All bases are covered in West Cork – the small town’s shops showcase quirky and trendy interior designs

West Cork has been cosmopolitan and bohemian for centuries, with a long history of absorbing and assimilating new people and new ideas.

It’s no wonder, then, that amidst the more traditional craft shops are a handful of home improvement stores selling interesting things in off-the-beaten-track locations. These shops are robust hybrids that appeal to both local customers and online shoppers, as well as vacationers.

“We don’t get that many tourists in Ballinspittle,” says Emily Connell, interior designer, art therapist and owner of Chalk & Easel.


Emily Connell, interior designer, art therapist and owner of Chalk & Easel in Ballinspittle

“Most of my customers are regulars. They may already have their houses ready, but I have a reputation for finding the right gift for people. If you bring a description of the recipient and a price range, I can almost always help.”

O’Connell’s ability to choose gifts for people she’s never met is almost uncanny. “Maybe it’s the art therapy background!” Still, she has resisted the temptation to turn Chalk & Easel into a gift shop. “I still have a lot of interior design stuff because it’s my passion. I love the lighting it’s so much fun. Every room should have a light in the corner. But not just a light source. It has to do something!”


Chalk and easel lighting

Lamps range from small ceramic side lamps with linen shades (€45-60) to larger metal and glass lamps (up to €375). “Sometimes people will walk into my house and see a lamp with a label because it kind of never made it into the store.” That would be an occupational hazard.

Her aesthetic strikes her as so natural that she instinctively knows what works and what doesn’t, but with an emphasis on natural materials and durability.

“Chalk & Easel is built on the ethos of buying things to keep forever,” she says. “I’m very picky about lines, proportions and materials. It has to deserve a place in someone’s home. I also tend to prefer things that are simple and smooth because they don’t collect dust.”

Her pieces come from London, Italy, France and Denmark as well as Ireland. Like many retailers, she upped her online game during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns.

“Online was amazing. I was so shocked how it started. I thought it wasn’t anything personal, but I was really able to connect with people. Strangers emailed me photos of their homes that showed me what the things they bought online looked like in their homes.

“I don’t know how it works, but the atmosphere in the store seems to carry over to the website and that makes people come into the store when they’re in the area. If they were in Cork they might take a trip. That’s nice.”


Claire Graham and Tom Keane, owners of The Old Mill Stores in Leap, Co Cork

It has been ten years since Claire Graham and Tom Keane opened The Old Mill Stores in Leap, County Cork. It is just off the N71, the scenic route from Cork to Killarney, winding through Conakilty, Skibbereen and Bantry. Not the most obvious place, one would think, for a furniture store. But it works.

“By that point, we’ve become something of a target business,” says Graham. “People plan to visit on their way west.” Their customers range from locals who come here to shop for gifts, to those with holiday homes in West Cork and a bit of money spent on nice pieces of furniture be able.


Telereed display case from The Old Mill Stores

“We are not geared towards Ireland. There are already many craft shops and we don’t do that. We have handcrafted items but they are not necessarily Irish.

“We travel a lot and it’s always a holiday for bus drivers to see what’s happening everywhere we go. We try to keep our lines unique to us. It is extremely important for us that we offer something that no one else is selling.”

During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, they expanded their online offering. “We made the famous move from brick-and-mortar to online, but we also added a third room to the physical store.”

This allowed them to offer more furniture. “We don’t sell huge pieces. We pay attention to where we are, so we stick to neat things like cabinets and sideboards and nesting tables. We have the regular vendors and then we throw in some curved balls.”


Cupboard from The Old Mill Stores

This year’s curved balls include a set of Italian lounge chairs from Seletti wears Toilet Paper (€135 each) featuring the iconic Shit design (black polka dots on a yellow background and a lipstick mouth with the word “Shit” on the teeth. Not your 08/15 -Stuff, but Graham is a fan of the range.

She also carries Seletti’s gold-framed mirrors (€295) adorned with collage-style surreal stickers. One has a girl swimming in the sea; Another shows the two of spades being held between the cheeks of someone’s butt.

A number of playful Pols Potten ceramics were discovered on a trip to Denmark and Graham is awaiting delivery of their Roman vases, which look like ancient artefacts, except they are made of iron powder and decorated in a variety of vibrant colors (€265 for a set of 4).

For those looking for Irish crafts and design, she recommends Forest and Flock in Bantry and Green Dot Design in Clonakilty.

For larger design projects, Embellish Home Interiors in Skibbereen offers a full design service.

“We’re very fortunate to have talented artisans in the area,” says Lorraine Delaney, who founded the company 17 years ago.

It started as a home decor shop that now includes paints from Little Greene and wallpaper and fabrics from brands such as Designers Guild and Cole & Son. “We travel all over Europe to try and get some quirky pieces that nobody else has,” says Delaney.

In nearby Clonakilty, Meadows & Byrne’s Helen Coughlan says his business in the town is thriving.

“From day one, this store has become more and more successful. People want to come to Clonakilty. It’s part of a day trip and that’s a stronger motivator for people than online shopping. The most important thing for us is that we are right across from the Supervalu car park. That helps a lot.”


Garden furniture by Meadows and Byrne

She is currently reporting a brisk trade in outdoor furniture. “We sell aluminum furniture that is virtually rust-free and maintenance-free. It stands the test of time. You have to if you live in West Cork and the wind and salty water pound your house.”

A Grady 4 seater bistro set from Meadows & Byrne costs €349 and is available in a choice of coastal colours. “We sell from stock. It means there is no waiting. You can buy something and put it right in your car.”,,, All bases are covered in West Cork – the small town’s shops showcase quirky and trendy interior designs

Fry Electronics Team

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