ballynahinch hotel antiques luxury interior design

We hear from the designer behind the magical Ballynahinch Castle Hotel in West Ireland

A castle hotel in the heart of the Twelve Bens mountains 

You would be challenged to find a more beautiful location for the historical Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. One of Ireland’s finest luxury castles, it is set in the heart of the bucolic Twelve Bens Mountain range along the world famous Wild Atlantic Way. With stunning views of rivers, forests and mountains, it is not hard to see why so many of the hotel’s visitors return on a regular basis to take in the breathtaking surroundings. 

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A royal affair…

The unusual name of the hotel – ‘Baile na hinse’ – means ‘household of the island’ and refers to the O’Flaherty Castle built on an island in the lake. As the family seat of some of the most powerful families in Ireland’s history, it will come as little surprise that Ballynahinch has been home to some real characters over the centuries. Among these count the formidable ‘pirate queen’ of Connaught, Grace O’Malley who ruled – it was said at the time – better than her dead husband, the murdered ‘Donal-of-the-battles’. The only Gaelic woman to have appeared in a British royal court, she famously met Queen Elizabeth I in 1593. It was a true meeting of monarchs and they spoke together in Latin. Of this visit, it was written: ‘In the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high, Before the English Queen she dauntless stood.’

Interiors to rival the exteriors

The interiors of the castle are certainly a fine match for a castle with such striking former inhabitants. Having recently undergone a vigorous update, the Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is brimming with timeless charisma and the allure of traditional luxury. Vinterior was delighted to provide an array of characterful vintage and antique finds, helping to bring the Ballynahinch renovations to life. From sumptuous leather Chesterfields to country-style lounge chairs, the hotel is tailored to exude comfort, warmth and style with elegant panache. Evelyn Conway, an interior designer from leading design studio Bryan O’Sullivan, told us all about their approach to the project. 

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Hi Evelyn! Can you tell us a bit about the brief around the Ballynahinch Hotel?

To keep the essence of the existing hotel – for nothing to feel new but rather to have everything looking fresher. A lot of visitors return every year, from all over the world, because of its charm. The history of the building was very important, and to keep the feeling the guests loved. We took a sensitive approach, and blended in new elements, mixing existing furniture with new and vintage pieces.

How would you describe its style/feel in three words?

Fresh, cosy and eclectic.

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How do you begin approaching a project on this scale?

Our approach to all projects is to get to know the essence of the client’s vision, while studying the architecture and details of the space. This way we understand the bones of the building, and the intention of the client. Then we start with the basic challenges to confront, and always look at the spatial planning, before tackling the next layers.

For Ballynahinch this was to bring in more light, maximise the beautiful views out across the river and hills,  and, importantly, to simplify circulation on plan. This is our preferred way to get to know the nuts and bolts of a project. The next layers we look at are the architectural detailing and finally the finishes, lighting, furniture and fabrics. 

What was the biggest challenge you met when designing the hotel and how did you resolve it?

The timeline was very short, which meant working with minimum drawings and maximum time on site. This works well along with one of the other challenges – which was responding to the many unknowns of what lay behind the demolition work. The works on site started just a few working weeks after we received the survey and were carried out over just two months with staggered openings. This meant it was also important to work with furniture and fabrics that were either in stock or with very quick lead times. 

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Was there a particular part of the design process you found most inspiring?

We relished working with such a gorgeous historical building, loved by so many guests. Trying to hit that mysterious balance of keeping the charm of the hotel while bringing in a breath of new life was a real inspiration from the design perspective.

What kind of pieces did you source for the project?

We sourced a great deal of antiques and vintage pieces to help accentuate the historical character of the spaces and make the areas look curated over time rather than newly put together, which was really fun. We always love working with layers of fabrics and colours too, so we enjoyed creating tonal palettes which you can see throughout the hotel. 

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Can you tell us about a particular vintage or antique find?

Our favourite has to be the freestanding wardrobe which not only looks gorgeous with its warm oak detailing but it was a life-saver given the very specific dimensions we had to work within.

And finally, what would a dream project look like?

We are incredibly fortunate as a studio to work with some amazing clients in beautiful locations, whether a hotel, a bar or a private residence. We’re always looking to grow and experiment. Because we make sure our interiors respond to their situation, perhaps an adventure to Los Angeles would be fun. 

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Feel like a gallivant over to Ireland? Find out all about the Ballynahinch hotel here.

Image credit: All images credited to the Ballynahinch Hotel and to photographer Barry Murphy.

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