Ballyfin Demesne: The Restoration of an Irish Country House

Friday, January 31st • 11 am | Nina Campbell in conversation with Fred Krehbiel, Jim Reynolds and Colin Orchard

American businessman and art collector Fred Krehbiel along with Irish Master Gardener Jim Reynolds and English Interior Designer Colin Orchard appear together for the first time to share the restoration odyssey of Ireland’s Ballyfin, an 1820’s Regency manor house situated on 614 acres in the Irish Midlands. Moderator Nina Campbell, world renowned interior designer, guides the conversation among the three visionaries who dedicated a decade to the renovation of Ballyfin—a testament to Irish art and architecture. The home was built for Sir Charles Coote and remained in the family for 100 years until the owners sold the house to the Patrician Brothers who ran a much loved school. When Fred purchased the house in 2002, he and Jim greeted the project with enthusiasm because the “pristine state of ruin” allowed them the aesthetic authority to return the house and grounds to the original splendor of a 19th century Irish country house built for entertaining. Today Ballyfin is a five-star luxury hotel featuring 21 individually designed rooms and suites, lavish interiors decorated with Irish art and antiques, and rolling private grounds including a man-made 28-acre lake, ancient woods, follies and grottoes. Ballyfin continues its legacy of hospitality, where former pupils are now employed in the great house and greet visitors from all over the world with a warm Irish welcome.

Fred Krehbiel  

“We have a special place for historic houses in a ruinous state. Nothing better than wandering past falling columns into dark, damp rooms with collapsing ceiling, rotting floors, broken windows yet still so magnificent and filled with stories of past glories, eccentric owners, impending disasters. These places call out to be remembered and restored to the life they once knew.  BALLYFIN’s call had to be answered and we did!”

Fred Krehbiel is the owner of Ballyfin, a neo-classical manor house built in the 1820’s for Sir Charles Coote and considered the most lavish Regency mansion in Ireland. When Krehbiel and his wife Kay purchased the 614 acre estate in 2002, it had fallen into disrepair after being used as a much-loved boarding school run by the Patrician Brothers. Because the house was in a “pristine state of ruin”, the project was greeted with enthusiasm and Krehbiel began returning the house and grounds to their original 19th century splendor. During the nearly 10 year restoration, Krehbiel highlighted the talent of Irish craftsmen who retain traditional building skills and were able to repair elaborate inlaid floors, gilding, and stucco work. Every single aspect of the house from the roof down required attention. The aesthetic sensitivity of the owners combined with the local building expertise resulted in one of the finest restoration projects ever completed in Ireland. Krehbiel’s devotion to authenticity included locating original Coote family portraits, silver and china. In addition to the house’s original artwork, the Krehbiels also display their own collection of Irish fine art from the mid 17th century to present. From the Irish words, An Baile Fionn meaning, “the fair place”, Ballyfin is a testament to Irish architecture and history. Today, Ballyfin is a world-renowned five-star luxury hotel with accolades including Conde Nast Traveler #1 Best Hotel in the World and Travel and Leisure #1 Top Resort Hotel in Europe. 

Krehbiel currently serves as Partner at KF Partners, LLC and was formerly the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Chairman of Molex Incorporated, a leading manufacturer of electrical and electronic interconnecting products, founded by his grandfather. 

Krehbiel’s career also includes serving as a past Director of Northern Trust, Tellabs, Inc., Devry Inc., W.W. Grainger and the Chicago White Sox. He is the co-owner of Mountain Travel Sobek and a Trustee of the Chicago Zoological Society, Rush University Medical Center, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Lyric Opera.  

Fred is also a life member of the board of the Chicago History Museum, Hinsdale Community House, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Avery Coonley School. 

Krehbiel graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lake Forest College in 1963. In his free time, he enjoys hiking and collecting Irish Art from the 17th century to the present. He is happily married to Kay Kirby Krehbiel and together they have two sons, William and Jay. They are the proud grandparents of four lovely grandchildren.  

Jim Reynolds

Jim Reynolds serves as the Managing Director at Ballyfin Demesne in County Laois, Ireland. Reynolds is also well-known in Ireland for his personal gardens, Butterstream, which delighted the public and received the prestigious “two-star” rating from the Good Gardens Guide in the UK. 

