Gandeur on a budget
It’s said you shouldn’t take your work home with you, but graphic artist and interior designer Carla Benedetti did just that to create a house that’s both welcoming and inspiring.|Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
There’s a series on British TV called Through the Keyhole, which films celebrities’ homes, before having a panel of people guess who lives in them based on glimpses of the interior.
If shown shots of the Sandymount home of Carla Benedetti and Jason Clarke, the panel would have no trouble guessing that creativity is very important |in their lives. There are lots of random |large letters and signs, as well as |a good selection of fabulous framed photographs, which mirror the couple’s professions — Carla is a graphic artist and Jason is a photographer.
But other features might confuse the panel, such as the interesting use of grey, random items, such as a real milk churn, |and the juxtaposition of industrial-style elements, including scaffolding-effect wallpaper, and the exposed brick walls, with the elegance of dazzling chandeliers and marble mantelpieces.
The reason is that Carla is also an interior designer and uses her house, not only to create a charming yet cosy home for herself and Jason, but as both an experiment and a showcase.
“It’s the only place to test things,” |she says. “I suppose I’m my own client. |I always want things to be better,” Carla says with a laugh.
Though Carla’s accent and her turn of
phrase are, delightfully, pure Roscommon — “good woman” is one |of her favourite expressions — the surname gives away the fact that her dad, Sergio, is Italian.
“He’s from north of Venice,” says Carla. “When people hear my name, they expect a dark Italian, then they meet me and go, ‘Oh!’”
Carla inherited her artistic talent |from her father, who started off his career as a mosaic artist.
“He came to Ireland, to Roscommon, to learn his trade when he was 16,” she tells me. “Two other Italians, two brothers, came, too, and they all worked for Mosaic Ireland.
“Together, they opened a mosaic factory called Mosart Studios. It’s mainly a tile business now, although he still fixes the odd mosaic in churches.
“He was a bit of a dude around town until he met my mother, Marie. I’ve three sisters, and we say that Dad is blessed among women, but he insists he’s cursed, surrounded by us.”
Sergio was very supportive of Carla’s talent and, after her Leaving Cert, she came to Dublin to study visual communications at DIT, specialising in |typography, followed by a masters in the legibility of design and type for the visually impaired.
After that, she worked in DIT doing
corporate design, before moving on to the Whitespace Publishing Group, where she did the graphics and design for various publications. “Then I thought, ‘I could do this for myself,’” she says, “so I went out on my own.”
Calling her company designetc, which built a strong portfolio of clients, including Cafe Sol, Momuse jewellery and Baxter and Greene Pizza Bar.
Even though Carla has crossed over |to interior design, she continues to work on graphics for some of her clients.
“It’s really been word of mouth,” |she says. “The architect on this house, Paul Sinnott, has also started recommending me to a lot of his clients, and that’s a nice accolade for me.”
While Carla has always been fascinated by interiors, decorating her own home really piqued her interest in pursuing this line of work as a career.
The property is her and Jason’s second
home together. They met while she was working at DIT.
“I was the corporate design officer,” Carla says. “I was trying to develop |a brand for DIT, but it was all over |the shop. We needed a library with images, and we were looking at a few different photographers. At the time, Jason seemed the most creative, |so I gave him the job — and me.”
When they got together, they sold |the houses they each already owned and bought a place in Goatstown.
As the years passed, the couple decided they’d like to try a different neighbourhood, so they sold again |at the height of the property market.
However, when the market crashed, there was nothing suitable for sale, |so they rented for three years while looking for their dream home.
In the meantime, while working |in Sandymount, they fell in love with |the welcoming village atmosphere.
One day, they noticed a “For sale” |sign on a three-storey house opposite |their office.
“Jason came and looked at it, then |I did,” Carla says. “We liked it, so we signed the deal. I think we would have gone down the country otherwise.
“Coming from the country, where you know everyone, to Dublin, and knowing
no one,” she says, “here, at least, I know the faces.”
However, post-purchase dissonance did set in for a while. “It was in rag order. Everything was damp and one part of it was totally condemned. I nearly got sick, thinking, ‘This is a money pit,’” she recalls, and her recollected feeling of horror, four years later, is almost palpable.
And, of course, it did cost an enormous amont to renovate — new electrics, windows, damp-proofing and new floors all had to be taken care of, though her dad provided all the tiled and slate floors.
However, once the architect worked out a way of renovating the house, giving it an edgy new look, Carla was able to creating a home and an interior design she was happy with.
“I suppose the house was a frame,” |she says. “We didn’t hugely change |the plan of it — in some ways, there wasn’t a huge amount we could do |in terms of changing space. It was two rooms over two over two, and it still is.”
Yes, the reception rooms at ground level are virtually the same as before, as are the bedrooms above, but the whole garden level has been changed — the condemned area was knocked and a new space created, which incorporates a
lounge area.They filled this with light by making it double height, with an outside wall made almost entirely of glass, as well as two large skylights.
This area, as well as Carla’s office above it, and the bathroom above that, were built onto the existing house on which Carla kept the original brickwork.
“The builder thought I was bonkers,” she says with a laugh.
Where the reception room, at the |back of the house, once had a window, there is now a viewing gallery onto the kitchen/lounge area, and Carla’s office has a similar feature.
Other structural changes include the reshaping of the front bedroom, which used to be extremely large — spanning the width of the front of the house — |but has now been modified to include |an en suite for the back bedroom and |a walk-in wardrobe linking the two.
The builder also thought Carla was mad for opting for grey walls, but she disagrees. “It’s cosy, it suits us Irish,” |she says. “It embraces the weather, the wildness in Ireland. But we’re lucky |to have so much light coming in.”
Carla and Jason put all their budget into the rebuild, and, with little or nothing left over for decoration, they had to be inventive, but she is very good at that. She wanted a “New York-style
kitchen”, and got bespoke furniture manufacturers, Rhatigan and Hick, to help her design a painted kitchen with wooden units and a basalt island incorporating the sink, freezer and dishwasher. Carla prefers when things do not look too streamlined, so she added her own touches.
“I wanted a bit of rough, so, for the utility room, instead of a door, I put old
scaffolding planks on a runner,” she says.
Carla made a shelf out of old bicycle parts and used rolls of wallpaper as artworks. She also bought some old frames and put unusual pictures inside.
The walls feature lots of Jason’s photographs, including some he took on a mission for Plan Ireland, which was turned into an exhibition. Other features include a collection of heads, and Carla
also has a thing for animals. She has two delightful dachshunds, Ruby and Ben, who add to the welcoming feel of the property — the floor of which has animal-skin rugs from Ikea.
The overall feeling is of a house that |is striking, dramatic and bold.
“Everyone who comes in here admires the way I’ve done the house, yet I think people are often afraid to create a look
like this in their home,” she says. “I like to come into a place and you don’t know where to look because there’s so much |to see, but without it being tacky or too Alice in Wonderland.”
She can be assured that it’s neither.
For Carla, tel: (086) 823-6323, |or see www.designetc.ie or www.facebook.com/carlabenedetti