The house that love built - Peek inside interiors store owner Siobhan Lam's home
Interiors store owner Siobhan Lam on how she and her husband transformed a dilapidated gem
Your front door is so much more than just the entrance to your home - it offers visitors a glimpse of your personality. Outside Siobhan Lam's red-brick terraced Dublin home, the playful turquoise door promises a whirl of colour and creativity inside. On stepping through the door, guests will not be disappointed.
Born in London to an Irish mother and a Chinese father, Siobhan moved to Ireland aged five, and is now the owner of online interiors shop April and the Bear. She shares this bright, spacious house with her husband Jamie Hughes, a retail manager, and Gizmo, their four-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix.
However, their Portobello home wasn't always so cheery. When Siobhan first came across the period property, every bit of its original character had been stripped away or plastered over.
"When I first came in, I was like, 'absolutely not'. It was disgusting," she recalls with a grimace. "It was covered in pitch pine, there were little hobbit doors, and it was so dark. It smelled gross and there was mould everywhere. Clearly, there was absolutely no love there at all."
But after close to three years of feverish house hunting, they decided they could transform the dilapidated old house into the jewel it was meant to be. "It took a lot of imagination to take it to where it is today. We knew it was a great structure, we just had to decide if we were ready for all the work."
At the time, the property was split into three bedsits. They knew they could only afford the house by living on-site and taking on most of the work themselves, so they moved into one of the bedsits while getting to grips with the rest of the house.
"It was really hard work," says Siobhan, who was working as a fashion buyer for Arnotts at that time. "By day, I was looking fabulous, but then I'd go home, take off my lovely clothes, put on my gross overalls and get to work. There'd be days when my supplier would turn around and say, 'You've got paint all over your hair.' We were living in a skip, basically. There were piles of dirt and dust but we knew what we were doing."
She describes the renovation as a very demanding process that ate up much of their free time and energy: "We were working on the house constantly - come home from work, work on the house; every weekend, we'd work on the house; any holiday days, we'd work on the house. We had builders do some things like moving joints or putting in joists, because we're not superheroes, but everything else we did ourselves. We knocked down walls, we pulled down ceilings, we put the fireplace in, we painted, we insulated, we laid the floor. We learnt a lot."
The house is still a work-in-progress, but the majority of the job took about two-and-a-half years - and it wasn't easy on the young couple. "Oh my god, we nearly killed each other," Siobhan says, cringing at the memory. "It was extremely tough. We were both exhausted from work, and then also being builders. It's not the most romantic situation in the world, but we really wanted our house to be the best it could be."
Evidently, it was worth it. Siobhan recalls her fondest moment in the house: the morning of her 30th birthday, when she stepped out of their bedroom to find the stairs laden with scraps of parchment paper, each bearing a memory from her 14-year relationship with Jamie. "I was walking down the stairs and bursting into tears reading these little stories," she smiles. "I came into the kitchen and there was Jamie in a suit and down on bended knee with a ring in his hand. I was wearing my pyjamas and I looked like a mentaller after crying for 20 minutes, but it was really sweet."
They got married last summer, and a blown-up version of their wedding invitation - a parody poster for John Carpenter's kung fu classic Big Trouble in Little China - is the centrepiece of their sprawling gallery wall.
The house is a perfect showcase for Siobhan and Jamie's playful interior design style. In the open-plan living and dining area, which flows into the sleek modern kitchen, there is plenty of cheerful artwork on display alongside an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary furnishings.
Her parents gifted them their old family sofa and dining table, which they repainted. Bold accents include a hot pink piggy bank, framed 'Mr and Mrs' Lego Batman mini-figures, a replica bull skull and an array of colourful prints by young illustrators such as Austin Lysaght and Daniel Seex. "I think the house is a real reflection of my personality and Jamie's personality," says Siobhan. "We don't take ourselves too seriously, we're not super precious about anything, and we surround ourselves with things we love."
Siobhan works from home, in a light, airy office where mood boards line the walls. "It's my little creative hub," she says warmly. "We haven't done too much to the space. It's still a very raw look with the original wooden floors, and a part of the wall is completely stripped back with really vibrant greens and yellows."
It was during the renovation that she had the idea for the shop. "I became so obsessed with the house and what we were going to fill it with," she explains. "I wanted it to be just right for us, but I couldn't find the right things, hence April and the Bear came into existence. I really wanted to create a business that was different, and to give customers an affordable alternative to the usual mainstream suspects."
April and the Bear has been up and running for two years, but Siobhan admits that she faces challenges every day to keep the business going. "It's tough. You work your butt off to get every sale, whether it's pushing your stuff in the press or finding people on social media. The country is definitely nowhere near where we were in the boom-time, but I think it's getting better."
Last year, she held two pop-up shops in the city centre, and hopes to do the same this year. "Having the pop-ups has shown me that you really do miss customer interaction," says Siobhan. "It's great when you know those events are happening and you can work towards them, so you're not just thinking, 'Jesus, I'm going to be in this office for 365 days.'"
In the meantime, she says her home fits the bill perfectly as a work space and a living space. The renovation was no easy task, but now that the dust has settled, Siobhan and Jamie have been making the most of their home.
"We never intended to buy a doer-upper," she says. "We just wanted to buy a nice, small house in the city. We were kind of at the end of our tether, and we never thought in our wildest dreams that our first house would be here in Portobello. We're so happy now that it's done."