Design for life
Practical living at the core of the best Irish interiors of 2015
I've seen many a carefully styled home that would make an excellent living space for a family of mannequins. All very well so long as nobody moves a muscle. But there's much more to designing an interior than making it look stylish.
Some designers forget the obvious - that a home needs to accommodate movement. Real people don't stay still. They move constantly from room to room. They charge around, losing their keys and trying to catch the dog. They want to run back and forth to keep an eye on the kids while they're cooking the dinner. And they need secluded places where they can hide from each other.
Interestingly, good circulation is something the three best interiors of 2015 have in common - as judged by the Disrupt IDI Design Awards 2015 which were announced last week. The awards cover many aspects of design, one chapter of which is Residential Interiors.
The three interiors shortlisted for this particular award are very different from each other, but they all feature inventive ways for people to circulate within the building.
The winning design is for a home that, until recently, was a derelict Victorian house in Sandycove, Co Dublin. The rooms were dark and claustrophobic with a leaking roof, cracked windows and rising damp. Then Gillian Sherrard, interior architect and owner of the house, got to work. She reversed the traditional pattern of circulation within the house and made a lot of other changes.
"We turned it upside down," says Sherrard. "We put the kitchen upstairs with a direct connection to the top level of the garden. And we took out the south-facing walls and replaced them with glass. I'm allergic to the glass box look, so we broke up the expanse of glass with fine window bars that gives the rooms a warehouse feel."
Sherrard demolished the existing return and replaced it with a new structure where exposed roof joists increase the sense of being in a loft. In the old part of the house, she knocked through the floor to convert two of the old bedrooms into a double-height library with an elegant open staircase.
In terms of furnishing, the house is peppered with French antiques. They range from highly decorative mirrors to a dining table from the Champagne region, bought at Buckley's Auction for around €2,500.
The antiques are combined with contemporary and classic furniture, such as a pair of clear Perspex chairs, also from Buckley's and purchased for €10 each.
"Transparent furniture is a great way of creating the impression of space," she says, pointing out that the rounded chairs complement the shape of a circular antique table while providing, at the same time, a contrast in styles.
The panelling is off-white, except in the sitting room, which has walls in a warm dark grey. A soggy climate like ours, she feels, needs at least one dark and cosy space to retreat into.
Paul Keating's design for his own house in Kinsale, Co Cork, was Highly Commended. Like Sherrard's house, this isn't a cosmetic job. It's a large scale re-imagining. As an architect, Keating was able to extend his "old crappy 1980s bungalow", almost doubling it in size.
"When you walk in the front door you can see right through to the back of the house, so you know exactly where you are," he says. "I hate to walk into a house where you're met with a closed hallway or a dark corridor."
Another feature of the design is oversized corridors, eight foot wide. Inspired by the great Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, Keating noticed that children prefer to circulate through the open spaces in the house than to stay in a designated play area.
"They like to congregate in leftover spaces. We did build a playroom but more play goes on in the corridors. My six-year-old daughter rides her bike around the bottom of the stairs and there's a cubby hole underneath where we can stash the toys."
Because the way that a family moves around a home changes over time, the interior design has to be flexible.
Also Highly Commended, the interior of a house in Ballsbridge, Co Dublin, was designed by Kingston Lafferty for a growing family.
"First and foremost this was an interior architecture project," says Róisín Lafferty.
"Circulation was a key consideration. At the moment the children are young, so we created different routes throughout the home so that they could play freely, while creating a balance between open family space and private grown-up space.
"The parents are young, so they wanted somewhere exciting and unusual to entertain their friends. Over time, they can adapt the house for their changing needs without another investment."
In terms of decoration, Lafferty tried to avoid following specific trends.
"There are lots of influences, but they're all very personal to the family who live there." She was able to cut costs in some respects by designing the panelling from scratch and mixing up paint from Dulux to their own recipe, rather than using a more upmarket brand.
The dining table is also Kingston Lafferty's own design (from €900) and the chairs, which have the look of mid-century classics, are good quality knock-offs from CA design.
These include the Panton style chair (€250), the Eames style DSW chair (€220) and the Charles Eames style lounger and ottoman (€1,895).
Respectful of client confidentiality, Lafferty isn't revealing her sources, but the spectacular trumpet-shaped pendant lamp in the library has the look of the Eichholtz Miles Davis Lamp (€1,192), which is available from Houseology.
For more information on the products mentioned, see: idi-design.ie; keatingarchitects.ie; sherrarddesign.com; kingstonlaffertydesign.com.