The house listener- Peek inside the renovated house of interior designer Belinda Rohan
Belinda Rohan is a petite, softly spoken blonde but she has no problem dealing with big, burly builders, and she found the perfect person to help her renovate her house.
When Belinda Rohan announces - as she gives the tour of her exquisitely renovated home - that her husband met the builder for the first time the day the work finished, it's difficult not to be flabbergasted.
Builders are notoriously tricky, often sexist, and Belinda is a petite, softly spoken blonde, not the type one could imagine standing up to a bolshie, burly builder. Of course, looks can be deceptive and Belinda is well able, and deals on a daily basis with all types of builders - the majority of whom, she says, are quite reasonable to work with.
Belinda is an interior decorator by profession, but unlike many in her profession, she deals with more than just the interior decor. She often does jobs that require structural knowledge of plumbing and carpentry for bathroom and kitchen design.
"I love all sides of the business. It makes you a better designer if you understand how things work, in relation to pipes and sanitary ware. I understand spaces, where the floor joists are to go, what you can and can't do," Belinda explains, adding that it is also crucial to find the right builder. "I spent longer looking for the perfect builder than my husband," she says, only half joking.
It was through renovating houses for herself and her husband Paul - whom she met through mutual friends in O'Reilly's pub in Sandymount - that she happened upon interior design as a career. Prior to that the pretty Wexford woman had worked in insurance. "I'm from Gusserane near Campile, in the heart of the country. There wasn't a lot of interior design there when I was growing up," she recalls with a laugh.
She met Paul when she came to work in Dublin; he's a financial consultant with a background in banking. He specialises in payments technology and has just written a book on the subject. "It's about PSD2, this is new legislation which is going to be rolled out across Europe. His book explains it all in plain English. He consults in London a bit and can be anywhere in Europe at any stage," she notes.
The couple have three children - David (14), Anna (12), and Stephen (10) - and when the eldest was born, Belinda decided to become a full-time mum. "While I had given up work, I needed something; there's only so many lunches you can freeze for babies. I needed to be stimulated. I had a real interest in design and I used to drive my husband demented bringing him to see houses, so I went back and studied design. It's something I'm passionate about. I did numerous courses, one online first, and then I went back to college, to the Institute of Design," Belinda explains.
She also gained a lot of practical experience before setting up her business five years ago. She and her husband moved four times before ending up in their current home, and she renovated each of their homes herself. She also did renovation projects for family. "Then my husband said, 'It might be an idea to stop working for nothing.' So I started taking on clients and their projects," she says.
Typically, unlike many interior designers, who come in at the end of the renovation when colour schemes and furnishings are necessary, Belinda says she likes to come in at the beginning. From then she can source all the appropriate tradespeople. She often sources the architects and engineers as well, though will, of course, work with those who are already on a job.
By coming in early on a project, Belinda says she can get a good understanding of the clients and their needs and desires. "I like to spend a lot of time with the client to get a feel for what they like and don't like. I like to listen to them, and find out their preferences before I put a scheme to them. Listening is the most important thing. But as you're getting to know them, you're working on the layouts of the rooms. I have 3D software and can do Cad drawings," she explains.
Belinda is adamant that she doesn't follow or impose trends, she follows clients' requirements. "What most people want is luxury with comfort. Clients of mine were teasing me that they don't get the same enjoyment staying in hotels any more because their own house is like a hotel but a cosy version. What people want are open plan spaces, it's all about kitchen/diners and islands," she notes, adding that bathroom fitouts are also popular.
"Panelling is starting to get big again, there's a big demand for wood floors and while people still like grey, they also want pops of colour." When it comes to fabrics, wallpapers and soft furnishings, she has a great system worked out. In her office at home she has a library of fabrics and wallpapers and paints and can transport them to the job or she often invites clients to her house where they can see her recommendations in a practical setting. These include her own designs for sofas, console tables and furniture units. "I think it's all about testing and trying. I test things in my own home and see if they will work for my clients," she explains.
Belinda and Paul bought their detached home in Blackrock, south County Dublin, nine years ago. "We had lived in a different house in Blackrock, 65 parties came to view it the first day it went on sale. It was in pristine condition, I couldn't do another thing; it was time to move, I was ready for the next challenge," she recalls, adding that they looked at a lot of houses before settling on their current home. "Paul said, 'I'll buy it if we don't have to look at another house'," Belinda says with a laugh.
The house was 30 years old and needed work.
They moved in in 2007 to get a feel for the house, then moved out in March 2008, had the work done and moved back in the following September. In that time, Belinda had the original 1,800sq ft increased to about 3,000sq ft. She converted the garage into an office for herself, converted the attic into an office for Paul and a bedroom for Anna, and added a huge kitchen/dining area full of space, storage and light, with sliding glass doors to the garden.
She also enhanced the sense of space downstairs by installing double front doors - and they lead into a gracious hallway - and double doors from the kitchen to the garden. She used panelling to great effect.
The colour scheme is soft and restful. This is emphasised by the absence of a TV - it transpires it's hidden away in a cabinet designed by Belinda for that very purpose. Practicality underpins everything, with elegant yet wipe-down wallpapers and fabrics.
And like her designs for her clients, it's all about luxury and comfort combined. The proof of the success of Belinda's formula is that she likes nothing better than staying in and enjoying her own home. "My husband calls me a squirrel, I'm a real home bird. My treat is to light the fire on Friday night and relax," Belinda explains. And she has the perfect place for that.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan.
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine