly by the celebrity author’s ‘little woman’ — to domestic science novels tense with Marie Kondo, laser-sighted purpose.
Some demand nothing short of putting hospital corners on your very soul. The text may avoid it, but the pictures of muslin frocked children swinging lightly from a French beamed ceiling say it all — by comparison it says, you and yours are under-class, scruffy, domestic disasters. Anthea Turner’s How to Be the Perfect Housewife (Virgin 2010) — do I have to say — nails this down.
Stepping elegantly forward to put manners on the secret world beyond the hall door, Francis Brennan, hotelier and TV celebrity brings decades of experience in the exacting world of the hospitality industry.
His previous books, It’s the Little Things: 2014 Guide to Life (Gill & Macmillan 2014), and Counting my Blessings: Guide to Happiness (Gill & Macmillan 2015) were national hits. This one was quickly shortlisted for the Ryan Turbridy Listeners’ Choice shortlist in the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Books Awards, on its September release. The charming live broadcast misfire of Brennan wrestling a duvet cover onto a reluctant duvet on The Late Late Show last year, did nothing to hurt his wide popularity and Brennan remains astonished and enervated by life.
Still, could a single, meticulously mannered 64-year-old Irish entrepreneur really have anything new to say in the housekeeping/sanity balance? Well, it’s not what you say, it’s largely how you say it, and this book is not only the distilled essence of Brennan at his most endearing and revelatory, it’s also a remarkably good, accessible and crisp primer.
Every chapter is flanked and kindly narrated in the personable purr, poise and professional expertise for which for which this silver-haired entrepreneur is rightly loved. The compassionate, wheedling delivery, familiar in his TV travel and business mentoring shows, is irresistible.
Gone is the guilt, the smug reprimands, those daft Persil- white illustrations of the WAG house — instead, threaded neatly through intimate observations, sepia tinted nostalgia and genuinely funny and self-deprecating encouragement, is a deceptively dense, comprehensive 101 guide.
It’s impressive in its breadth of topics, quality of instruction and offers hundreds of simple, discreet, no-nonsense tricks. It’s an easy read but well organised through planning the assault on the home with suggestions of daily, weekly, monthly and bi-annual schedules.
In Chapter Two. he transposes the old phase to ‘Tidiness is Next to Godliness’ before continuing through the minutia of a reasonable, whole-house purge, managed regularly in 30 minutes bursts — executed in his own home.
Brennan is an unmatched, easy conversationalist, and reaches neatly and naturally back to the life of his adored 96-year-old mother in his childhood homes in Ballaly, Co Sligo and Stepaside in Dublin. His friend Cathy, a busy mother, injects her best tips from a suburban home trampled in children, shoring up Brennan’s charming and freely expressed concern that, being a roaming, carefree bachelor, he has little to say on children’s homes.
His introduction to the chapter ‘The Smallest Room in the House’ typifies the book. “Now, this chapter will be all about mould and smells, so I’ll cheer you all up first by telling you a story about our handyman and the immersion.”
I won’t spoil the tale, but it’s a wonderful Abbot & Costello style wiring mishap. Anecdotes and historical ephemera enliven the journey. His 1921 housewife’s schedule is horrifying and humbling, starting at 6am and punctuated with one 20 minute nap and dressing for dinner.
A Renaissance man for all his traditional passions — this work is up to date — not many writers acknowledge the unassailable place of the car in our daily round. Low-impact cleaning techniques using green materials are also championed. The explanation of cloud storage for saving beloved photographs and the informed chapters on new, everyday hassles like cable storage and how to use ethicalconsumer.org were unexpected. Brennan admits to putting a lot of work into the book’s content and the feeling he’s enthusiastically finding stuff out as he goes, is inclusive and refreshing.
He’s a man designed to ‘mind’ people in the old Irish sense, and the book dovetails nicely with the loving, instructive spirit of his other writings, dipping in and out of cooking lore, personal body care and suggesting ways of gently stroking the spirit. We love all that conspiratorial — ‘listen to me now’ tone. Getting past the housework to the pleasure of being at home is at the heart of it all.
“I like to sit beside my Aga and be cosy and warm,” writes Brennan, “that’s hygge — Irish people could quite easily do hygge I think, because we are friendly and open, and we like our creature comforts: woollen blankets, fluffy slippers, warm mugs of tea — all very hygge.”
Francis Brennan Esquire is Irish hygge. Domestic science served with Francis’ touted ‘sparkle’ — a soothing voice telling you to be ‘delighted with yourself’.
This book should be slipped by moonlight into every perfectly darned Yuletide stocking and stuffed resolutely into those rucksacks returning to college.
Life at the Top: New York’s Most Exceptional Apartment Buildings, Kirk Henckels and Anne Walker; Vendome. €68.
If you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere, and if you can buy an eyrie in Manhattan, you’re probably looking down on mere millionaire wealth. Written up by industry insiders Kirk Henckels and Anne Walker, this book redefines what makes up the best of the best in the 21st century in New York City, from Art Deco masterpieces such as Rosario Candela’s 778 Park Avenue, and Richard Meier’s glass-walled Perry Street tower. Prepare to drool.
At Home with Plants, Ian Drummon and Kara O’Reilly, Mitchell Beazley, €28
There has been afresh, verdant reappearance of the humble house plant, but how much do you really know about living with and keeping alive that barrel cactus or twisted bonsai?
Many are exotic divas despite their hoary outer skin.
Find out how to deploy the living thing as a sculptural eye catcher while doing your horticultural best for the species you are styling. It’s all in this book, a good present for the plant-lover
Made with Salvaged Wood, Hester Van Overbeek, Ryland Peter & Small, €18.19, paperback.
You might surprise yourself this winter just pottering in the garage. From display to decoration and real honest-to-God furniture, crafter/ designers, Hester presents 35 contemporary designs for furniture and other home accessories.
You can knock these up if you’ve never even swung a hammer, cut a board or sanded more than your toenails. The tree-slab coffee table or broom handle plant stands are an ideal entry point.
William Morris Rediscovered, Tessa Wild, Philip Wilson Publishers, €40, hardcover.
Coffee table books don’t come more venerable than this. William Morris towers over the evolving world of interior design, his reach still influencing today’s designers of everything from textiles and jewellery to architecture andmore. This new book, though one of dozens, is an important study of Red House, Bexleyheath; the only house commissioned by Morris and the architect Phillip Webb. The house and glorious Pre-Raphaelite garden distilled his vision of how a house should look and be lived in. Order for December release from any good bookseller.
Francis Brennan’s quick-flash cleaning
Once things are organised there is less stress in the home, everyone knows where the scissors is and the family works as a unit to keep it organised!
It will also be fresh and sparkling which makes a happy environment to relax in. Flowers in a vase always bring a smile.
Kettle boiled, china cups, good biscuits, milk in a jug, sugar in a bowl, light a candle and make sure there are fresh hand towels and soap in the bathroom.
I don’t think it is a case of judging people, some people love clutter some love clean lines but there is never an excuse for dirt. Soap and water is good value!
When I am at home about 30 minutes a day — now remember I dine in the hotel — so I have no washing up to do.
I would tidy up papers, make sure areas are dust-free and clean the kitchen floor and counters every day.