If you told interior designer Sara Cosgrove just a few months ago that she would be one of the stars of one of RTÉ’s most popular shows, she would have thought you were joking.
But not only has she seamlessly joined the three-strong team of judges for the new series of the interiors programme Home of the Year, she is also holding her own against some strong personalities in architects Hugh Wallace and Amanda Bone.
“It’s such a fun show and a very positive format,” she told the Irish Independent.
“I have done no TV whatsoever before this and if you had told me even six months ago that I would have featured on an RTÉ show, I would have just laughed at you. It was so left-field, so unexpected and it happened so quickly at the time that I didn’t get much time to think about it. I’m kind of glad about that because it’s so far out of my comfort zone.”
A Trinity College graduate, she has an impressive CV, given that she started off her career interning with designer John Rocha. She studied at KLC School of Design in London and built up her client base for more than a decade, working with celebrities like Bruce Willis, developers, hotel groups and private home-owners. She also worked as head of design for Harrods.
She and her family moved back to Ireland five years ago and she runs Sara Cosgrove Studio in Dun Laoghaire.
But it was all thanks to lockdown and taking the plunge on social media that led to her coming to the attention of the programme’s producers, ShinAwil.
“Social media is something I always felt I should do more of but I'm very busy and could never figure out how to get into it. When lockdown happened, I was working with someone in the UK and they were like, ‘Sara you’ve just got to get out there and do it, that’s the only way to get into it’,” she said.
“I started doing a little Insta Live every Thursday and I was just interviewing creative people that I'd been interested in. It was very niche, not about interiors but more about creative people that I'd come across in my career that I had really loved.
“And the producers came across that and that prompted them to pick up the phone. I went in, met Amanda and Hugh and they liked what they saw. Three weeks later, I was on the road heading down the country. It was all pretty frantic.”
The three judges have very different approaches when it comes to casting an eye over a house and Sara said they often spend up to eight hours in any one property. There’s just one episode left until the grand final on Tuesday, March 29, as an overall winner is picked from the seven finalists.
Sara said that for her it’s all about getting to know a person through their home.
“My approach is not ‘would I go in and live in this house?’ It’s about me trying to understand the individual home owner, the passion, the pride, the sweat, blood and tears that they’ve put into it.
“And actually seeing, ‘How does it make me feel, how is the flow working and is this a home I'd like to spend more time in?’ It wasn't about me putting my own personal aesthetic on every house and saying, ‘Does this fit the bill?’
“And each judge has their own approach about how they value a house. For me, it was very much, did I get a sense of the homeowner, does the house have flow, does it work, was there a sense of fun or good energy?”
As for the surge in home renovations after lockdown, Sara said we have all just stopped hiding from the problem areas in our houses.
“All those niggles that you kind of ignored because you were too busy going here, there and everywhere, suddenly you couldn’t ignore them anymore. You were nearly forced to sit down and look at them, like that leaky tap or the lack of storage - things you always meant to get around to doing.
“So it definitely heightened our understanding of the importance of getting good design into our day-to-day living. And then what Home of the Year does is turn that up a dial because you get to travel all over the country from the comfort of your own sofa and learn by other people’s journeys.”
Home of the Year airs on RTÉ One on Tuesday at 8.30pm