Life Home & Garden

Sunday 25 September 2016

Peek inside pilates instructor Eva Berg's upside house

Pilates Instructor to the stars Eva tells Weekend Extra why Scandinavian inverted houses are turning conventional home layouts on their head

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

The house is built from cedar wood, and is based on the designs of Norwegian homes.
The house is built from cedar wood, and is based on the designs of Norwegian homes. "I picked that wood because over the years, that’s going to turn an even deeper silver. I wanted the house to look almost like driftwood and to blend into the landscape," she says. "That was the whole point, for it to look like naturally-weathered bark."
Eva by the staircase. Behind her hangs a tactile lamp inspired by jellyfish that she picked up in Paris.
The upstairs kitchen and dining area is designed to catch the light and capitalise on the scenic views of the garden and surrounding greenbelt area.
The home studio where Eva teaches reformer Pilates. She was the first in Ireland to offer the intense workout which helps improve strength and flexibility.
The walk-in refrigerator. Eva rarely eats out, so she frequently has guests over for dinner parties. Her partner Alan used to work in the culinary industry and is, she says, a fantastic chef.
Epsom salt baths have become a weekly ritual for Eva to soothe aching muscles after work.
Eva's bedroom, on the ground floor of the house. She chose earthy shades of grey and beige to inject warmth into the room.
Eva picked up this colourful selection of baskets at a Spanish flea market.
A pair of statues from Burma and a souvenir box from China.

On stepping into Eva Berg's stunning cedar wood home in Rathmichael, Co Dublin, you're struck by the feeling that things have been turned upside down - the bedrooms are downstairs, and the kitchen and living area are upstairs.

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The concept of inverted living is the norm in Scandinavia, where houses are designed to capitalise on scenic views. In an elegant but comfortable reflection of Scandinavian design, Eva's kitchen has floor-to-ceiling windows and a deck to enjoy the woodland views of the surrounding area. Although she's just minutes from the N11, Eva (48) describes the beautiful leafy area around her home as "like a slice of the countryside".

She has lived here for five years, with her sons, Aaron (20) and Gabriel (16), her partner Alan, and Ted, their mini Schnauzer. Her ex-husband is Norwegian, and it was in Norway, where she lived for 10 years, that she first fell in love with Scandinavian homes. "I found the houses to be fantastic," she says. "They're very eco-friendly, very warm, and very easy to live in. I always wanted to build a Scandinavian house here when I moved back."

This proved to be no small feat. When she returned to Ireland, the Pilates instructor - who now counts the likes of Lorraine Keane, Enya, Caroline Harrington and Alison Doody among her celebrity clientèle at The Secret Pilates studio in her home - struggled to find a place to live.

Amidst soaring house prices, she worried she'd have to give up on her dream home, until her parents suggested she buy the piece of land next to their house. But her troubles didn't stop there - it took four years to get planning permission. Eva persevered through seven refusals: "I just kept going, because I didn't have any other option. It was stressful, but eventually I got it, and I'm so glad now." With permission finally granted, she bought the cedar wood house from an Austrian company, and it was delivered by a fleet of trucks in a flat pack, like something you'd get from IKEA. A team of Austrian carpenters came with it, and spent two months putting the house together before Eva could move in.

However, just after the house was built, she received a call from her neighbours while she was at work. There had been a fire, caused by an electrical fault, which destroyed a third of the house, and left her home so ruined by smoke damage that Eva and her family had to move out. "You couldn't live in it. On top of that, we weren't insured, so it was a really difficult time. I had to rent a house for a while, and then eventually we re-did the house. It's been a labour of love - I would do one room, then when I had the money I'd do another room," she explains. Over the next couple of years, Eva created a simple but beautiful look that nods to the warm minimalism of Scandinavian design. "This style is me," she says. "It needs to be very functional and very simple." She also notes how her work as a Pilates instructor has influenced her approach to interior design: "I'm a bit of a control freak, but you have to be very disciplined doing what I do."

Epsom salt baths have become a weekly ritual for Eva to soothe aching muscles after work.
Epsom salt baths have become a weekly ritual for Eva to soothe aching muscles after work.
The house is built from cedar wood, and is based on the designs of Norwegian homes. "I picked that wood because over the years, that’s going to turn an even deeper silver. I wanted the house to look almost like driftwood and to blend into the landscape," she says. "That was the whole point, for it to look like naturally-weathered bark."
Eva by the staircase. Behind her hangs a tactile lamp inspired by jellyfish that she picked up in Paris.
The upstairs kitchen and dining area is designed to catch the light and capitalise on the scenic views of the garden and surrounding greenbelt area.
The home studio where Eva teaches reformer Pilates. She was the first in Ireland to offer the intense workout which helps improve strength and flexibility.
The walk-in refrigerator. Eva rarely eats out, so she frequently has guests over for dinner parties. Her partner Alan used to work in the culinary industry and is, she says, a fantastic chef.
Eva's bedroom, on the ground floor of the house. She chose earthy shades of grey and beige to inject warmth into the room.
Eva picked up this colourful selection of baskets at a Spanish flea market.
A pair of statues from Burma and a souvenir box from China.

