| 8.9°C Belfast

How this former Belfast photographer’s tourism venture invites visitors to live inside fantasy worlds with a unique local theme

David Kinsella has designed three holiday homes, two on the theme of Titanic and the other inspired by an Irish fairytale, which he hopes will be a big hit in Belfast once the coronavirus pandemic had ended. Stephanie Bell hears about his dream project

Close

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

Imagine immersing yourself in a fairytale world where nothing resembles real life and everything around you is magical and designed to put a smile on your face. It is an escape from reality which many would welcome right now and which will soon be available through the opening of a unique new tourism venture in Belfast.

A Co Antrim man has spent the past two years painstakingly creating three "living" picture book style holiday homes in the Titanic area of Belfast, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Belfast father-of-two David Kinsella (55), a former press photographer, has spent the last 30 years living in Norway, where he became an acclaimed filmmaker.

He sums up what he aims to achieve with his exciting new venture into tourism: "Rather than watching a film or reading a book, we built the worlds so that local and international guests are living, sleeping, interacting, moving around and becoming part of the actual story for their stay in Belfast and Northern Ireland," he says.

"The houses are so unique, there is nothing to compare them to as this has never been done anywhere else before."

There are three houses, two of which were originally homes of workers on the ship dating back to 1860 and 1910.

The third house is close by in Victoria Park.

One of the properties is called Rose and has been designed inside to recreate the story of the Titanic.

Hand-painted by a local artist throughout, the theme follows the ill-fated liner's story from its launch in Belfast, to its dramatic sinking and features "dreaming" bedrooms with handmade Titanic ship beds.

Close

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

It also features a full-size lifeboat sofa, RMS Carpathia breakfast bar, a handmade wood burning hot tub with icebergs and small Titanic ships, as well as a outdoor kissing room on the deck of the Titanic.

The second property, Becfola, was inspired by the Irish fairy tale, The Wooing of Becfola, who went from being a penniless Antrim girl, to the Queen of the kingdom.

The house follows her love story in a fairy world forest theme with 18,000 LED lights and the story handwritten on the walls.

The story which includes vicious wolves, evil witches, a princess and fairies, can be followed by visitors who will experience a real forest tunnel, the chance to soak in the witch's cauldron hot tub or rest in the princess castle.

Victoria is the third house, which pays homage downstairs to the Titanic workers, creating what life was like in their homes, while upstairs has a first class Titanic ship bedroom, a honeymoon suite with brass beds and elaborate hand-painted walls and ceilings.

Here, the backyard has been transformed into a micro garden scene with grill and seating area.

Close

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

All three properties were due to launch in April, but have now been put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, David, who has invested half a million pounds in the scheme, is hopeful that he has created something which will not only attract international visitors, but also locals when lockdown is lifted.

He says: "We have been working on this for two years and we were due to launch in April.

"But then coronavirus come and took everything away.

"There is nothing we can do about it, but focus now on when things get back to normal. I was waiting on the fridges and cookers and other kitchen appliances coming, but then the shops closed."

David, who has two grown-up children in Norway, Daniel (23) and Sunniva (31), returned to Northern Ireland two years ago to spend quality time with his 90-year-old mum, Ray.

He had worked as an award-winning press photographer for our sister paper, Sunday Life, before leaving to live in Norway 31 years ago.

After continuing his career as a press photographer, he found a new outlet for his creativity in movie making, going on to make a number of acclaimed films through his own company, Arthouse DK.

His very first film, Love Letters from a Children's Prison, won a best feature film prize from the American Film Institute and inspired the making of the blockbuster thriller Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman.

Close

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

David Kinsella is keen to get visitors through the doors of his three properties

He says: "I've travelled the world for a few years now, making films which are a mix of fiction, animation and fact.

"Most of my films are on Amazon Prime or Sky Arts. They were never commercial films, but more cult movies on things like the ballet and I've done one on prisons in North Korea, half of which I shot in North Korea and the other half in Belfast. My creativity never ended when I left Sunday Life. Two years ago, my mother was 88 and I felt that it was time to become the son I never was and come back home to Belfast to spend time with her.

"I wondered, 'What can I do while I am here', and I am always trying to do things that no one has ever done before.

"I thought, 'How can you get what I have been doing with my movies and take it a step further', and so I came up with the idea of making these 'living' movies in houses for the tourism market. The houses have been transformed into entertainment buildings, like a living film or book, which allow people to follow the stories as they walk around," David says.

Every floor, ceiling and all the walls in each of the three properties have been hand painted by one of three artists - Katie Wade, Alexandra Demian and Ian Lowry - to bring the stories to life.

All the furniture has also been handmade in keeping with the individual themes.

Close

The Becfola House in east Belfast, themed after Irish fairy tale ,The Wooing of Becfola

The Becfola House in east Belfast, themed after Irish fairy tale ,The Wooing of Becfola

The Becfola House in east Belfast, themed after Irish fairy tale ,The Wooing of Becfola

David says: "I used three great artists who are very creative people who have done an amazing job.

"Each house it totally different and the idea is to build up a portfolio of these Northern Ireland themed worlds.

"I hope when this is all over and the houses are finally taking in visitors to go on and create more.

"I want to make people smile.

"The idea is that visitors can close the door on the real world and for a few days lose themselves in a fantasy world in the houses and fill up with energy again before going back into the reality and stress of everyday life. "

Making people smile and providing an uplifting experience is, he insists, at the heart of what he hopes to achieve with the homes..

His fantasy holiday homes have also been designed with a female audience in mind.

He explains: "Even from my early days as a photographer in Belfast, I was always looking for the good and the humanity in a tragedy.

"When I went to work for a newspaper in Norway, I was known as 'the white angel' because every story I was sent out on, even the worst tragedy, I found a meaning to life.

"Over the years, I have found that 70% of my audience were women and it is usually women who, when booking a holiday, decide where the family are going to stay.

"So I decided to hold on to that when designing the houses.

"The properties are full of beautiful paintings and sculptures and there is lots of kissing and hugging, which is all designed to help make people feel good.

"Very few people have seen the properties yet, but the few who have, when they step inside, their jaws just drop open and they smile and say 'wow' and that's what I wanted to do, make people smile.

"Especially now with this virus and the way the economy is, everyone needs something to make them smile, even it if is for just a short time

"I haven't played safe. I've invested a fortune in creating this world, which hopefully people will like and want to stay in."

It is David's hope that Tourism NI will recognise the unique offering he has created and help promote them to an international audience.

He adds: "I am offering something that is completely different and which I hope will help make people want to come to Northern Ireland even more.

"I think something different like this is exactly what is needed to get people to coming back to Northern Ireland again after the pandemic is over.

"I also hope as people start to holiday at home that they will consider the properties.

"They were designed for adults, but children will be just as enchanted by them.

"I hope when bookings do start that I can get to work on new homes," says David.

"My aim is to have six by the end of 2021 and I already have some ideas for just how more crazy I can make a building in keeping with the Northern Irish theme."

For more information, you can find David on Facebook at David Kinsella Productions

Belfast Telegraph