How a railway bridge inspired design of Munster newbuild 

Eve Kelliher discovers how a Cork couple looked to their surroundings when creating their dream home
How a railway bridge inspired design of Munster newbuild 

The eight-arch bridge, over which the main Cork-Dublin rail line travels, near The Arches, Whitechurch, Cork. Pictures: Denis Minihane

TRAINS have hurtled centre stage in countless iconic movies and the residents of The Arches in Whitechurch, Cork, could be forgiven if they were to speculate whether their home plays even a brief cameo role in commuters’ journeys.

Emma and Cian O'Flynn’s eye-catching newbuild is located near a bridge over which the main Cork-Dublin rail line snakes. “We’re always wondering if people on the train can see in through the windows!” says Emma.

Exterior view of The Arches, next to the 19th century-built railway bridge.
Exterior view of The Arches, next to the 19th century-built railway bridge.

Their house is, in fact, named after the eight-arch bridge, which was constructed in 1849 by the Great Southern & Western Railway (prior to that the Cork-Dublin rail line ended in Mallow). Some 150 stonecutters were employed daily to cut stone dressings for the bridge, in an enterprise that was to provide work for between 15,000 and 20,000 people.

And over a century and a half later, when Emma and Cian started shaping the plans for their home, they made sure natural stone (and plenty of it) featured as a visual homage to the structure outside and its history. “The stone was something we really wanted throughout the build but were strongly advised against it. Most people we spoke to thought it would be overpowering — but we’re delighted we stuck to our guns,” says Emma.

The open-plan, light-filled living/dining area at The Arches. Pictures: Denis Minihane
The open-plan, light-filled living/dining area at The Arches. Pictures: Denis Minihane

Maximising light was also a priority. “With the amazing bridge outside and the house positioned to the south, we wanted to take full advantage with as many windows as possible,” she says.

Emma’s family have lived on this land for generations (they formerly operated a stone mill there) and when she and Cian received a site they promptly set about developing their dream home, realising it in two years, in 2016. “We are very fortunate to have been given this site by family. Ours is the eighth family house on this land and we are the first of our fourth generation to live here,” says Emma.

Builder Joe Dilworth and engineer Jackie Manley were key to the project, as was John Hayes, who completed the work on the stone wall, while Emma and Cian say they “would be lost” without their family friend/gardener Mac.

The couple’s interiors scheme hinges on an open-plan living area and double-height dining area, with an enviable aspect over the garden, and a stunning staircase.

The Arches’ location and proximity to family enhance its appeal, says Emma, who describes “gathering around the kitchen island” as a highlight of living there.

Pooches' paradise: The couple's dogs have their own room.
Pooches' paradise: The couple's dogs have their own room.

The interiors also had to suit every family member and so the house is dog-friendly and includes a designated room, off the living area, for the couple’s beloved pooches, two boxers.

But, adds Emma, there was one last décor hurdle. “We were both really scared of colour!” she says. Enter interior designer Sinead Cassidy, a client of Cian’s at his gym, ATP Fitness, where Sinead had also completed some design work. “Sinead really helped us with becoming more adventurous with the interior whilst also keeping the comfort and the homely vibe,” she says.

“After speaking with Sinead we immediately knew she was the perfect person to help us enhance the interiors of our home. Sinead works with the features you have in your home and uses amazing colours, fabric and lighting to enhance each space.” 

The staircase at The Arches. 
The staircase at The Arches. 

Like many who had just finished their newbuild, Emma and Cian “felt they had got the core items right but wondered where to go from there”, adds Sinead. “In other words, what could be added to create not an average home but a stunning stylish home! My job was made easier by the fact that the layout and finishes to date in the house were pretty cool and interesting. Cian and Emma really did an amazing job in creating a dream home.” 

Colour is “probably the most useful design tool” of all, believes Sinead. “Colour was the starting point. In this case, I felt the addition of colour was going to be very effective both in wall colours and textiles,” she adds.