Almost all of her furniture is second-hand, and Eva gave the pieces new life with a wash of paint or new upholstery. "There's nothing overly expensive in this house. Everything is either recycled, second-hand, or from Dunnes Stores. I'm on (second hand sales website) DoneDeal quite a lot - you can get great things on there!"Mixed in with these simple, neutral pieces are unusual, one-off items that Eva and Alan picked up on their travels. Travel, she says, is their one indulgence, and they usually make one or two big trips a year. She has recently returned from a trip to Calcutta, and at Christmas they will be heading off to Peru and Bolivia.

Her sons join her on about half of the trips, or she and Alan will go alone while the boys visit their dad. "When it's just the two of us, we tend to really rough it and go backpacking," she says. "Because we have to travel very light, we might just bring one small thing back with us to remember the trip. We have shelves by the stairs full of souvenirs from places we've been."

They also go on a lot of short city trips around Europe, which they can afford to do through home exchanges. As well as being a personal preference, the minimalist design of her home makes it ideal for guests staying for the weekend. "We try to keep the house very simple, very clean, and very habitable for a stranger to walk in," she explains.

Eva's love of travel and exploration is deep-rooted, as she has been jetting across the world since she was a child. Her parents lived in the Middle East for 40 years, and have only recently retired to Ireland.

Born here, Eva grew up in Dubai, before moving to a boarding school in Switzerland when she was 15. She returned to Dublin to study fashion design at NCAD, but went back to the Middle East after she graduated to work as a wedding dress designer. However, a year later, Eva was finding the work too stressful. When she met her ex-husband and moved to Norway, she decided to make the change over to fitness. Today, Eva has been teaching Pilates for 20 years. For many years, she hopped from studio to studio, renting spaces where she could. But she knew she wanted a studio of her own, filled with natural light, where clients could have some privacy during class.

Having done her initial training in California, she hoped to reproduce a taste of the US state in her home studio. She sees clients of all ages, from 14 to 82, and teaches some of Ireland's most recognisable personalities and sports stars.

"Since I moved here, there are much more men coming than there were seven or eight years ago. When I started, it was mainly dancers, but now it's every kind of man coming. They see the rugby players are doing it, and they think, 'OK, it's not such a girly thing to do anymore!'"

It hasn't been easy, but now that Eva has found the perfect place for her work, she couldn't be happier: "The studio is my favourite part of the house. It's been a lot of work, because I started out dragging mats, balls and rings in and out of church halls all over Greystones, Delgany and Glasthule. The dream was to get my own place and to have it here, in such a beautiful space that I can completely control, makes me so happy."

Eva's tips for a home gym

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Natural Light is Key

The home studio where Eva teaches reformer Pilates. She was the first in Ireland to offer the intense workout which helps improve strength and flexibility.
The home studio where Eva teaches reformer Pilates. She was the first in Ireland to offer the intense workout which helps improve strength and flexibility.
The house is built from cedar wood, and is based on the designs of Norwegian homes. "I picked that wood because over the years, that’s going to turn an even deeper silver. I wanted the house to look almost like driftwood and to blend into the landscape," she says. "That was the whole point, for it to look like naturally-weathered bark."
Eva by the staircase. Behind her hangs a tactile lamp inspired by jellyfish that she picked up in Paris.
The upstairs kitchen and dining area is designed to catch the light and capitalise on the scenic views of the garden and surrounding greenbelt area.
The walk-in refrigerator. Eva rarely eats out, so she frequently has guests over for dinner parties. Her partner Alan used to work in the culinary industry and is, she says, a fantastic chef.
Epsom salt baths have become a weekly ritual for Eva to soothe aching muscles after work.
Eva's bedroom, on the ground floor of the house. She chose earthy shades of grey and beige to inject warmth into the room.
Eva picked up this colourful selection of baskets at a Spanish flea market.
A pair of statues from Burma and a souvenir box from China.

An ideal home gym has lots of natural light pouring in through the windows, as it adds a vibrant, energising feel and helps boost your energy level during a workout.

Choose a good room

"I've been in a lot of clients' home gyms, and they tend to put them in the worst room in the house," says Eva. Some people think that any spare room, basement or attic can work as a home gym, but as Eva points out, then you won't want to go there: "If you're trying to encourage yourself to exercise, why would you put it in the coldest, darkest, most miserable room of the house?" Instead, she recommends using a space that is comfortable, warm and pleasant.

Make it Yours

For Eva, that means hanging colourful paintings to enliven the room, as bright colours are good for your mood. You may want to install a wall-mounted TV or stereo speakers so you can watch your favourite series or listen to music while you work out. Others may enjoy posters with motivational quotes or pictures to encourage them to perform better.

Styling: Nikki Cummins Black

Photography: Gerry Mooney

Make-up: Paula Callan, for callanberry.com

Clothing: Eva wears clothes throughout from Brown Thomas,

brownthomas.com, and jewellery from Loulerie, loulerie.com

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