Wednesday 28 June 2017

My favourite room: You light up my life

Artist Tonya O'Heocha wanted lots of light for her family's home, writes Mary O'Sullivan, so she had it designed with massive floor-to-ceiling windows and she put all the living spaces on the first floor. Photography by Tony Gavin

Tonya in the dining area of her house in south Co Dublin. The extendable table is from BoConcept in the Beacon South Quarter in
Sandyford. The door opens on to a balcony to the front of the house.
Tonya in the dining area of her house in south Co Dublin. The extendable table is from BoConcept in the Beacon South Quarter in Sandyford. The door opens on to a balcony to the front of the house.
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

Unusually for an Irish person, creative consultant Tonya O'Heocha chose to have the living spaces of her new, architect-designed home on the upper floor.

Most of us opt for the more conventional format of living rooms on the ground floor with the bedrooms above, but Tonya chose the opposite layout. A fanciful explanation for her choice of design might lie in the fact that she spent 13 years in the air, flying as cabin crew with Aer Lingus, but Tonya rationalises it all in quite a down-to-earth way.

"I just wanted somewhere with lots of light, large proportions, decent-sized rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows. It's in such a quiet laneway, I wanted the house to reflect that." But she does note that the destinations she travelled to did influence her style of house. "I worked on the Atlantic route for a long time and so I had great times in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. I loved LA and I went on great holidays to places like Bali and Thailand. Actually, my travels to both Bali and LA have influenced me in the design of the house -- I think it's quite similar to the modernist architecture of Venice Beach, and both the exterior and interior are quite like the houses in Bali," she explains, adding that features such as the marble bath came from Bali.

It could also be the fact that, as an artist, Tonya craves more light than most of us; the Dublin woman, originally from Killiney, always wanted to be an artist, and she studied graphic design after leaving school. Throughout her adult life, even during her Aer Lingus days, she has worked freelance as both an artist and illustrator, including providing the illustrations for the last 18 years for Thomas Patrick, the shoe retailer.

After her studies, she would have preferred to work full-time in the more creative world of art but, as she notes, in the early Nineties there wasn't a huge amount of work for artistic types. Aer Lingus was an exciting alternative. "I only planned to stay in Aer Lingus for a couple of years but, lo and behold, 13 years later I was still there," she says.

Fortunately in those days, the mid-Nineties to mid-Noughties, the job afforded her time to do plenty of other things and the young artist, who hails from quite a Gaeilgeoir family -- her grandfather founded Ring Irish College in Waterford -- explored her talent as a painter and showed her work extensively in Dublin galleries, including the James Gallery. She also studied interior design and has an extensive client list.

During her Aer Lingus days, too, she met her husband, David Liston, originally from Ballinteer. "I met him first at his 21st, but I didn't see him again for years after that. He told me later he often thought of me, but he'd have to say that," she says with a laugh. "We met again in '95 through friends in Hogans pub near George's Street." David studied psychology in Galway after finishing school, but he always loved fashion and went immediately into the business after his college days ended.

As well as looking after their two gorgeous children -- Lucy, six, and Harvey, three -- Tonya now works with David in their fashion business which, these days, consists of fashion boutique Love & Hate in the George's Street Arcade. "I do a lot of buying with him and I also do two to three days a week in the shop," she says. "Up to three years ago, half the shop was menswear, but we noticed men stopped buying interesting clothes. So we decided to concentrate on our loyal female customers. These are mainly women aged 25 to 45 who have eclectic tastes not dictated by the high street; women who like things that are a bit quirky.

"We have some great new labels including So Couture! It's very Mad Men, and we can't seem to get enough of that. There's Fever, and the newest one to us is Uttam Boutique. Rise de la Punk is a great label, it's sort of Japanese street-style, and we have a very large selection of hats in Love & Hate, too -- berets, trilbys, caps, fedoras and, of course, lots of accessories.

"David is a great buyer. He has a fantastic eye and fantastic style. He is a huge source of inspiration when it comes to the house, too," Tonya enthuses.

With such a wide repertoire of influences and experience -- fashion, art, illustration, travel -- it's not surprising that the house is a visual delight.

The couple built the house three years ago on the site of the cottage they had bought seven years earlier. "It was the location that grabbed us, but we always felt the cottage was a bit too small for us," she explains.

Instead of living there, they rented in Waterloo Road for 10 years, but, when the children came along, they made the decision to knock down the cottage and rebuild. "We moved in when I was four months pregnant with Harvey. It was quite a stressful time -- expecting a baby and trying to make all sorts of decisions about the house," Tonya said.

Their architect friend, Mark O'Donoghue, of Moda Architects, used their brief to design the house for them and they love the way he configured and designed it.

Built over three storeys, the children's bedrooms and bathroom are on the ground floor, the master bedroom ensuite is on the third floor and sandwiched between the two is the open-plan living area, which is loosely laid out in three spaces -- the kitchen and dining rooms to the front, and the lounge to the back. Sliding doors enable Tonya and David to close the lounge off from the kitchen and dining areas whenever the occasion demands it.

From the lounge area, there is a balcony and steps down to the very private back garden.

There's also a small balcony off the kitchen allowing interaction with the street life to the front of the house.

Both the front and back have large expanses of glass with huge amounts of bright light, even on the darkest day. The white, high-gloss kitchen units add to the airy feeling, as do the white extendable table from BoConcept and the white chairs which Tonya bought in Habitat before it closed down. By way of contrast, she opted for black granite work surfaces and Neff appliances.

The lounge area to the back is also quite a white space, with a limestone fireplace from Belle Cheminee, white bookshelves which were installed by the builder, and a silver sofa from Flanagans of Mount Merrion.

However, interest is added by means of pieces of furniture from far-flung places such as Bali. Tonya and David are friendly with the owners of Decor in Wexford Street, and source a lot of pieces from them.

And, of course, throughout the house there are paintings by Tonya -- though not too many. She's a low-key person, and ultimately wanted a classic, low-key house. "I wanted something that wasn't going to be in your face," she says. Delightfully, she has created just that.

L

Love & Hate, 23 George's St Arcade, D2, tel: (01) 633-4611, or email tonyaoheocha@gmail.com

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