Jane Carroll fell in love with her home because of its large kitchen and because it is double-fronted. However, the more she wanted it, the more elusive it became. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
There’s a new kid on the block in Blackrock, Co Dublin; it’s a shop, which opened 15 months ago on the main street, and it’s attracting lots of attention. Invariably, clusters of kids can be found outside with their noses pressed to the alluring windows, which are full of miniature Georgian houses, colourful clocks, soft toys and wooden playthings; while inside is a treasure trove of hand-knitted elephants, cloth mice in matchboxes, Peter Rabbit ceramics, pretty quilts, children’s clothes and bed linen in lovely prints, all against a backdrop of bright, fun colours.
The shop belongs to Jane Carroll, and much of the merchandise is designed by Jane herself, who has created a delightful world of whimsy and practicality combined; a world which is echoed in a more sensible, liveable-with way in her nearby home.
Jane is steeped in the area of children’s design; she’s been designing wallpaper, bed linen and other fabrics for children’s rooms for over 30 years, but her interest in design goes back even further, to when she herself was a child.
Jane’s father was Don Carroll, one of the Carrolls cigarettes family. He was a businessman, and at one stage he took a job in England and moved the family over. “I was about eight, and I remember my mother bringing me to Habitat. I couldn’t believe such a place existed. I remember being amazed at all the wonderful prints and fabrics and furniture; Ireland had nothing like it at the time,” Jane reminisces, adding that even at that young age, she fantasised about working in Habitat and, as it happened, that dream came true many years later.
Her parents returned to Ireland after a few years, but it was decided to leave Jane and her brother in England to finish out their schooling. After her A-levels, Jane got a place to study textile design in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and it was then that “life began”, the petite blonde admits, adding, “I loved being back in Ireland, and I loved college”.
After graduation in the mid-1980s, Jane and her two best friends from art college, Orla Kiely and Paula Flynn, headed off to New York, and all three got jobs in the same company, Gear, which specialised in interiors for children. “I did a kids-wallpaper collection; I loved it there. We went on J-1s, which expired after nine months. The company was willing to sponsor us to stay on, but the others had had enough, and I wasn’t brave enough in those days to stay on on my own,” the softly spoken businesswoman reveals, adding that all three girls are still the best of friends.
Paula became a big noise in Baby Gap before setting up her own company in America, and Orla is, of course, a household name in both fashion and interiors. All three have helped each other over the years with contacts and freelance work, and, of course, emotional support. “Orla was here for dinner last week. Orla and I are godmothers to each other’s children; we’re always in touch,” Jane notes.
London was the next adventure, and both Jane and Orla got work in The Conran Shop, so Jane was back to the source of her inspiration. “I worked a lot with Terence Conran’s sister, Priscilla. She was wonderful to me, and really gave me confidence in my designs,” Jane says, adding that one year while with The Conran Shop, she was asked to design the company’s Christmaslights display on Regent Street for a competition.
“Actually, by some complete chance, I won it,” Jane says self-deprecatingly, adding with a laugh,“so off I went to a big, fancy party with Terence Conran, and Prince Andrew switched on my lights.”
She freelanced on and off over the next 10 years and then, in the mid-1990s, she got the idea to design quilts for kids. “A good friend had set up a business in India and offered me the opportunity to get whatever I wanted made in a very nice facility there. I’ve been doing that aspect of my business since then,” Jane recalls, explaining that the quilts can be sized for beds, prams or cots, and can also be customised.
She sold the quilts through The Conran Shop and Brown Thomas, until she decided to open her first shop, which
‘The company was willing to sponsor us to stay in New York, but I wasn’t brave enough in those days to stay on on my own’