Reading Time: 3 minutes

The boundary between personal and public space in a Family business


The photo shows the house that Jack built, or more accurately my grandparents Jack and Mary built using their savings from working in America. They returned to County Galway in 1929 and used their savings to replace Jack’s mother’s cottage with this new two storey home. An annexe next to the home houses a ladies and gents hairdressers and a billiard Hall. A source of income for my grandparents and their growing family.

How to balance privacy and openness?

The house is the private area where my grandparents raised their family. The hairdressers and billiard hall, is the area where my family met the world. In the photo, the house door is open, reflecting another era where neighbours could walk in, there was always someone at home. The hairdressers had stricter open and closed times, but appointments were not always needed.

Is there a performative aspect to openness? What does it achieve and how?

There was definitely a performative aspect in the openness of the hairdressers. The ladies’ hairdressers soon became way more popular than the gents’ – Perhaps local women appreciated the help. My grandmother, and later my mother, were popular stylists. I am sure there were days when it was difficult for them to step over the threshold. Still they kept on, fixing up their own hair and welcoming others. Helping other women to look their best and bringing this community of women together. There’s strength in numbers.

In what ways can openness be an act of conformance or defiance?

The ladies’ hairdresser soon attracted a large clientele. To expand her range of skills, my grandmother completed a hairdressing course in Dublin. The certificate (like the salon sign) was in her husband’s name. It was the time, the way things were back then. It didn’t make a difference to what went on in the hairdressers. Times were hard, secrets shared in this hairdressers as in many others. Sad stories and happy ones. Putting a brave face on – bold hair colour, waves and curls sometimes instilling confidence where it was badly needed.

Did we feel pressured to be more open than we are comfortable with?

Yes, there were midnight calls and emergencies. Hair and individuals that needed restorative treatment. With a short boundary between Home and work, it was easy to knock on the door. Would we have had it any other way? The emergency call showed the value of what was offered. It was always possible to negotiate or say ‘no’. Come back tomorrow, the Hairdresser’s is now closed. 

Balancing privacy, openness and personal ethics

As close as they are, there is a clear boundary between the personal and public spaces. There is a sense of ‘stepping out’ from the private into the public world. My grandmother had a strong set of values and personal ethics. Impossible to leave these behind when crossing the threshold.  The house and business are joined after all, the personal and public areas are just different aspects, closely linked, a family business.

Relevance for today.

Openness and ‘putting yourself out there’ comes at a cost but offers potential to form community beyond the private space. A broader community in which we can help each other and grow.

By keeping our values, we hold and provide the space for ourselves and others to become our best selves.