A piece of art in the hallway provided colour inspiration for the interiors scheme. Console table and hall table, available to order through Sinead Cassidy Design; hall table lamp, Lightplan, Kinsale Road.
A piece of art in the hallway provided colour inspiration for the interiors scheme. Console table and hall table, available to order through Sinead Cassidy Design; hall table lamp, Lightplan, Kinsale Road.

“With a new-build, the tendency is to revert to tried-and-trusted neutrals and this is often the right thing until you have lived in it and are comfortable with taking up the colour challenge.” Emma and Cian were ready, she felt. “They just needed the encouragement and direction in selecting the colour additions,” says Sinead.

But where to start? In this case, it was an inspirational piece of art with burnt orange and autumnal tones. “As this was almost in the middle of the open-plan area, I felt that the room could be balanced with an orange wall colour on one end wall and some striking modern scatters in the living area,” adds Sinead.

Next up was the addition of a brass-coloured console table beneath the picture. This was sourced through Sinead Cassidy Design and Sinead confined the accessories confined to glass, wood and metallics.

The orange wall had the bonus too of livening up the cream kitchen units. “It made it all more interesting and vibrant,” says Sinead.

Scatters and dining chair fabric, available to order through Sinead Cassidy Design.
Scatters and dining chair fabric, available to order through Sinead Cassidy Design.

The neutral-toned dining chairs were also about to get a makeover. “We made the decision to reupholster the original cream leather dining chairs in a combination of grey and orange velvet and we used the same sumptuous velvet as the scatters on the sofa,” adds the interior designer.

“This meant we could match fabrics perfectly for consistency in this open area. Plus, the chairs look stunning and so rich now! We had the chairs Scotch-guarded for added stain protection.” The crowning glory to really pull the colours scheme together was the addition of a handknotted rug from Rugs.ie in Douglas. “It encompasses all the tones in the room including the stonework — cream, terraacotta, grey and is wonderfully luxurious This area just illuminates in the sunshine with the double-height and the view is gorgeous,” adds Sinead.

Colour was also the starting point in the hall/entrance area. “We used a dark green pine needle colour here. It is a dark dramatic colour and really shows off the crisp outline of the stairs,” she says.

The rug (sofa area) ("Riviera", from Rugs.ie in Douglas Woollen Mills) is handknotted from wool and bamboo.
The rug (sofa area) ("Riviera", from Rugs.ie in Douglas Woollen Mills) is handknotted from wool and bamboo.

This area is all open-plan leading into the living area “so it is important for the scheme to flow but this colour scheme shows that unity can be achieved just as effectively using a contrasting colour as opposed to tonal”, adds Sinead.

Moderation was a touchstone, adds the interior designer. “Colour was definitely the first thing and my starting point. Cian and Emma have very busy careers and this home needs to be their sanctuary and suit their personalities,” she says. “They are both very relaxed so this vibe is very evident in their selection of furnishings which are well-chosen, comfortable and inviting. My suggested additions needed to be mindful of this. Artwork is sublime around the house and makes a statement on its own without any dressing up or complicating.” 

The couple’s own creative flair is impressive, she adds. “Their vision and design is remarkable as this is their first home. Details such as keeping the landing balcony fully glazed both for noise reduction and cooking smells are a very clever idea,” says “This project was about engaging a designer after living in the property for a while and being at a crossroads. The colours and cosmetic changes introduced succeed in adding a dash of style and personality to the house.

“We worked out the mood we wanted to convey which was bright and cheerful- contemporary and stylish. I am always excited when the scheme evolves from just a colour selection. There are no limits.

“I love the colours we have used — the deep oranges and greens. I think they really connect with the beautiful outdoors, mature trees and the unique location.”

The circular wood/ metal wall art piece was a gift from a family member and its style works with the mantel style, both in the wood type and the chunky frame. 
The circular wood/ metal wall art piece was a gift from a family member and its style works with the mantel style, both in the wood type and the chunky frame. 

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