State of grace - peek inside the home of interiors guru Jennifer Grace
Interiors guru Jennifer Grace is known for creating gorgeous homes, down to the perfect room scent, so it's hard to believe she's only been in business for five years.
Anyone over the age of 50 will remember 'the good room' in the family home; it was a thing, around the middle of the last century.
Families were big, there wasn't a lot of money, and homes weren't stylish, but even the most harassed mother tried to have an-out-of-bounds-to-the-children area reserved for visitors, which was called the good room. The good room in every home had a uniform look: a patterned carpet, velvet curtains, a three-piece suite, a coffee table and a few ornaments were the order of the day.
Interior designer Jennifer Grace has opted to call her interiors business in Malahide The Good Room, but while the name may pay homage to the women of Ireland's earlier attempts at interior design, her Good Room is a far cry from the bland, frugal style of yesteryear.
The Good Room is a large showroom broken into intimate room settings, all delightfully decorated in the most on-trend shades, and furnished with luxurious sofas and armchairs covered in stunning fabrics. The room settings come complete with gorgeous ottomans, bookcases, shelving units, mirrors, lamps, cushions and curtains.
You can buy practically everything you want to make your home stylish here, and if it's not available off the shelf, Jennifer will have it made to order.
It's such a comprehensive service, it's hard to believe that Jennifer has only been doing interiors for five years, since her mid-30s; she had a varied career as a PA for some top businessmen before she branched out.
It seems, though, that the can-do attitude of top entrepreneurs like Feargal and Eamonn Quinn, with whom she worked for several years, rubbed off by osmosis, and she also cites her husband, Eddie, as a major influence in her finally starting her business.
However, Jennifer does remember having being keenly interested in houses back when she was a teenager. "I was forever changing our house. At 14, I was doing the decoration myself," the pretty brunette notes with a laugh. "My dad was a carpenter, and, at weekends, I used to go to building sites with him. He did a lot of apartments in Sandymount, and I've gone back since to do up some of the apartments and thought, 'I remember this. I was here as a child'."
Yet, at the time of her Leaving Cert, she didn't think of putting her interest in interiors to practical use. School wasn't a big thing in Jennifer's house when she was growing up, to such an extent that she neglected to go in and sit all her Leaving Cert subjects. "I did four subjects and I got four honours. I didn't go in for Irish, maths or geography, but I went back a year later and passed, so I do have it," she says, setting the record straight.
Instead of going on to study interiors when she left school, Jennifer, who is the second youngest of four, did a secretarial course and went travelling with a friend to America, Indonesia, the Fiji islands and Australia for 18 months, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
"I'd have happily stayed in Australia;
I made great friends there. I came back to pay off my credit card, and then I met Eddie," Jennifer explains, adding, "I'd love if we had gone back to Australia together, but I couldn't take him away from his dad, Tim, who was a lovely man."
It may sound bizarre that a grown man had to be there for his father, but both Eddie and Jennifer felt Tim had already endured enough, having lost his wife in the Dublin bombings in 1974. "It was a sequence of events that led her to Talbot Street that day. What happened was Tim - who was MD of Evode at the time - broke his toe and couldn't drive to work, so he stayed at home. His wife, Breda, wanted to go to town, but the buses were on strike, so she drove Tim's car into the city centre and got caught up in the bombings," Jennifer explains.
"Tim was distraught; he blamed himself," she says. "He didn't know what to do with Eddie, who was a toddler and adopted, so he sent him to Breda's sister, Nora, to be looked after in Kerry. Eddie is still very close to his cousins there. When Tim came to his senses, he took Eddie back, and the two were very close, until he died some years ago."
Two years after Breda's death, Tim started his own business, Irish Building Chemicals, which Eddie took over and has recently rebranded as Surfasology; the company specialises in structural waterproofing.
Throughout the couple's courtship and marriage, Jennifer continued to work as a PA, first with the estate agents, Hamilton Osborne King (now Savills Ireland), where she was often called on to show clients around showhouses - Jennifer used to daydream about doing them up herself. Afterward, she got a job with Superquinn, and here she was involved in doing up the offices, and so her interest was piqued again, this time to the extent that she started doing interior-design courses and loving them. While she was on maternity leave with the second of her two children - she has Rosanna (9) and Sophia (6) - she got the opportunity to put her new expertise into practice when she was offered a three-month contract working in a local interiors shop called Out Of The Blue, now closed. "I was a good customer, and the owner asked me to help out and I loved it," Jennifer recalls. "Eddie was so encouraging. He said, 'Why don't you open your own business?'"
So in 2011, she started a design consultancy in a premises in Kinsealy. "I had to sign a lease for five years and it was very slow to take off. I thought, 'I've made a terrible mistake', but after 18 months, the clients started coming," Jennifer notes. "I had amazing clients who started getting me to do their whole houses, knocking walls, building extensions. Malahide people are amazing. I was going home to Eddie, saying, 'I can't believe they're letting me do this'. I had imposter syndrome, but they worked out. Of course, I did make mistakes in the beginning, but I acknowledged them and made up for them. There's nothing that can't be fixed," she notes calmly.
She is quick to point out that she liaises with an architect, Jane English, and an engineer, Conor McGrath, and they also have expert cabinet makers, a range of craftspeople, and she employs five design consultants. Eddie is a director of her business, and a great support.
Things have gone so well that Jennifer recently relocated the business to her new showrooms in the centre of Malahide village, which, at 2,800 square feet, are treble the size of the original showroom. "It all works because of the great staff I have. They're so creative and efficient," Jennifer enthuses.
She's also pushed herself further by starting a fragrance shop in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in D2 called Bark & Berry - it's very high-end, with interiors gifts and luxurious room fragrances, specialising in the Dr Vranjes range, but she hopes to include perfumes of all kinds shortly.
Jennifer's own home does, of course, smell divine, and is superbly furnished. The couple bought the house 14 years ago. A 1970s four-bedroom detached house, it was very dated, with woodchip wallpaper, and shagpile carpets throughout.
They did up the house by degrees. Then, two years ago, they moved out, and did a complete renovation by adding extensions to both the front and the back, greatly increasing their living spaces.
They also added lots of light by installing big expanses of glass, putting pale flooring everywhere and furnishing the rooms in luxurious neutrals. And, of course, there are no 'good rooms' in this house - the family live in every inch.
The Good Room, 1 Steeple View Court,
Malahide, Co Dublin, tel: (01) 845-4494, or see thegoodroom.ie
Bark & Berry, Unit 14,
Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, D2, tel: (01) 679-8269
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin