Wednesday 16 August 2017

This architect designed the most stylish retirement home for her mum and dad in Skerries

Lorna Kee became passionate about interior design as she grew up watching her parents renovate their period home. Now a successful interior architect, she's helped to create the ideal home for their retirement

Interior architect Lorna Kee and her mother in Cora's new light-filled dining area. The back is north-facing but still gets a lot of sun as the house is a bungalow.The tiles are porcelain, the wallpaper is by Harlequin and the geometric-patterned fabric on the chairs is by Romo
Interior architect Lorna Kee and her mother in Cora's new light-filled dining area. The back is north-facing but still gets a lot of sun as the house is a bungalow.The tiles are porcelain, the wallpaper is by Harlequin and the geometric-patterned fabric on the chairs is by Romo
Bill and Cora embraced the notion of a modern house, but Bill did want his antique armchair as a memento of Iona. "Daddy's throne," Lorna calls it

Back in the early to mid 20th Century, people tended to buy a house and stay in it for life. It was only in the late 20th Century that people started to have a succession of houses, maybe three or four in a lifetime; they traded up as they got more prosperous.

Now, there's a relatively new development. People have started to downsize. They're living longer, and rather than spending their retirement years tending to the many problems that can beset a house as it ages, they're trading down, buying smaller, more modern properties.

Cora and Lorna in the drawing room, which is decorated in grey and purple. The blinds are made from a Voyage fabric, which appealed to the family as it is reminiscent of a Monet painting
Cora and Lorna in the drawing room, which is decorated in grey and purple. The blinds are made from a Voyage fabric, which appealed to the family as it is reminiscent of a Monet painting

Bill and Cora Kee are typical of the current 60-something brigade; they've just moved into a delightful, brand-new detached bungalow in Skerries, and are thrilled with their new way of life.

They themselves can hardly believe how contented they are, given that they devoted no less than 38 years to renovating their last home. It was a labour of love, particularly for Bill, who did 90pc of the actual renovation himself.

David, the youngest of Bill and Cora's three children still lives at home, and the 20-something's room is decorated in soft neutrals. The headboard on his bed is very on trend with this year's top feature - lots of studs
David, the youngest of Bill and Cora's three children still lives at home, and the 20-something's room is decorated in soft neutrals. The headboard on his bed is very on trend with this year's top feature - lots of studs

Bill, who's from Co Down, and Cora, a Tipp woman who grew up in Dublin, met in 1971. They lived initially in Santry, then in 1978, Bill, an engineer, spotted a house in Lusk that he couldn't resist. "It was a big Victorian house; it was a wreck, but I loved it," he says, while Cora adds, "Bill wanted an old house, I didn't. I was always a modern girl."

Cora, it transpires, was very resistant to the idea of an old house, particularly the one Bill was keen on. "We viewed Iona [the name of the house] in February, and there was no heating. It was absolutely freezing. We viewed the sitting room, the dining room, the kitchen, and then the estate agent asked, 'Would you like to see upstairs?' I said, 'No, thanks!'" Cora explains with a recollected note of defiance in her voice, "Bill said, 'Yes, we would'. He went up, but I didn't." A couple of months passed and they didn't see anything they liked. "Then one day, Bill said, 'I'm going back out to see that house'. He rang me later to say he'd bought it. I said, 'You're joking'. Bill said, 'I'll tell you what, give me one year and if you don't like it, we'll sell it'."

Cora and Bill Kee, under Lorna's guidance, opted for high-gloss units with minimal handles. The units were made by Peter McAuley
Cora and Bill Kee, under Lorna's guidance, opted for high-gloss units with minimal handles. The units were made by Peter McAuley

That was a clever move of Bill's because of course he knew once he got Cora into the house, she, too, would fell in love with its lovely proportions and period features. Their three children, Lorna, David and Philip arrived a few years later, and then there was no question of leaving. Cora gave up work to look after the children, while Bill spent the bulk of his career with Enterprise Ireland.

