Designs on a new life: A passion for interior design
Audrey Reynolds chose to stay at home to bring up her two daughters but, with the girls all grown, she embarked on a new career that embraced her passion for interior design. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Though we might all be a little bit obsessed with Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In philosophy when it comes to combining work and motherhood, there are still some women who believe in giving up work when they have babies – women who believe in giving the role of mother their all, at least while the children are young and need looking after.
Full-time, stay-at-home parenting is the most challenging job of all, and anyone who choses to do it full time is to be admired, particularly as there's a serious downside: what to do when the children no longer need you?
The dependent years pass very quickly, and many of these women are at a loss when the kids hit the teenage years and after-school activities absorb their free time. The hours can hang heavily, and it can be hard to re-enter the workforce. It's amazing how quickly a skillset can become obsolete these days.
However, many women use the new freedom to reinvent themselves, and that's exactly what interior designer Audrey Reynolds has done.
Born in Sutton, Audrey lived in Howth most of her life and, after school, went into the financial-services sector. By then, she had already met her future husband. "Keith and I were childhood sweethearts. He lived in Sutton, I lived in Howth. My friend went out with his friend. As a foursome, we did everything together," the pretty brunette recalls with a laugh.
They married when Audrey was 24 and, shortly afterwards, her eldest daughter, Emma, now 19, arrived and, at that point, Audrey made the decision to stay at home. Three years later, she gave birth to Amy and she knew she was in it for the long haul. She was at home for 15 years in all.
"You can stay at home for years, and you do lose confidence. But you can reinvent yourself, and the great thing is you know yourself better, so you can pick something you enjoy doing," Audrey says, adding, "When Amy went to secondary school, I decided to study full time at the Dublin Insitute of Design, as I had always loved interior design."
Though Audrey hadn't acknowledged it to herself, the seed of her interest in houses and interior design was sown way back, in her childhood.
"Both my parents had a great eye. Mum was a model, and worked in the fashion business, and Dad was an engineer and collected antiques. He was really into aesthetics, and he instilled that love of old furniture and beautiful things in me," Audrey says. Interior design was, in other ways, too, an obvious choice for Audrey – she had a lot of practical experience of doing up houses, starting with her first house, which she bought when she was 19. "Mad, I know," the fortysomething says with a laugh, "that was a fun project, and I sold it a couple of years later and made a lot of money."
She and Keith, who's in a business providing stainless steel to the pharmaceutical and building industries, had several houses over the years, and Audrey renovated them all.Like most modern women, Audrey wanted a large, open space incorporating the kitchen, dining and living areas, and it delivered on that, too.
So, interior design was right up her street and, when Audrey qualified in 2008, she worked in The Good Room, in Kinsealy, as well as doing projects for some private clients, including the interior design of her brother Peter's shop, Suits in Fairview. Then she met Arlene McIntyre and Jurgen Riedel, a really talented couple who combine their talents – hers in interior design, his in construction – under the umbrella of Ventura Design. Together, they work on projects, both here and abroad. These include hotels, hospitals and offices, as well as private homes.
"I actually got chatting to them at the Ideal Home Show 18 months ago," she says. "Arlene had designed the show house there. We got on so well that they asked me to come and work for them, and to run the Ventura Collection, which is located in Fairco House, in Santry."
The Ventura Collection covers practically everything for the house, including bespoke panelling, flooring, wallpapers, fabrics, furniture, lighting.
Much of the range is designed by the couple themselves, but they also sell high-end ranges, including Eichholtz furniture. "They work with a chandelier factory, and we have the most amazing chandeliers. We also have these great sculpted lights from Egypt, and we source our own silks from Turkey," Audrey enthuses.
Audrey loves the products she sells so much that a lot of the furniture in her lovely home in Sutton comes from Ventura. She and Keith bought the large, detached, five-bedroomed house in 2007. In sharp contrast to all her previous homes, this was brand new, built by Peter Small, of Thornwood Construction. This is their fourth home – the third was a large Victorian house in Howth, which Audrey had gutted and renovated. "We had done everything to it – new kitchen, new bathrooms, we put in Belle Cheminee mantelpieces, ebony wide-plank floors. We spent €60,000 on windows alone," she recalls. "An old house can be a money pit and, to be honest, I think it wore us out."
When Audrey saw the brand-new houses being built by Peter Small in a lovely location on the road to Howth, she decided one of them would be perfect for herself, Keith, the girls and the family pets – Toby, the sausage dog, who is a bit persona non grata, as he tends to tear the carpets to shreds, and Herbie, the bichon frise.
Audrey loved the design of the house, with its large, welcoming entrance hall floored in travertine marble, its elegant reception rooms and cosy TV room. It's flooded with light – the kitchen has two sets of double glass doors to the gorgeous garden and, throughout the house, there are distinctive, extra-large windows.
Like most modern women, Audrey wanted a large, open space incorporating the kitchen, dining and living areas, and it delivered on that, too.
The kitchen units – by Tierney Kitchens – are painted cream, and these are teamed with French marble worktops. Marble is used on the floors, too, except in the living rooms and bedrooms, which are all covered in mushroom-coloured carpets.
Audrey's personal style is classical. She opts for muted shades also in the wallpapers, which are by Zoffany, and the silk curtains, which are used on all the windows. She chose to add personality with a blend of new and old, including heirlooms from her father's collection.
"I just have a few little pieces I got from him, like the firedogs in the fireplace," she says. "They're just sentimental value, really. And I like to mix antique and modern," she says.
She also likes to use dramatic pieces of art, and hanging on the walls are prints by Picasso and Modigliani.
"They are just prints," she points out. "I suppose I like a classical decor, with just one outstanding feature. It can be a painting, a print, or a piece of furniture. Then I like the rest to be elegant and understated." And she can't resist adding, "Just like the Ventura Collection." Ventura cult, more like.
The Ventura Collection, Fairco House, Old Airport Road, Santry, D9. Open Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 6pm. See www.ventura.ie and www.fairco.ie
Email audrey.venturadesign@ outlook.com
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