The couple found the blackthorn walking sticks abandoned in one of the barns when they bought the house.
A traditional Tipp bungalow transformed into a writers’ retreat…
WHO LIVES HERE American writer Erica Van Horn and her British partner, artist and poet Simon Cutts.
THE HOUSE A three-bedroom farmhouse in Tipperary, replete with creative workspaces.
WHY WE LOVE IT The house acts as a canvas for the couple’s boundless artistic expression and is a lovingly embellished paean to the written word.
“We love to walk,” begins American writer Erica Van Horn in her soothing, soft New Hampshire accent, which betrays only the tiniest telltale intonation of her 18 years in Ireland. “We were visiting a friend in Tipperary and were out walking when we found this house. We had become a little lost and decided to hitch-hike. A local farmer picked us up and, as we chatted, we told him that we were living in London but were keen to move to Ireland if we could find a house we could afford.”
With that, the farmer swiftly turned the car around and brought Erica and Simon to see a bungalow he had recently inherited and was struggling to sell. “Approaching the house, we drove up this extremely rough boreen,” Erica recalls. “It was so overgrown, it was like travelling through a tunnel, and emerging out the other end was quite magical. For Simon it was love at first sight – the privacy of it, and the Comeragh Mountains beyond.”
For Erica is was less so. “To say the house was in a state of disrepair would be an understatement. There was broken, rusting machinery in the yard; roofs were caved in; windows were missing. There was a main house with four small, dark bedrooms and a number of derelict outhouses. I knew it was going to require mammoth work – but there was something magical about the place. And remember we were penniless artists, so it was within our budget!” she says with mischievous good humour.
The word ‘artist’ is a modest one to describe what Erica and Simon do; the pair have a litany of creative accomplishments between them. Erica is a writer, artist, editor, printer, and bookmaker with more than 100 works available online, while Simon is an artist, poet and editor who works with words in every way. One of his most beautiful projects is a poetry-inscribed glass bridge crossing the Healey Burn in Northumberland. And today the pair run Coracle, a small publishing press, which operates out of one of the outhouses on the farm.
“After buying the farm,” Erica continues, “we moved back to London, where we were living above a bookshop we ran for friends. Our plan was to travel back and forth to Tipperary to fix up the house. But things didn’t work out that way.” Their lease ran out in London sooner than expected and they were compelled to move to their Ballybeg farmhouse while it was still a construction site.
“It wasn’t easy,” admits Erica. “We didn’t have solid jobs or a set income so there were no funds for builders; we had to do all the renovations ourselves. We began by knocking together two of the small, dark bedrooms to make one spacious, bright bedroom for ourselves. Next, we got the kitchen up and running and then just worked away steadily on the rest. It took seven years.” Erica remembers it as hard work – very physical and very demanding. “During the early years of the build, we rented a studio space nearby so that we could continue our creative work. We would each take a day off a week to work, and that was our holiday!”
But while work on the property was time-consuming and intense, the couple’s inimitable creative energy saw them make some inspiring design digressions along the way. “A few months into the project, we ordered a special stove from Finland and built a sauna behind the toolshed,” Erica says with glee. “It was a lifesaver after a hard day’s work in the biting Irish winter. We also got distracted building a bread oven for a few months, and then came one of Simon’s most wonderful creations – the Galtee Tower: a wooden tower, accessed by ladder, where the two of us can comfortably sit and sip a gin and tonic, looking out over the Galtee Mountains. We love it.”
Living Locally by Erica Van Horn, €15, is available through coracle.ie.
Now take a tour of a stylish city home in Dublin‘s Sandymount, all decked out in dark, moody hues.