Wednesday 26 April 2017

Robyn's Nest - peek inside this beautiful period house

Carol-Anne Leyden's period home was in perfect condition when she and her partner bought it, which meant she was able to concentrate purely on furnishing it.

Entrepreneur Carol-Anne Leyden in her kitchen. The stools are Norman Cherner-style bar stools and the yellow fruit bowl is made with solid oak and metal
Entrepreneur Carol-Anne Leyden in her kitchen. The stools are Norman Cherner-style bar stools and the yellow fruit bowl is made with solid oak and metal
The superb extension in Carol-Anne Leyden's home is furnished with a table from Swedish store Norrgavel and Eames-style DSW chairs from CA Design
The front sitting room is full of pieces from CA Design, including lacquered side tables from Meridiani, the Hans Wegner-style shell chair and the Finn Juhl-inspired coffee table
Carol-Anne likes to mix periods; the chandelier is antique, the table is contemporary and the chairs are mid-century modern
The chair is inspired by the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair

There are certain life-changing events that are known stress-inducers. Expanding a business is one, moving house is another. Getting married is also up there - there's a reason why brides are called bridezillas. And who ever has a first baby without also almost having a nervous breakdown?

Yet businesswoman Carol-Anne Leyden managed to incorporate all four events into the last 18 months, and is still beaming.

In fairness, all four of her big events have brought her great happiness. The business came first - she's been running CA Design in Dublin for the last four years, and having her own company was a dream come true for the young woman who was brought up in Kildare.

Her parents had their own business, and to Carol-Anne it was inevitable that she would eventually set up her own company, but it took some time before she finally found her niche. Up to then, she was too busy travelling the globe and enjoying the single life of an expat. "When I finished school - I went to Alex - I studied marketing and French in Portobello, and after that I went to Australia. Most of my friends were going, so I went for a year. I actually stayed for five years. I worked for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. I loved it, but Australia was too far away, so I came back," the bubbly brunette explains.

The superb extension in Carol-Anne Leyden's home is furnished with a table from Swedish store Norrgavel and Eames-style DSW chairs from CA Design
The superb extension in Carol-Anne Leyden's home is furnished with a table from Swedish store Norrgavel and Eames-style DSW chairs from CA Design

It wasn't long before she was off again, this time to London, where she spent four years. "Then I went to Honduras, where I worked for DigiCell for two years. I loved it there. It's said to be the most dangerous capital in the world - there was a coup and everything when I was there - but I loved it," Carol-Anne enthuses. "We were well looked after. When I went over I was project manager - they were rolling out DigiCell Honduras; and then I was made head of marketing for all the rural areas".

She could have continued with DigiCell, though she would have had to move to Haiti, but she felt by then that she had the confidence to start her own business. A furniture company started to emerge as the obvious choice. "I've always had a love for interiors, and furniture, and one night over a glass of wine with my dad and my aunt Una, we were discussing how everything is made in China, and we thought, 'Why not just go?'," the intrepid businesswoman explains. So off she went off to Beijing and Shanghai, and did a recce with her father and her aunt Una, and, as she says herself, "it just grew legs, and I set up the business".

She had always loved design classics - Eames chairs, Eileen Gray tables and many others - and she decided to explore the notion of getting them made in China. "There was no one in Ireland doing it at the time, the market in England was huge, and we thought, 'Why is no-one doing this here?' We looked into the copyright laws and they were all fine. Once a design is 25 years old, it was fine to reproduce it. So what we sell is high-end reproductions," Carol-Anne says, though she goes on to explain that the law could change this year. "If you like design classics, now is the time to buy," she insists.

The company started off small - and in the beginning her aunt Una, an interior designer, helped her to launch it - but after a short time, Una went back to her own interiors business and Carol-Anne's company took off. The sales initially were mainly online, then she had various pop-up shops, but just over a year ago, she found a superb showroom in Dunville Avenue in D6, and she's now firmly established there. "It's a great little hub; there are lots of lovely shops, it's a really buzzy area and the footfall is great," she notes.

Being a canny businessperson, Carol-Anne realises that it's not good to depend on just the one angle - in her case, the design classics, particularly given the threat that the law could change in relation to copyright, as it already has in the UK - so she's diversified, and as well as the design classics, she's now also stocking some very interesting Scandinavian design pieces and accessories, such as fruit bowls and other gift items, from Universo Positivo.

So as well as visiting her suppliers in China, she travels to trade fairs in Paris, Milan and Stockholm, always searching for new and interesting items for her clients.

The front sitting room is full of pieces from CA Design, including lacquered side tables from Meridiani, the Hans Wegner-style shell chair and the Finn Juhl-inspired coffee table
The front sitting room is full of pieces from CA Design, including lacquered side tables from Meridiani, the Hans Wegner-style shell chair and the Finn Juhl-inspired coffee table

It was quite soon after she started the business that she met her husband Conall, a writer. "He basically gatecrashed the second day of my friend's wedding," she notes with a laugh, adding, "Actually, he came along with his little sister, who's also a pal of mine; she introduced us. That was three years ago. We got married just last September. It's been a bit of a whirlwind."

The whirlwind includes the birth of their delightful daughter, Robyn, now 10 months, and the purchase, just over a year ago, of their charming period home, within walking distance of her business.

The house, which is just over 3,000 square feet, includes interconnecting reception rooms and four bedrooms. It also came complete with a wonderful light-filled extension, which incorporates a dining area - furnished with a walnut table and Eames DSW chairs - and a play area for Robyn.

"We were very lucky to get it in such lovely condition. What happened was, the couple who owned it did it up, and then were relocated abroad; they had no choice but to sell up," Carol-Anne explains, adding that a particular bonus of the house is its warmth.

The previous owner was a South African woman who found Ireland very cold and insisted on putting in underfloor heating and lots of insulation. Another lovely feature is the large window on the landing, suffusing the upstairs with natural light. There's also a delightful garden dotted with bird sculptures, as a sort of homage to baby Robyn - the parents are, of course, besotted with her.

The house dates from 1870 - its original deeds hang on the wall in the hall - and has elegant period details including high ceilings, marble mantelpieces, ornate mouldings and interesting stained glass windows, yet it's also a lovely space for displaying the kind of modernist furniture Carol-Anne stocks.

Carol-Anne likes to mix periods; the chandelier is antique, the table is contemporary and the chairs are mid-century modern
Carol-Anne likes to mix periods; the chandelier is antique, the table is contemporary and the chairs are mid-century modern

The pale grey walls covered in Farrow & Ball shades and the lovely whitewashed wide oak floors throughout the house are a restful backdrop for the many interesting pieces of furniture, most of which come from CA design. "I do love living the brand," Carol-Anne says with a laugh.

By way of contrast, there are also some great artworks which Carol-Anne and Conall have collected over the years. One of them is particularly close to both their hearts: it's a bird's nest in Perspex. "When Robyn was born, Conall went to the Oliver Sears Gallery and bought this piece; it's by Carlow artist, Sasha Sykes," Carol-Anne says.

And there's no doubt they have created a lovely nest for Robyn - indeed, for the whole family.

CA Design, 23 Dunville Ave, D6

tel: (01) 497-9553, or see cadesign.ie

CA Design's online sale starts today

The chair is inspired by the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair
The chair is inspired by the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Emily Quinn

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