“I NEVER THOUGHT I’d actually live in Dublin again,” the photographer Simon Watson says. “I really didn’t.” We are within the spare, sunny kitchen of his crimson brick home in Monkstown, simply outdoors the Irish capital, the place Watson, 49, has lived along with his household since 2011. A number of years in the past, you might nonetheless purchase energy instruments and excavators on the principle road, he says wistfully, however now it’s populated by florists and occasional outlets. Still, there’s no diminishing the attract of his specific home setting: a backyard sq., a home stuffed with gentle, a view of the ocean.
Watson left his native metropolis in 1989 as a 19-year-old film-school dropout and would-be painter and ultimately landed in New York. That was a time when you might flip up in Manhattan “without a bean in your pocket,” he says, and lease a two-bedroom house over Crosby Street in SoHo for $300 a month. Watson’s life story is filled with such real-estate serendipity: He was the one who discovered a loft in NoHo simply earlier than it peaked within the mid-90s, or a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights within the early aughts, or a assortment of buildings on a distant Sicilian island on the flip of the millennium. “I bought it for a farthing,” he’ll say, or, “It was a couple of trips to the A.T.M.”
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In the three a long time since he left Ireland, Watson has turn into a prolific architectural and interiors photographer and has raised 4 kids. His training has come from the locations he’s gone and the folks he’s met: “I consider myself an educated man because I’ve spent my life traveling around the world, seeing places and experiencing different cultures,” he says, “and it would be crazy to consider that it hasn’t had an impact on my own taste.” Though, he notes, it’s much less that a specific location or design or merchandise has influenced him; what formed his aesthetic, reasonably, was the benefit with which the folks he photographed created and inhabited their areas.
THE four,000-SQUARE-FOOT Victorian the place Watson lives along with his spouse, the 41-year-old artist Christine Lebeck Watson, and their two kids, Matilda and Hugo, was constructed within the early 1860s. Many of the encircling buildings had been constructed earlier that century, within the Regency interval, and a few are even older than that: Their house is close to a small lane off Monkstown Road, the town’s main artery; instantly throughout that thoroughfare is Montpelier Parade, a quick row of Georgian homes that is without doubt one of the earliest terraces of that period in south Dublin. Just over 200 years in the past, Monkstown was largely open countryside, with an occasional mansion. Soon after, it grew to become a seaside village that Queen Victoria cherished to go to throughout her reign. The Watson home was constructed by and for the Dockrell household, outstanding Protestants whose possession of building-supply outlets made them a pressure within the development of Victorian Dublin.
In conserving with its royal affiliation, the streets between Monkstown Road and the coast are named after these in London’s Belgravia: The Watson home is on Eaton Square; Belgrave Square is subsequent to it. But these calm and comfortable backyard plots resemble their namesakes in title solely — 5 minutes’ stroll away isn’t Hyde Park nor Buckingham Palace however the fringe of the Irish Sea; a 15-minute drive will take you into the verdant Wicklow Mountains, inhabited since Neolithic instances and now a nationwide park. It is a genteel space that’s in all instructions near nature and appears undecided as as to whether it could reasonably be tame or wild.
This Victorian is the place Watson has gathered his assortment of objects. Whenever he goes someplace for work, be it India or Egypt, he wanders into an antiques store and asks, “Can you ship that to Dublin?” And this home is extra densely packed, he says, than the one the household moved from in Brooklyn Heights. That’s onerous to think about, but the inside feels extra curated than crowded: In the downstairs lounge, there’s a Shang dynasty bronze horse that was present in Shanghai, a 20th-century pencil portrait discovered on the Sicilian island of Filicudi, a textured terra-cotta cup from 300 B.C. present in Wuhan, China, and an 18th-century Three-by-5-foot oil portray Watson describes with fake grandeur as a “Raphael,” which he purchased twenty years in the past in Rome. A dinosaurlike bone within the eating room that nearly reaches Watson’s shoulder leans towards a nook and is given no provenance aside from a joke: “I had a hip transplant seven years ago — you should see the scar.” It’s truly a up to date sculpture from 1997, “Untitled (Femur),” by the New York-based Israeli artist Michelle Segre. Scattered among these pieces are delicate works made by the couple — his small graphic paintings, inspired by 21st-century Belgian artists like Luc Tuymans and Michaël Borremans; one of her pale cyanotype photograms of a length of string.
