When Clodagh O’Connor decided to take a big risk four years ago and launch her own business dealing in antique and vintage furniture and homeware, there were plenty of people who tried to talk her out of it.
“A lot of people thought I was insane,” she says. “The economy was terrible and there was a desperate fear out there.
“But I followed my heart. I just knew it was the right thing to do.”
The interior designer’s passion, and impressive flair, for honing in on the hugely popular (but tricky to achieve ) old world and vintage look, has really paid off.
The Gaiety Antique and Vintage Store now has three busy outlets in total - the original and flagship shop, located in a 1930s dance hall in Islandeady, a shop in Westport, opened just last summer, and the third shop on St Francis Street, Galway, which has been trading very successfully for two years now.
As well as selling antique and vintage furniture, the Gaiety runs a programme of popular workshops for keen upcyclers and antiquers, in areas such as chalk painting, decorative techniques, and basic upholstery.
Clodagh, along with her husband and business partner Sean McCaughey, purchased the antique shop on the side of the N5 in Islandeady in 2011 and has transformed the premises into a large, open, space full of beautiful and interesting items of furniture, decorative pieces and trinkets from all over the world - things that customers will not be likely to come across anywhere else in these parts.
Passers-by regularly pull off the busy Castlebar to Westport road to browse the displays, curiosity piqued no doubt by the vintage car and bike signposting the shop. If they happen to be fans of old world charm, the shop is a real find.
Every item is hand picked by Clodagh and Sean, and much of the furniture is lovingly and creatively restored and upcycled.
“I learned everything from my father, Herbie,” says Clodagh.
Herbie O’Connor is a well-known local antique dealer and skilled furniture restorer and French polisher. Herbie’s father was also in the antiques trade, making Clodagh the third generation of the family to make her way finding treasure in the old.
“It’s in my blood. I grew up with it,” she says. “My mother was very involved in the business too and she had a great eye. I think it is something you either have or you don’t.”
Sean previously worked as a pharmacist but recently traded in prescriptions and pills for antique dealing full-time.
The pair now spend a lot of time travelling across the UK and France (and sometimes America too ) seeking out antique and vintage gems for their shops.
They started out on these excursions in 2011 with a Transit van borrowed from Herbie, but the buying trips have proved so successful that they have just taken delivery of their own 18 tonne truck to load to capacity with their one-of-a-kind finds and bring back to their customers in Mayo and Galway.
Flick through any home interior magazine these days and you will see that vintage and ‘shabby chic’ is still very much the look du jour.
The style blends country cottage quaintness with the fashionably faded elegance of a French chateau, and it is showing no signs of going away.
For Clodagh, the enduring attraction of these styles is practical as well as emotional.
“I think since the recession in Ireland we’ve become much less of a throwaway society,” she says. “People bought a lot of pine in the 1980s and ‘90s and now they are sick of looking at it but they don’t want to throw it out either.
“But also, I think we want meaning in our homes, and everything to have its own story. We want an emotional connection and a lot of people are likely to have that connection with something that was in their mother’s house or their grandmother’s house.”
A huge part of The Gaiety’s business is its Annie Sloan paint range and The Gaiety is the only Mayo stockist of the exclusive paints.
For the uninitiated, Annie Sloan chalk paints are an absolute must-have material for vintage upcyclers.
“You don’t need to prep, prime or sand and it can just transform pieces of furniture, like a drab pine table, into something really beautiful,” says Clodagh, who uses the paints extensively herself in her upcycling and restoring work.
Clodagh went to train with the brand’s creator, Annie Sloan herself, before she could become a stockist and The Gaiety’s fortnightly workshops in chalk painting are, more often than not, fully subscribed.
For Clodagh, who went back to her antique roots because she wanted to do “something I love, something I’m passionate about”, it has been an extremely fruitful four years and even she did not fully anticipate how quickly the business would develop.
They now employ 11 people and offer an interior design business, their courses are fully booked, and The Gaiety is also starting to sell its finds wholesale to eight or nine select stores across Ireland - not too shabby at all.