I didn't want it all 'perfect perfect' - like Ailesbury Road
When it came to renovating her historic Blackrock home, Danish design lover Helle Moyna was determined to preserve its lumps and bumps. It may not be "perfect perfect", but it's pretty close.
Published 28/02/2016 | 02:30
The 'pink house' on Booterstown Avenue, Dublin, will be familiar to many. Until Danish-born Helle Moyna, of nordicelements.com, and her Irish husband David bought the property in 2013, the family who lived there sold Christmas trees each December and pianos year round, and every aspirational parent in SoCoDu beat a path to the door in September in pursuit of the piano that would turn his or her child into a musical prodigy.
Helle says they fell in love with St Mary's, to give the house its proper name, instantly.
"This felt like a family home from the minute we first saw it, and I loved the fact that I could look down the road and see the sea, and up the road and see the mountains. The house had so much character, not just from the building, but from the families who had lived here before. It felt warm despite having no central heating."
As the house is a protected structure, with some sections dating from the 16th Century, planning permission was required for the renovation.
St Mary's is a house of two parts; the older 16th-Century section to the left as you face the building is believed to have been the tower of the original Booterstown Castle, while the other part is later, dating from the mid-18th Century. The walls of the older section are very thick, and a practical solution to inevitable damp issues was to place an aluminium frame inside the walls that would allow them to breathe.
At ground floor level, there is a formal drawing room floored in reclaimed, herringbone parquet. "The walls are so thick that the Wi-Fi doesn't work in here," says Helle, "which makes it the grown-up sitting room by default."
The gilt mirror over the fireplace was left for the Moynas by the vendors, who in turn had the mirror left to them by the previous owners, and the room is a showcase for some of Helle's collection of fine, mid-century furniture.
"I have been buying mid-century furniture for the last 20 to 25 years," she explains, "and I like to mix new classics and old classics. It's a service that I offer to my clients - I call it personal shopping for the home. Because of working in the UK for years, I have access to lots of designers and suppliers in Scandinavia, for which there is limited availability here as many interior design businesses didn't survive the recession."
On the opposite side of the hall is the kitchen, with two large windows facing onto the street.
"I love the fact that people wave in as they're passing, and the boys' pals call in for them on the way to school so that they can walk together."
Unusually, it's a kitchen pure and simple, not open plan, not a kitchen/dining/living space, just a kitchen. It's not a large room, and presented a tricky proposition to Helle and Morwenna Gerrard, the architect who helped her with its design, as it had two wide doorways and a chimney breast to contend with.
"The whole kitchen was designed around the light," says Helle. "It's from Swedish lighting company, Rubn, and is suspended from the ceiling by leather straps like belts. The brass frame on the marble-topped island was deliberately incorporated in the design to pick up the brass in the light fitting. I feel that brass is more in keeping with the age of the house than steel or chrome and I've used it in several places."
The kitchen was built by Patrick McKenna of Wabi Sabi, and Helle is delighted with how it has turned out, particularly the pocket doors, which slide into place to conceal the detritus of everyday family life.
"There's a drawer just for chargers, and Patrick came up with clever ideas such as the platter rack. I was fed up of always wanting the platter at the bottom; I don't know how many I broke that way."
A door from the kitchen leads into the family room overlooking the enormous back garden, which is where the family eats and watches television and the boys do their homework.
"The two sofas are by Swoon Editions, who make limited edition pieces so you don't see them everywhere," says Helle. "I didn't want anything too precious, because the boys use them as hurdles."
A guest lavatory at ground floor level is painted in a striking dark blue - Hicks' Blue from Little Greene - and tiled with Moroccan patterned encaustic tiles from Best Tile in Waterford.
"People think that the Nordic look is all black and white," explains Helle, "but there is more colour coming in. In Copenhagen there are trends in interiors just as much as in fashion, and they change by season. I'm not really into following trends and I try and keep things simple."
Suspended from the barrel ceiling over the landing between the ground and first floors is a modern chandelier designed by Helle and manufactured by Rubn to her design.
Upstairs there are three bedrooms. The boys' bedroom is located above the formal drawing room on the ground floor and would probably have been a grand reception room in the original castle. Now it is kitted out with a snooker table, games consoles and bunk beds, and looks big enough for 10 boys, not just two.
The family wet room is floored with plain Moroccan encaustic tiles in black, also from Best, that Helle says are "very practical", and the walls tiled in Metro tiles.
"I wanted a round shower curtain and I sourced one from a hospital supplier in the UK. I needed something sturdy otherwise I knew it would get yanked down."
In the master bedroom, Helle added an en suite. "But I didn't want a dark box in the room, so we designed a glass-panelled space that would be filled with light from the huge bay window overlooking the back garden."
Eventually, there will be another guest bedroom and storage space at this level, but for the moment, Helle is happy to pause while she takes stock of where the house is now - and what still remains to be done.
Helle has her studio at the basement level of the house, and hosts regular pop-up events at which she showcases some of the products from the designers that she works with.
"I like that there are no straight lines, and that little pieces of the cornicing are broken. I don't want everything 'perfect perfect' the way it would be in one of those Ailesbury Road houses - fortunately we're not in that league."
Upcoming Pop-up Fridays: March 4 and 11; Opening Times: 9.30am to 3pm at St Mary's, 54 Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock (basement entrance), Co Dublin
Helle Moyna is full of praise for the design and construction team: Extend Architects, who sub-contracted the conservation work to Anello Architects, and Howard Building Contractors.
Because St Mary's is a protected structure, if the Moynas had wanted to change the colour of the house, they would have needed to submit what's called a Section 5 request, so the house has been re-painted in Peony Prize, much to the disgust of the couple's two young sons.
Favourite piece of furniture
Helle's favourite piece is the mid-century rosewood sideboard in the drawing room, bought at auction in Denmark about 15 years ago.
I wish we could have double-glazed the windows when they were restored, but the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Conservation Department would not allow us to do that, even with special glass developed for listed period buildings.
Serious damp issues meant the basement had to be totally ripped out, drains re-routed, pumps and sub-chambers installed plus lots of fancy, giant bubble-wrap style membrane on all walls/floors etc. It was a very big job but it had to be done, because doing it later would have only risked damaging everything done upstairs.
Sunday is another day of sports for the boys. David takes Tobias to rugby, and I take Marcus to athletics and then we meet up around midday. We try not to plan too much on weekends and go with the flow, as the weekdays are so structured for us all.
I love cooking, so if we're at home I will do a roast of some kind and have a lovely family meal - just the four or of us, or with friends and family. It's proper Danish hygge with the fire on and the candles lit.
Words of wisdom
A home evolves over time, so I advise against trying to do everything at once. You need to live in a house for a while to understand it. You live in a house in a different way at different times. At the moment, I'm working with a few clients who want to reinvigorate their homes now their children have left.