The magpie way in which these things have been collected and arranged derives not just from Watson’s inclination toward composition (“I’m always, in my mind, framing,” he says) but also from his sociability and wit. A plaster head lies on its side on a platter, as if ready to be served; a disembodied stone hand greets you at the door. By creating collisions between both geography and time, the place is “layered,” as he puts it, “with my history.”
And yet the manner in which the family occupies the space owes a debt to Lebeck Watson’s inherent stillness. Nothing is messy, but everything is relaxed: When you enter a room, you might pause to glance at the novels and monographs or the works on the walls (the 2006 Paul Winstanley landscape above a fireplace, say, or the 1998 Carter Potter celluloid strips above the couple’s bed). The idea, however, is not to admire any given space but to take off your shoes and feel the thick cream Beni Ourain rug underfoot, or to pick up a book, settle into one of the bright-striped, antique-fabric-covered sofas and look out of the sash windows across the rose-filled garden to the sea.
“ONE CAN NEVER have too many living rooms,” Watson says self-mockingly, knowing it’s the kind of thing an Oscar Wilde character might say. He has just described his home as a three-bedroom house — there are, in fact, four; the small room belonging to 4-year-old Hugo has been carved out of 9-year-old Matilda’s — which leaves out the three living rooms and comically fails to render its volume over four stories. The entire parlor floor is open, from the sitting room at the front through the south-facing dining room and into the kitchen extension at the back. The next floor, arrived at by passing a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of classical plaster casts clustered in a pale gray-painted skylit stairwell, also has a double living room, hugging the stairs in an L-shape, with a grand piano on one side and oak bookcases on the other. On the floors above are the bedrooms — the couple’s is simply furnished, with layered rugs from decades’ worth of trips to Morocco, along with a Chinese lantern above a low bed — and a sage green bathroom with a free-standing bath and a walk-in shower, built out of a formerly unused bedroom.
The Watsons didn’t have to make any structural repairs to their home: The previous owners, who had bought the residence in the late ’80s, had done the major work of converting it back into a house from a nine-unit apartment building. Instead, the couple focused on renovating the ground floor and amplifying the natural light throughout: The kitchen, for instance, was a warren of four rooms until they turned it into a 30-by-13-foot gray box with a multi-paned industrial-style window across its back. That room now opens out onto a small garden that’s at the crossroads between Tunisia and the Tuileries: Verdigris wrought-iron chairs sit beneath a palm tree, surrounded by ferns, rosemary, lavender and Japanese maple trees.
Inside, the rooms are airy, high-ceilinged and bright; the neutral gray and cream walls are overlaid with art, books and textured fabrics. Woolen Atlas rugs with zigzagging lines and repeating geometric motifs — distinct in size and pattern but united by their salmon and tangerine hues — cover the floors in nearly every room: Watson used to sell them to friends and now keeps a pile under the stoop in the entrance and swaps them out frequently for a change of color and tone. “People can spill wine on them. Babies can turd on them. I don’t care,” he says. “In fact, I think it adds to it. I actually feel that way about my entire house.”
IT WAS LEBECK WATSON who convinced her husband to come home to Ireland. When he left 30 years ago, Ireland had felt “a bit gritty, a bit dilapidated.” Decades later, “Christine pointed out how beautiful parts of it are — and the quality of life is very high.” And so they returned. During the day, the couple works in their shared ground-floor studio, sometimes going for a stroll after they drop off the children at school in the morning, or having “elevenses” together (toast, marmalade, a big pot of tea). Most evenings at twilight, the family walks down to the coast together and has a dip in the Irish Sea. “Let’s be honest,” Watson says, “when you reach a certain age, quality of life is not the fact that I can go out to a fancy meal and bump into 10 people I know. There comes a time when you just want something a little quiet, a little more pleasant.”
Lebeck Watson, for her part, had grown up on Long Island and lived in New York her entire adult life. “When you’re there, you don’t think you can be anywhere else,” she says. But Watson grins. “You know,” he adds, “New York is not the center of the world.”