There used to be a popular TV programme called Mr & Mrs, in which couples were split up into separate booths and quizzed about each other's more arcane tastes and preferences, and, depending on how many times each one guessed the other's answers correctly, they got prizes. A simple, repetitive, yet strangely compelling formula – it was always surprising how little even long-established couples seemed to know about each other.
Hermione Duffy and her husband, Mark, are a couple who possibly wouldn't fare too well if they ever had to play Mr & Mrs. In fairness, this assumption is purely based on the fact that, when the Louth couple were looking for a house four years ago, Mark came home saying he'd seen a great place in the seaside village of Blackrock, but he was certain that Hermione wouldn't like it. As it turned out, he was completely wrong.
"We always wanted to be beside the sea," Hermione says. "We wanted something original, yet simple – nothing flashy. We used to cycle around looking and, one day, Mark came home and said: 'I've seen a house. You're not going to like it, but go up and have a look.'" So Hermione did.
"It's on the opposite side of the road to the sea, and I remember coming around the corner, seeing a lovely drive with all these old houses dating from the Fifties," she says. "It was a gorgeous evening and I remember thinking, 'It's perfect. It's west-facing and it's a bungalow, and I can turn it into something else.'"
The cupboard came from an antique shop in Carlingford, and Hermione painted it in Farrow & Ball’s Arsenic
Of course, what Mark wasn't taking into consideration is Hermione's talent for design and interiors, her facility with all things visual. A gifted woman, she has had a hugely varied background, both in terms of education and experience, in fashion, art and interiors.
Indeed, given that her dad, Fergus Flynn Rogers, is an architect, her whole life, from her childhood in Dundalk, has been informed by architecture and all things house-related.
The walls in the living room are in Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Grey, while the grey velvet carpet is from Ulster Weavers
"I just love design. I love colours, fabrics, shapes – what you can do with them, how they can transform even the dullest space," Hermione explains with passion, adding, "Yet I never wanted to be an architect. I saw too much of the stress side of it with Daddy."
Instead, when she left school, she opted to study fashion in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. After finishing her degree, she went for a year to Cordwainers, the famous college in London specialising in shoe design. "Mummy was a hippie when I was growing up in the Seventies, and never wore high heels, but my grandmother was very glamorous and, when I was a little girl, I'd go to her house purely to try on her shoes," Hermione says. "I loved shoes."
London was followed by a spell in New York, where she was offered a job in shoe design. However, she had met Mark, who's also from Dundalk, before her departure, and the lure of home was too strong. "We met in the rugby club. Mark had already worked abroad in San Francisco and he didn't want to leave again, so, instead, I came home and got a job with Pat McCarthy, then a menswear designer. In NCAD, I had done purely fashion design. With Pat, I was concentrating on fabrics, so that was great new experience," Hermione says.
The curved hallway.
After four years with Pat, she went back to the shoe business and started her own shop in Dublin. It was in the late Nineties/early Noughties, so, unfortunately for Hermione, it was a bit before young women had the disposable cash for beautifully designed shoes. However, she looks back on that three-year period as a valuable part of the learning curve, particularly given that she now has her own business as an interior designer. It's a bit of a leap, from finding the perfect shoe for someone, to doing up a client's house, but, in fact, the psychology is similar. In both, as Hermione discovered, you're dealing with something fundamental to a person's psyche. For women, shoes, like houses, are very personal.
"The shop is probably the best psychological lesson I ever got in dealing with people. All personalities came into the shop, and learning how to cope with their different ways and tastes was invaluable. It was great for learning how to run your business," she maintains.
After three years of running the shop, it became difficult logistically – Mark's work as a helicopter pilot led to a job for him in the west, and Hermione became pregnant with her daughter, Esme, who is now 11 – so she closed the business.
In 2002, Mark got his dream job as a coastguard pilot back in Dublin, and they opted to base themselves again in Dundalk, near Hermione's dad, who lives in Omeath, and her mum in Gormanston. Over time, Hermione started doing up houses, combining rearing the children – she also has Fionn, nine – with interior design. Up to now, it's been word of mouth, but, as the kids become more independent, she takes on more projects and has just launched her website.
Her own double-fronted home is a fabulous example of her work. With it, she's created a superb family home, yet has managed to retain its exterior, thus maintaining the integrity of its place in the neighbourhood.
"An architect friend of mine said, 'Hermione, it's a great site. Why not knock it down and build a totally new house?' But I couldn't do that to someone's home," she says.
The kitchen, with its curved island, is by Neptune.
Instead, with her dad's help, she completely transformed the interior, doubling the size and changing the function of the different rooms – for example, what is now the kitchen was 'the good room' when it was occupied by the previous family.
Downstairs now consists of a gorgeous kitchen to the front of the house, and a light-filled dining area, looking out on the back garden. The units are painted cream and the island is curved.
Hermione says, "My inspiration is John Pawson. Mummy gave me his cookbook with Annie Bell, and his kitchen is so streamlined. I didn't want minimalist; I wanted streamlined."
On the opposite side of the hall there are two bedrooms – for Esme and Fionn – and a bathroom, while, at the back, is a spacious living room with stairs to the upper floor, which consists of the master bedroom, en suite, a TV room and an office. Light is hugely important to Hermione, so there are large expanses of glass and light wells everywhere, but she and her father came up with many other features, including the curved hallways.
Other interesting features include the mezzanine in the living room. "If we had closed the roof in, this room would have been a bit claustrophobic, so the mezzanine space was to open it up. It turned out to be fantastic as the stove is so efficient that it heats the whole of upstairs," Hermione says.
A dominant feature is the use of colour, with particular emphasis on grey, green and pink. "I love pink, but, for Mark's sake, I had to limit the amount of pink. So grey is a good compromise," she says, adding, "It goes great with pink."
Another noteworthy feature is the lack of open plan; there are lots of very definite, very different rooms. "I like rooms," she says. "I'm not into open plan. I couldn't hack it if we were all in the one zone."
One of her favourite rooms is her bedroom, with two large windows looking out to the sea, the colour of which provides Hermione with much joy. Now, if Mark were asked which is her favourite colour, what would he say?