There was a lot of work to be done - there was no damp-proofing, the floors were rotten, the windows had to be replaced, they had to put in a new kitchen and new bathrooms - but the basic shell was a thing of beauty, and Bill made it comfortable with his many renovations and innovations. "It was a beautiful house to bring a family up in," Cora concedes, while Lorna, now a very successful interior designer, adds, "It was fantastic for me growing up in a house like that, to experience interior design at first hand; it gave me a great grounding in how things are done."

Fast forward 30-odd years and it was through Lorna's work in interior design, that Bill and Cora created the house for the latest phase of their lives. After completing her Leaving Cert, Lorna initially studied sales and marketing, but when she started work as an assistant with furniture makers Duff Tisdall, she realised she wanted to make interior design her career, so she did a diploma in the Dublin Institute of Interior Design.That was followed by a full-time job in the area.

"It was the middle of the boom and I was asked to do showhouse after showhouse, particularly in the northside, I think I did nearly every major development, and I was given free rein to use the best of everything. Then, in 2007, people were let go and my hours were reduced, and I thought to myself, 'There's something wrong here. Time to go out on my own'," Lorna explains.

The bedroom in Cora Kee's Skerries home
The bedroom in Cora Kee's Skerries home

She also decided to further her qualifications in the field and did a degree in interior architecture in Griffith College. And, despite the recession, she hasn't looked back. "I work with a lot of architects and I'm usually involved in a project from the very beginning. Interior architects work from the inside out. We work well with architects, but we think differently. I'd be very concerned with storage. I love glass, but I find if a house is all glass, it can be like a car showroom. Also, you need walls for art. I don't like too many roof lights; you need ceilings for dramatic pendant lighting. And floor-to-ceiling windows can be difficult; you need space for curtain poles," Lorna explains pragmatically.

One of the many jobs she's undertaken in recent years were the showhouses in The Links in Skerries. Coincidentally, Cora had seen the development in its infancy back in 2014 and got interested. "I never thought I'd shut the door on Iona, but in the last five years I'd been thinking I'd like to be within walking distance of shops and cafes. I always loved Skerries, and this is only 15 minutes' walk to the town," Cora, a keen golfer, says.

Cora Kee's bathroom in Skerries
Cora Kee's bathroom in Skerries

Then one day Lorna's parents came to see how she was decorating the showhouses, they liked what they saw and began to see the potential in the development for themselves. They wanted a three-bedroomed bungalow and managed to get the only one. It's north facing, but because it's a bungalow, they get plenty of sunlight in their back garden.

They were worried about moving from the peace and quiet of a detached house to an estate, but because of the levels of insulation, there is no unwanted noise. The windows are triple glazed and the solar panels mean the heating and water bills are reduced.

Lorna and Cora Kee
Lorna and Cora Kee

And given that they had their own personal interior designer to walk them through every design dilemma, they have had no problem turning the house into a little paradise. They got rid of most of the antiques, and opted for modern designer pieces. One of the few concessions to the past is Bill's Victorian chair. "We went for the exact opposite of everything we had," Cora says. Because it's so near the sea, Lorna suggested a slightly nautical theme - blues without the red - and they chose very luxurious wallpapers and fabrics. Cora loves all the new conveniences, including her first ever en suite. "It's just a dream," she says.

And she has her own little TV room. "The secret to a happy marriage is two TVs," she says with a laugh.

Lorna and Cora Kee favourite room in Skerries. Patio.
Photo: Tony Gavin 28/6/2017
Lorna and Cora Kee favourite room in Skerries. Patio. Photo: Tony Gavin 28/6/2017

While she and Bill love all their new toys, Lorna, who was thrilled to marry her husband - lighting designer John Colville - in Iona before the parents sold it, has a hankering to do exactly as her parents did all those years ago.

"I'd love an old house to do up, I'm actively looking for a place," she enthuses. And the great thing is her dad Bill will be there to help herself and John if she does.

See keeinteriors.com

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan

Photography by Tony Gavin

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