Making Place: Gregans Castle, Ballyvaughn
Gregans Castle looks out across the extraordinary landscape of the Burren. Its history dates back to 1740 and J.R.R. Tolkien used to stay; local legends, myths, and the Burren landscape itself, inspiring his writing of The Lord of the Rings.
Simon and Frederieke Haden are the second generation to welcome guests to Gregans Castle. The hotel is famed for its unique atmosphere, and it has been described as a “tone poem”, but what are the ingredients for creating a sense of place, of peace and calm? Freddie Haden explains.
You know when it feels right…
It feels like pure instinct, you reach for the right colour, design or texture, and know it’s going to work. You could say we work on the hotel every day – but it can’t be forced, it has to come naturally. We travel a lot and I go to art and design exhibitions – so our regular guests come expecting to see new and different things.
The Burren is extraordinary: huge limestone “pavements”, caves and masses of wild flowers and wildlife. We try and complement that. I’m conscious of the idea of enrichment; I like to think that peoples lives are enriched by staying with us, and in the Burren. In a subtle way, that may be they regain some inner peace, an appreciation of simple things of beauty, or just an awakening to nature in all its glory.
The atmosphere here is about quietness. We try to tune down the sound, the chaos, the constant on-callness, so that people reconnect with all their senses again: without the intrusion of space-filling noise, fake scents, synthetic fabrics, processed foods… We like it when our guests realise that luxury isn’t necessarily about miles of marble, gold or velvet but also about silence, kindness, softness, delicacy, nature. It’s about a satisfying of the subconscious.
The Burren, with its unusual beauties, is ancient and timeless, but we are living here in the now, so it’s won’t all be woollen jumpers, homespun fabrics and pictures of cottages. I’m conscious that people will see the Burren through what we’re doing in the hotel, so I want it to be light, fresh, a bit bold. So you’ll find books, books people have read and loved. Wild flowers.
A little greener
I focus on colour, texture. Fabrics are an addiction. I have Irish linen, Donegal tweed. And I love the way American designers use patterns and colours. I use a lot of green. The windows are bright so you can see the landscape, but there are dark little corners, where I hang bold paintings and use a lot of candles. We burn Gooseberry Leaf. It’s fresh, clean and direct, there’s no over-complication – it’s perfect for what we want. We started with Fig Leaf, which is more wintery. And then Neroli, and then I thought, I need something a little greener.
Design is like a lot of things in life, you want a little tension, but no fighting. It’s a happy medium. I want to bring the Burren in, in colours and scents, but at the same time I like to have fun and play around with things – it’s a representation of our lives too – so you’ll find pieces from Africa and Asia, that have nothing to do with the Burren, except that they are here.
To stand on your own
We have artworks by Mary Donnelly, I’m drawn to them. She’s based in Connemara, and I’m from there, but now the Burren appears in her work too. There’s a quietness about her paintings. They’re not instant, you have to look a little bit, but they speak to you – the colours, the quietness, the gentleness.
So much in life is random. I stay away from trends on social media, I don’t want to be influenced. I just like to use things that stand on their own. To stand on your own is the greatest achievement. When you can say: it just is and it is right.