A Home That’s a Work of Art

Article about Philippa’s former home in Ardclough, shown above.  By Helen Rogers, Property Editor for the Irish Tribune.

ARTIST PHILIPPA BAYLISS BOUGHT THE DERELICT SCHOOLHOUSE 30 years ago and converted it in her own unique way.

Thirty-two years is a long time to spend in any one house, particularly if, as an artist, your home is as much an expression of yourself as any of your paintings.

Time, imagination, life, colour, gifts from friends, chance finds, opera props, even a stuffed bear, a cottage garden grown wildly so there would be more to paint are all essential ingredients of Philippa Bayliss’s canal-side home at Ardclough in Co Kildare, all mixed together like pigments on a palette and displayed with the artist’s spatial sensitivity to create an essential and personal statement.  It seems daft to talk like this about a stonecut granite schoolhouse in one of the most beautiful settings you could imagine.  But the sad feeling you get as you leave Bayliss’s 1810 home, built by the local landlord Lord Cloncurry for the children of the area, is that something very precious will be lost when she sells.

The property, with its rickety spiral staircase winding to the open-plan livingroom upstairs, lit on three sides by 12 identical eight-paned windows, set deep and high into the walls, is certainly in need of refurbishment, but when the walls are painted, the floors, the kitchen remodelled and the Bayliss presence removed, something equally wonderful will be lost.

True, a lot of the paintwork, from the veridian green of the small bedroom inside the front door, the coral of the hall and the fantastically wonderful mural of a tropical scene Bayliss painted in the bathroom have all seen better years.

Time, imagination, life, colour, gifts from friends, chance finds, opera props, even a stuffed bear, a cottage garden grown wildly… all mixed together like pigments on a palette.

But refurbishing this extraordinary home, described in one of the articles written about it for coffee table books and overseas glossy magazines as ‘sweet disorder’ seems much like overly-restoring an antique. Re-cover with bright new material, polish up too many scratches, and scrub clean all the imperfections and you’ve immediately destroyed what you loved.

But the house is for sale through Paddy Jordan auctioneers for €475,000.  And Philippa Bayliss, painter of plants, the horses and boys at Smithfield market, the countryside and colour of Mexico, the original curator at Castletown House and a real personality around Celbridge, is leaving Ardclough, the home that provided most of the inspiration for her highly regarded paintings and the creative cocoon for her three sons, Temple Garner, head chef at the Mermaid Cafe, James, a sculptor, and Nicholas an Olympic canoe team member and now a website designer.

After two visits to Taxco, seven thousand feet up in the mountains south west of Mexico City, she has been invited to stay there and paint permanently, something she has been yearning to do since her first visit but a plan which had to be put on hold two years ago after she discovered she had breast cancer.  Her treatment over and fully recovered, she says it is now time to go.

“If it weren’t for the fact that I am moving somewhere I really, really want to go to, I would never leave Ardclough,” she says. “We have been here for over 30 years and this has never been lived in as a house by any other family.  It has never been sold on the open market before.”  She and her former husband and the three boys, all under four, saw the house while she was working in Castletown House for her friend Desmond Guinness back in 1972. The old schoolhouse was almost derelict, most of the windows cemented in and the interior virtually a shell.

“It was sans floor downstairs, sans electricity and sans sewage. We had to get buckets of water from the canal. Anyway, it was hell,” she says in her deep, definite voice.

“I had come from a background where we lived in large, Georgian houses but we were practically penniless and we needed somewhere to live. It was almost unheard of to do what we did and everybody thought I was crazy.

We arrived with rolls of polythene and a staple gun to cover the floor downstairs so we could live in the house.

But I wanted the place very badly because I knew we could make of upstairs one decent-sized, beautiful room.”  Gradually, they began the conversion, taking a radical view of the house for the time.

Re-cover with bright new material, polish up too many scratches, and scrub clean all the imperfections and you’ve immediately destroyed what you loved.

The huge room upstairs was to become the living/diningroom and kitchen, each space defined by old rugs and an eclectic collection of furniture and heirlooms, punctuated at each end by a Georgian fireplace taken from a derelict house and a freestanding solid fuel Stanley cooker which heats the room and the water.

Bayliss’s touch is everywhere, from the campaign bed she found which had belonged to a general in the Crimean War and which now takes pride of place as a sofa, to the old French-style cabinet which was a “revolting shade of yellow wood,” which she drag-painted in blue.

In the corner at the staircase is a great stuffed bear.  “It was shot by my ex husband’s great uncle in 1901 in Canada.

The bear came with my husband and while he left, it stayed on.”   The room has great light, because it is upstairs and lit by windows on three sides. It has beautiful views of the canal across the road, with the now regular sight of barges and houseboats quietly gliding by.

It also has wonderful acoustics, “It was built so the schoolmaster could stand at one end and be heard down at the other.”

A door opens onto a roof garden, a verdant, sheltered sanctuary overlooking the main garden which itself is a natural, untamed riot of shape and colour.

Downstairs, Bayliss’s painting easel in her studio is set beside a huge window looking out onto the garden, framed by an Albertine rose.

“Painting is the day job.

With three young children I couldn’t go anywhere, so I planted the garden to have something to paint.”  The big studio is an old coachhouse which is linked to the main house by an extension.

This light-filled room has access to both the side and back gardens, where the giant leaves of a gunnera are a breathtaking sight.

The downstairs bedrooms of the house are more quintessential Bayliss.

A painting of a Hunt Ball in the Shelbourne, “I hated them so I decided to paint them and a cousin hid me while I drew,” decorates one bedroom, another, painted vibrant viridian is dominated by a giant bed and an intricate tapestry inspired by a Yeats poem stitched by Bayliss when she was younger.

The artist’s own bedroom is furnished with a wonderful lit bateau she inherited from her great grandmother and which will be going to Mexico with her.

Again, though in need of repair, this area has all the elements of a wonderful room, including a dressing area which, no doubt, new owners will convert into an en-suite.

The final bedroom was her boys’ room at the back of the house, fitted with cupboards and bunk beds.

The deep blue tropical paradise of a family bathroom stands strategically in the middle of these ground-floor bedrooms. Run a deep bath, light candles and you could be in a blue lagoon.

As she talks, Bayliss’s eye catches another of the paintings she finished while in Mexico, a big, boisterous depiction of the vegetable market at Taxco where she will live.

In the foreground are big ears of corn.  “It’s one of the joys of moving to a country like Mexico that I can actually enjoy its wonderful cuisine,” says Bayliss longingly.

“I’m coeliac and I love food and to cook but I can’t eat anything with gluten in it. I’m not allowed eat bread, sauces, chocolate and I’m not supposed to drink whiskey. . . So it is simply wonderful to go to a county whose entire cuisine is based on maize.”

PhilippaA Home That’s a Work of Art