Saxmundham/Ipswich: Meet the woman responsible for designing the interior of Roy Keane’s Woodbridge home
Everyone who meets interior designer Jules O’Dowd adopts a slightly frightened expression when she tells them about one of her most famous clients. But what was the former Ipswich manager really like?
Jules O’Dowd has been mixing with the stars since her school days.
“My form prefect was Helen Fielding (the Bridget Jones author) and I used to sit on the bus with (Chocolat author) Joanne Harris,” she recalls. “Helen had a Purdy hair cut and long cream non regulation socks. She was radiant to say the least and Joanne was fluent in French with glossy dark hair. I found her captivating.”
Interior designer, Jules, who is creative director of The Cotton Tree in Saxmundham, is a positive person who sees the best in everyone. She has done private client work for the rich and famous and, in fact, one of her favourite ever clients was Roy Keane.
“I did his house when he moved to Woodbridge,” she says. “People always say, ‘He must have been...’” and then they make a face, but I always say, “He was gorgeous!” because he was. “The loveliest man and so easy to work with.”
Jules reveals that Roy’s biggest concern was making sure the bathrooms in his home were organised “to get all six of us ready in time for 10am church on a Sunday”.
The two are still in touch: “I sometimes text him when I see him on TV to compliment him on his beautifully ironed shirts!” and Jules recalls “an interesting conversation” they had about their management styles.
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“He once asked what were my tips because he had so enjoyed working with my team. “I told him, ‘A boss is only as good as the slowest person. They are a metronome to the business. If you know someone is taking the business backwards, move them on.
“It was funny to be discussing management with him but managing people is the same really whatever area you work in and, essentially, we both work in a creative world.”
Jules laughs. “I wonder why Mick McCarthy hasn’t rung me up as we both come from Barnsley!”
Jules was the daughter of a nurse (Valerie) and a builder’s merchant (Keith).
She started out in nursing, gaining her SRN at St Thomas’ Hospital, but she always loved design and after completing her nursing training she enrolled at Chelsea School of Art.
“I think I knew nursing wasn’t for me when I kept getting told off for the big, velvet bow in my hair. And making things and mending had always been a way of being close to my father at his warehouse. I learned about the different kinds of threads in taps from the age of 11 when I worked there as a Saturday job.”
Jules says her design inspirations come from her two grandmothers.
“My grandma, Mary Breeze, lived in a bustling terrace in Barnsley,” she recalls. “It was immaculate in every respect, sherry glasses, feather eiderdowns and fine china and even the tea towels were ironed. My granny, Muriel ‘Bobby’ Lax, lived in a Wuthering Heights style house, the kind of place where they changed the curtains with the seasons. She introduced me to lovely prints from the fabric houses Baker and Sanderson where they print onto traditional linen. My style now is a mixture of their two influences and I always say I can design from a cottage to a castle. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true.”
As well as her famous clients (Jules won’t reveal the names of any more!), she has helped all sorts of people with their homes. “I once did loose covers for a lovely couple who taught me how to grow veg in return.”
Jules moved to Suffolk in 1997 with her husband Peter and then baby son, Louis. “I’d done some work in the county and loved it, and after Princess Diana died and Louis was born, Peter and I wanted a change from London. We lived in Kennington and it was such a sad time because a lot of the Royal household lived around there and I’d done some work for Prince William’s nanny, Nanny Barnes. Peter said one day, ‘Where do you want to live?” and I said, “I want to go over the big bridge where the sun comes up”. Peter said, “You don’t know anybody there!” But they have lived over the Orwell Bridge every since with Louis, now 17, and their other son, Henry, 12.
Although the Keanes have left the area, Jules remains a huge fan. “He was one of the most sincere, wonderful men. His wife too. Just lovely people.”
And has she ever regretted her own move to Suffolk? “I love being here,” Jules says. “The Apex, the farm shops, the amazing artisans - hand carvers, polishers, upholsterers, guilders, framers. There are so many wonderful people here.”
And Jules is one of them.
* Visit the newly expanded The Cotton Tree has now expanded now at 24 The Market Place