The Style Counsel: How to replace those acres of beige
The boom brought us 'clone homes' with acres of beige, now with less money we want more style, writes Eleanor Flegg
THE property boom has a lot to answer for. Not least, for acres of beige and for what it did to our sense of style.
Worst of all it brought us the ever-market-ready "clone homes".
Remember the clone homes? Walnut fixtures, stone floors, and soft furnishings in forty shades of beige? That's what prosperity did to Irish interiors.
The "blandification" of homes was a consequence of the huge rise in property prices. At least, that's what Deborah Cohen argues in her 2006 book, Household Gods. Here are some of the more frightening statistics relating to the money mugging of style. In 2003, bright colours lost 7pc of their market share. Between 2004 and 2005 sales of magnolia increased by 25pc. (Shivers)
Thinking of your house as an investment, apparently, discourages risk-taking in design.
Here's how it works: If you're planning to sell your home it's advisable to put down pale carpets and paint the walls neutral. This allows prospective buyers to project their own taste onto a blank template. But it also leads to interiors with the appearance of porridge.
"During the boom there was a huge amount of pressure to keep up with the Joneses," says interior designer, Elaine McHale. "People spent a lot of money on luxurious designs and they seemed quite happy to use their architect or designer as an arbiter of good taste.
"Now they have less money and are spending more time at home. They want a design that reflects their own sense of style."
The trouble is that after 10 years-plus of boom, many people aren't quite sure what their own personal style actually is. And they have to go and ask somebody what it is they like.
That's why McHale runs a baseline interior design service called "Define Your Own Style" and costing €250 plus vat. For this, a design consultant will come out to your home, discuss what issues you have, and send you a written report with recommendations. Simples.
McHale uses a questionnaire to help people get started. Do you like linen? How about velvet? Would you consider using wallpaper? Do you prefer dining to be formal or informal? Do you like light or dark wood? Would you consider a carpet on the stairs?
"If you're paying an interior designer for a consultation it makes sense to do your homework," she explains, "the more focused you are, the more you're likely to get out of it."
At the same time, she'll be picking up clues about your taste. "If I meet a person it's very easy for me to get a sense of their style. I look at what they're wearing, the things that they have around them, the magazines they choose. . ." Some clients, like Catriona Dolan, then decide that they want to go a step further and hire an interior designer to design their home. "I didn't know what I wanted in the house," Dolan explains. "Plus there was a potential conflict situation with a husband who liked one thing and a daughter who liked the other.
"It was good to have a referee to help us create something that brought all our different tastes together into a coherent style."
Working with an interior designer helped Dolan to develop a sense of her own style and overcome a few prejudices. Initially she didn't like the colour black, but soon realised that some black accents around the house helped to define the scheme. She also found that working with a designer helped her to avoid mistakes. "I'm of a generation where your handbag matched your shoes so I wanted a carpet that matched the wallpaper!" Not a good plan. Luckily, the designer nipped this one in the bud.
Finding a good designer is a bit like finding a good hairdresser. It's an emotional kind of thing, costs quite a bit of money, and you have to live with the results. Now most good designers have websites so you can see if their work appeals to you. Then, shop around. Remember to ask if they pass any discounts on to their clients.
Larger projects are generally calculated on a case-by-case basis. The interior designer Eoin Lyons, for example, doesn't charge for the initial consultation, but expect to pay from €1,200 for a full room design. It's a hefty commitment, but for that you get a number of home visits, a fully detailed design for the room, and a shopping trip with Lyons so you can see the pieces before you buy.
Lyons finds that most of his clients are quite clued in to what they like, but some of them lack confidence in combining the elements. "If someone likes 1930s furniture, I wouldn't suggest a period room," he says. "It wouldn't be easy to live in. I'd take a few 1930s pieces and mix them with contemporary things."
You don't need a designer to apply this mix-and-match ethos at home. "Try to have at least one good piece of furniture in every room, even if the rest is from Ikea," Lyons advises. "Don't be afraid of adding a few older pieces into the mix. Nobody wants a lot of brown furniture, but one or two pieces can make the design look like it's been collected – it elevates it a bit."