Reynolds’ horticultural knowledge and individual talent are seen in all of his projects, and especially in the restoration of the gardens and demesne at Ballyfin.  Having helped in locating the property and in negotiating the purchase from the school which then owned it, Reynolds served as Director of the Restoration programme, appointing the design team and leading the project.  Reynolds’ master gardening skills were required to re-establish 614 acres of parkland, ancient woods, Ireland’s largest man-made lake, and a four and a half acre, walled garden which provides cut flowers and fruit, vegetables and herbs for the hotel.  With a landscape that had evolved over 250 years, Reynolds rebuilt crumbling walls, an Edwardian rock garden, a medieval-style observation folly, and a hillside grotto. Reynolds also incorporated a striking new landscape element with a monumental stair-step cascade where streams now descend from a serene classical temple. 

Reynolds’ career in gardening also includes his work at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin, where he created a peaceful refuge for guests of the hotel with a classical 18th century style town garden evoking the elegance, grace and romance of bygone eras.  

A former archaeologist, Reynolds possesses immense knowledge and passion for the medieval period, social history and the origins of garden design. Reynolds was a self-taught gardening expert in the 1980’s, when his hobby began to gain acclaim among garden visitors and a growing number of private clients who sought help in restoration projects and in the creation of new gardens.  In 1989 the Irish Times asked Reynolds to write a weekly gardening column.  In the 1990’s he chaired The Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Committee, a project which assisted in the revival and rescue of 30 major Irish Historic Gardens under the aegis of the Irish Department of Tourism and the European Commission. 

Reynolds grew up on a farm outside of Trim, County Meath, Ireland where he resides today.

Colin Orchard

Colin Orchard is a London-based interior designer particularly well-known
for his adaptation of the classic country-house style. A former Colefax &
Fowler designer, Mr. Orchard trained under the firm’s decorating doyenne
Imogen Taylor for eight years. Soon thereafter, he created his own
Chelsea-based firm in London. Rising to the modern-day challenge at
Ballyfin, Mr. Orchard was tasked with researching historical colors, furniture
collections, lighting plans, decorations and furnishings. With Mr. Krehbiel’s
extensive collection of decorative and fine arts, as well as with carefully
curated antiques sourced from England and Ireland, Mr. Orchard created a
collection of 22 rooms and suites and relaunched the Irish country house of
Ballyfin into the #1 Top Resort Hotel in the UK and Ireland for 2018.
Mr. Orchard spent six years working on the Ballyfin transformation. “We
had to give it an extraordinary amount of attention to detail to do it justice
and to bring it back to life.” “Each room has to have its own identity and its
own sort of character.” With distinctive color themes and furnishings in
each room, Colin paid homage to classical elements while combining
artistic flair to the guest rooms as well as the State rooms. The restoration
aimed to return the house to the original purpose of elegant entertaining.
Today, Mr. Orchard is listed among House & Garden magazine’s Top 100
interior designers with projects in grand homes in America and the United

Nina Campbell

Nina Campbell is one of the world’s most respected and influential interior designers. Her design expertise is unparalleled and her client list reads like an international ’Who’s Who’. Renowned for her contagious wit and brilliant sense of personal style, her interiors appeal to both young and old and work perfectly in both contemporary and traditional settings.

Nina started her design career at the age of 19 when she worked as an assistant to John Fowler at the prestigious Sybil Colefax & John Fowler Company.

With her unmistakably rich and elegant colour palette, Nina’s work caught the eye of club owner Mark Birley, who asked her to redecorate the famous Annabel’s private members’ club. This relationship was so successful that they combined forces once again in 1970 when they opened Campbell & Birley, a shop in London specializing in ‘unashamed luxury’. It was here that Nina launched her signature ‘hearts’ design and this timeless motif is still available on a range of fine bone china.

In 1972, Nina set up her own business, Nina Campbell Ltd, where one of her first commissions was to decorate Cullen House in Banffshire, Scotland. There followed the opening of Nina’s shop and design studio on Walton Street in London’s Knightsbridge in 1984 where she continued her fabric printing as well as expanding her business into the wider decorative arena.  In 1990, Nina launched the first of what was to become her annual fabric, wallpaper and trimming collections, internationally distributed by Osborne & Little.

The interior design side of the business continued to flourish with notable projects including the Savoy Hotel lobby (with David Linley), the Hotel Parc Victor Hugo in Paris, the Groucho Club in London, the Campbell Apartment Bar at Grand Central Station, New York, the New Sheridan Hotel, Telluride Colorado, and the Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham, England. Nina also designed Outlaw’s Restaurant at the Capitol Hotel and parts of the Draycott Hotel, both situated in central London.

2015 saw the opening of her second London showroom in the prestigious Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, providing a further opportunity for clients to view her latest collections as well as consult with her expert interior design team.

Nina continues to work on a variety of prestigious interior design developments both internationally and at home.  Recently completed and ongoing projects include:

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