Projects | Mikey Ryan’s bar & kitchen

For my first journal post of 2018, I thought it might be fitting to look back on one of my favourite design projects of last year. When New Year’s Eve arrived, I found myself thinking of this location and what a perfect spot it would be to enjoy the festivities. The following morning, it was in my thoughts once more, as we wandered slowly to our village pub for a comforting New Year’s brunch. Again, I pictured the same scene, yet this time filled with a mixture of the bleary-eyed looking for a cosseting space in which they could rouse themselves, and the bright-eyed seeking somewhere special to begin the new year.

Mikey Ryan’s is a 19th century pub, restaurant and grocer in the quaint and tiny town of Cashel, Ireland. The owners informed us of its rumoured history – it is believed that the garden grew the original hops plant used to make Guinness – as well as its culinary traditions that form a core part of local life. Residents of Cashel can often be seen forming a snaking queue outside and along the neighbouring narrow terraces as they wait to buy local produce over the counter. The establishment closed a few years ago, but happily, its new owners fell for its charms, and sought to renovate it entirely, hoping to preserve its historic character, reflect its Irish roots and pedigree, but to also contemporise it in an authentic, elegant manner. Needless to say, we were brimming with anticipation at the prospect.

Many interior design studios specialise in either residential or commercial projects; indeed, they can be wholly different briefs, requiring an entirely different skillset. I have never seen things this way though. Our specialism lies in creating timeless, calm, sophisticated homes, and if we can bring that feeling of the home to a business – be it a restaurant, a hotel, or even an office – then that is a wonderful opportunity for us as designers and decorators, for those that work there, and of course, for the ‘customer’. This is precisely why the new owners of Mike Ryan’s commissioned us.

Because much of the property had fallen into disrepair, it meant that we needed to fulfil a significant amount of building and renovation work in the earliest stages of the development. This was certainly a structural renovation as well as an aesthetic one, and an interior design project as well as an exterior and masonry one. We had such a wonderful canvas to work with, almost from scratch, though not entirely as we were determined to preserve the building’s original features, encouraging them to tell part of the story of Mikey Ryan’s past. We came across these incredible ancient oak trusses in the first-floor ceiling that I was so proud to recover and allow them to sing so beautifully within the interior’s architecture. It was not merely a case of cherishing visible original features, but of also detecting and uncovering those that had been lost and hidden in the building’s belly.

Cashel itself is a place that, though small, is rather well-known, being the area where you can find the renowned heritage site, The Rock of Cashel. My team and I cared not only about staying true to Mikey Ryan’s character, but we also hoped to capture the spirit of the local area. Each design decision that we made was done so by exploring what materials we were able to source nearby and how to bring them together in a way that would not contradict the town’s look and feel. For example, Kilkenny limestone, which is quarried roughly an hour away, was our predominant stone. Similarly, our colour palette was carefully curated to complement the natural landscape, stone facades and often grey-toned skies. On each of our visits, we would remark on how Cashel was a town full or intrigue and unexpected twists, turns and surprises as you ambled along its many side streets. This too was an element that we looked to weave into our plans, and I hope that guests to Mikey Ryan’s sense this. The property evolves as you walk through its many passageways and rooms. It begins by channelling depth and comfort with a more masculine subtext, using Stiffkey Blue, characterful leather and aged oak. As you walk through the property though, it transforms gradually, opening up, using light to its great advantage and less saturated colour, introducing walls panelled in glass and hessian – which we felt encouraged imagery of orangeries and Irish crop fields – and incorporating antiqued brass accents. it imbues a more feminine feel as you progress, meaning the overall aesthetic is varied yet balanced. It is a gradual but definite transition, so that when you enter the landscaped gardens, it feels like the most natural step into true light and fresh air. 

Into the garden, and you will encounter one of this project’s true highlights for me – the horse box bar. Outdoor spaces can often feel all too segregated from the interior, even with orangeries or oversized windows. Because this was a commercial project, I wanted to create something that connected the interior and exterior in a more meaningful way than simply a comfortable seating area. Mikey Ryan’s is a place of togetherness and joviality, so we resurrected an al fresco bar in miniature form to encourage people into the garden, and to feel as looked after as you might inside. The owners have a shared love of horse racing, hence the horse box design, which we painted in the same shade of Farrow & Ball blue. Colour is such a powerful tool to connect and unify spaces.

At Mikey Ryan’s, I hope that, more than anything, their guests feel perfectly at home, at ease, and like they want to stay for as long as they can – the team certainly would not be asking anybody to hurry off; they could not be more welcoming if they tried. It is the most wonderful of Irish homes, celebrating the most quintessential of old and the most exciting of the new. 

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