Thursday 29 September 2016

Peek inside fashion designer Helen Cody's restored Victorian house

Fashion designer Helen Cody tells Weekend Extra how after 16 years, she's grown into her cherished home, a beautifully restored Victorian redbrick

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Helen Cody's bedroom.
Helen Cody's bedroom.
Fashion designer Helen Cody now cherishes her restored Victorian redbrick home.
In 2003 Helen had an extension built, running the kitchen to the full width of the building.
Sewing since she was five, Helen Cody makes all her cushions and patchwork quilts including these playful cushions.
Brightly coloured formal dining chairs.
Helen Cody's Ikea kitchen which cost about €2,000 to buy and have installed.
Helen used gold leaf to decorate vintage book covers to create a unique artwork that hangs in her showroom.
Helen loves the feel, smell and even the sound of old books.
The beautiful cornicing is one of the original features that attracted Helen to the house.
Helen Cody with one of her twin Jack Russell terriers.
Love quotes sit atop the fireplace.

When Helen Cody spotted a For Sale sign outside a double fronted Victorian terrace on Dublin's Grand Canal she wasn't going to take any chances. Having been outbid on nine other houses in her dream Dublin 8 location, she decided to bypass the agents and knock on the front door herself.

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"I was coming home one night when I saw it," she explains. "It turned out that the man who owned the house had gone sale agreed three times and had it fallen through on him. He was dying to sell and we were able to shake hands there and then."

Close to the vibrant café culture of Portobello, the one-storey, redbrick home also came with a small yard and space for a separate studio, crucial for Helen's thriving design business. But in 2000 when she bought it, her ideal home was far from peak condition.

"The work had to be done slowly and on a shoe string," she says. "I hadn't a bean when I bought it, and paid more than I'd been willing to spend." She began by hosting a 'wrecking party' and invited friends around to help rip off the previous owner's liberal use of MDF. Lifting 'manky' carpets revealed original floorboards that she was able to restore. She then opened up the dining and living rooms into one space where on occasion Helen, a huge fan of entertaining, has hosted dinner parties for 24 guests.

In 2003 Helen had an extension built, running the kitchen to the full width of the building.
In 2003 Helen had an extension built, running the kitchen to the full width of the building.

From the outside the house looks deceptively small but 14ft-high ceilings and glorious period features like the intricate cornicing in the hallway give it a sense of grandeur beyond its modest frontage. In 2003 Helen added an extension to the rear, transforming the kitchen space to run the full width of the building. Patio doors (to a charming, wooden patio area where there once was a cement yard), double lightwells over the kitchen and clever use of internal glass, mean the house is bathed in light all day.

But perhaps what contributes most to the building's big sense of character is that it's bursting with Helen's own personality.

Her name has long been synonymous with creativity and style and during her three decades in the fashion industry, Helen has dressed some of Ireland's biggest names including Mary McAleese in the 1997 presidential election, Ali Hewson and Amy Huberman. The delicate pale pink, feathered couture dress she made for Ballon d'Or Finalist Stephanie Roche in 2014 epitomised her signature look on the catwalks, but her interior style is surprisingly different.

"My work is very ethereal and romantic but I certainly wouldn't want to live in an ethereal, romantic home!" she laughs. Instead, there's a sense of vibrancy and playfulness everywhere. Sofas are adorned with plump homemade cushions some of which are embroidered with pictures of her twin Jack Russell terriers, Harry and Joe. The chairs in the 'formal' dining area sport brightly coloured, almost cartoon-like seating emblazoned with the words 'cake', 'eat', 'art' and 'pie'.

"I sort of had the idea you could mix and match them, maybe use 'eat' and 'art' to make 'tart'," grins Helen. "I think you have to have fun with interior design, it shouldn't all be beige and matchy matchy."

One of her favourite artists, Jane Muir, embodies this sentiment perfectly. "I love the innocence of her work," says Helen. "We made friends when I was living in London and I used to call into her studio all the time in Peckham just to see what she was up to and always wanted to buy everything."

Sewing since she was five, Helen Cody makes all her cushions and patchwork quilts including these playful cushions.
Sewing since she was five, Helen Cody makes all her cushions and patchwork quilts including these playful cushions.

Muir's wonderfully child-like, colourful hand-painted figures sit in several rooms, including Helen's 'showroom' to the front of the house on the left of the central hallway. She uses it to display her work and meet with clients. It's an inviting, unpretentious space where customers can browse or try on dresses whilst their other halves sit in the living room reading a newspaper. With such a personal touch it's unsurprising that so many clients go on to be repeat customers and close friends.

She's a strong champion of home-grown talent and reckons an oil painting, an intense yet strangely calming piece depicting an Oriental woman painted by fellow NCAD alumni Shane Berkery would be the item she'd be most likely to save if the house was on fire - after the dogs, of course.

A close second would be the bold, exuberant orange and red abstract work by Richard Gorman - a 50th birthday present from her boyfriend, architect Rory Murphy - that hangs over the comfy, grey Bo Concept corner sofa in the living room.

Her many canvasses and prints - some of which are her own work - pop beautifully against the palette of warm, neutral tones she's used on her walls. The living/dining area is painted in Pearl, a warm grey, from Johnstone's, the kitchen is an unctuous, almost muddy colour - Iced Frappe from B&Q - and the kitchen Light Rain, also from B&Q.

"I take inspiration from Farrow & Ball but…." she smiles. "I love bargains and closing down sales. I've more of a 'make do and mend' mantra when it comes to interiors. I think homes should be hard-wearing."

The industrial, sleek graphite-coloured kitchen is Ikea, "bought and installed for about €2,000", and two mid-century chairs were bought "dirt cheap" on eBay, stripped back and upholstered in an eye-catching lime green vintage fabric. The colour partly inspired her most recent work, a collaboration with master rug makers Ceadogán.

Helen Cody's bedroom.
Helen Cody's bedroom.

Of course homes are more than just bricks and mortar and the expectation of what we think they'll be extends beyond the physical design process. Helen had hoped to have children but in July 2003 she suffered the unspeakable loss of her newborn son, Ethan. Motherhood was not to be. She left Ireland and married but when the relationship ended she knew where she wanted to be: home.

"We've been through a lot, me and this home," she says quietly. "I feel really safe here. I close the door and it's relaxing, it's a very calm home. I know it's unusual to be in the same house after 16 years but I feel I've grown into it and I haven't grown out of it."

There may be another chapter to come. Rory, who designed her light-filled studio to the rear of the building, has suggestions for exciting further renovations. "He has incredible ideas and the trouble is, now I can't stop visualising them!" says Helen. "It's wonderful what an architect's eye can bring to a project but now I just need the budget."

Irish Independent

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