By PEGGY TURBETT
Imagine – because that’s all most travelers can do in this icy winter of pandemic-induced restrictions – dropping into a Dublin pub to bide awhile by a glowing fireplace, sipping a perfectly pulled pint or a neat spot of Tullamore Dew.
Now imagine walking downstairs to what was a 1950s-era basement and finding your Dublin dream come true. No, this isn’t a remake of “The Twilight Zone,” but the realization of a transplanted Irishman’s sense of home and the collaborative expertise of a seasoned Cleveland Heights designer.
Three decades ago, marriage brought the Irishman to Cleveland and into the couple’s eastern suburb home. Built in the 1950s, the house came with a finished basement, outfitted with a rounded bar and trimmed with a scalloped soffit over open liquor shelves. A new pool table became the dominant focal point for family and friends visiting from across The Pond. But as years passed and visits became less frequent, the felt covering served more as an oversized display for an impressive collection of beer coasters.
Blame the laundry room, though, for the ultimate ouster of the pool table. A few years ago, when a contractor estimated work needed to replace its floor and replaster the ceiling, he looked into the pool room and mused, “By the way, what are you doing in here?”
His suggestions included taking down the ceiling, then painting the exposed beams and ductwork black. When the couple came across a photo showing a basement pub with a ceiling covered in beer coasters, they decided it was time to call Kim Carroll Interiors.
Early conversations centered logically on the Irish theme, according to Kim Carroll, who has been designing residential and commercial interiors since 2004 and had worked with the couple on an earlier project. But transforming a pale-yellow, mid-century basement into a Celtic showcase was going to be a challenge. “I mean, it was so 1950s you could have filmed ‘Happy Days’ there,” said Carroll.
As the concept took shape, the Irishman was given carte blanche in the design “as long as I didn’t screw it up.” He insisted that the theme not only be Irish but specifically a Dublin pub. That meant ditching the black paint and incorporating St. Patrick’s blue, a shade of azure enveloping the harp on the Irish coat of arms. Carroll found stateside versions of the hue in two Sherwin Williams colors: Secure Blue and Rainstorm.
“In designing the pub, I thought about how the space would be used,” said Carroll. “We talked about a bar. We talked about a space to watch TV. We talked about sitting by the fire. So it’s divided up naturally into three or four spaces. After I did that and I knew the color we were starting with, I also included the artwork in my thinking.”
That collection featured an original watercolor of the family home, along with what became a rogue’s gallery of Dublin-sourced posters collected over the years from all over Ireland: Guinness ads, Book of Kells illustrations, Bloomsday sites and James Joyce quotes, many custom framed by The Wood Trader and exhibited on a long wall of original knotty pine paneling.
“In all of my research, the romance of the Dublin and Irish pubs came from the layers of history that you see in antiques,” said Carroll. “[It’s a] collected layered look as if people had added to it over the many many years.” So, Carroll and the owners scoured antique stores, consignment shops and design centers in and around Cleveland as well as online sites to find furnishings to enhance the collected family artifacts.
Dubbed “The Pale,” the pub was ready for Bloomsday 2020, an annual James Joyce celebration in June. Heavy curtains pulled back to reveal a glowing fire beckoning from the original stone hearth. On either side, two ornately carved presiders’ chairs flank a small server’s table, with just enough surface for a few coasters, a couple of pints or whiskey glasses and a good novel or fine flask. So far, so “Ahhhhhhh!”
“We replaced the wood-burning fireplace with a gas fireplace to be more effective,” said Carroll. “But the [existing] stone wall and wood mantel were beautiful. Those are important textual elements.” The red-cushioned chairs, however, were a delightful discovery in Century Antiques in Cleveland.
“The two presiders’ chairs are carved oak, probably100 years old. They’re very heavy!” said Carroll. “We don’t know which church they came from. But they were for the presiders or the priests. The chairs have traces of red paint, which was traditionally used to acknowledge the status or rank of the priest or bishop.”
Tucked into the back of the room, the bar area showcases both warmth and function in a combination of antique treasures and custom-designed construction. Two stunning carved-oak cabinets, each about a century old, display an array of spirits behind curved glass doors.
“I love the glass cabinets because they sparkle in the light and they show off the bottles and the homeowners’ collection of Guinness beer glasses,” said Carroll. “I like the contrast of showing off the glassware but also keeping them dust free, as opposed to the bottles that are on the open shelves.”
The bar itself is a custom design by Carroll, with paneling and corbels to give a sense of age and built to specification by Ron Nandor at Eastwood Cabinetry. Keeping with the color scheme, the base echoes Dublin blue while the countertop is cherry-stained wood.
“The homeowners and I discussed in detail the storage that we wanted,” said Carroll. “One of the most interesting parts is the refrigerator that fits into the side of the bar. It comes in very handy for entertaining!” That would be the EdgeStar beverage cooler found at build.com
The original scalloped soffit, with its dated fluorescent lighting, was easily replaced by pendant lamps made from recycled glass, found online from Minneapolis-based Bicycle Glass Company. Behind the bar, the fluid wood frame of an antique mirror complements the curved liquor cabinets. Marking the spot above the mirror hangs a “hurley” – a stick used to play hurling, the national game of Ireland.
The Entertainment Space
Set between the welcoming entry and the well-appointed bar, a comfortably contemporary entertainment center fills the center space.
“The TV viewing area brings us into the 21st-century,” said Carroll. “We wanted it to be really comfortable AND functional.” A sectional seemed to be the best choice for folks to watch TV, listen to music or just chat.
Covered in mossy soft chenille, the L-shaped sectional from Fish Furniture in Mayfield Heights faces a flat screen television and top-notch sound system. The oversized leather ottoman from Spaces Consignment Showroom serves as both a footrest and, when custom trays are pulled from an underside shelf, extra serving space for movie snacks and TV dining.
“The seating arrangement is very much of today – comfortable, but with a wonderful TV and sound system,” said Carroll. To streamline the setting, the wall behind the television screen was built out to hide any distracting cords and wiring.
The Pub Table
There’s one more spot, tucked between the fireplace and entertainment area, that is perfect for a light supper or a multi-day jigsaw puzzle: the pub table.
“I wanted to have a place where people could sit and visit as if they were in a restaurant, or a dining area of a pub, or even just to play a card game,” said Carroll. “I think it’s very conducive to that and very, very welcoming. We found this table in a barn at Jameson Homestead Antiques in Avon, Ohio. It’s had a life, and that’s what I love about it. I love all the dings and the patina that it has gained over the years.”
Authentic and Cozy
On a new shelf next to the old fireplace is a small clay pipe. Not that there is any smoking of any kind allowed in the place, just like there won’t be any large gatherings of friends – from across The Pond or even the Cuyahoga River – until the Covid coast is clear. But the small pipe is an authentic piece of Irish culture, a symbol of fellowship, shared stories, and respite from the stresses of the day.
For now, just a flight of steps downstairs, is a very cozy place filled with favorite Irish features. And in the midst of an icy winter, the basement is the warmest room in the house.
SOURCES: Kim Carroll Interiors, www.kimcarrollinteriors.com.