Rethinking life has Upside for friends
Two women are making it their business to make interior design accessible to everybody, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
WHEN Nawel Kouadri and Al Birbeck met doing an interior design diploma course at the Senior College in Dun Laoghaire, they became not only firm friends but business partners too.
Though they come from different countries, they have a lot in common. Both are married with two children each and both wanted to change their careers. Consequently, they have recently set up the Upside Design Studio in Dalkey, Co Dublin, which is all about upcycling your home and furniture, giving it a new look without breaking the bank!
Nawel Kouadri, from Paris, moved here five years ago with her two boys, Kenzi and Noah aged 12 and 10, to join her French Algerian husband Khalid, who had already been here for a year working with an IT company. "I had been working in tourism in Paris for 10 years but when I arrived in Ireland I wanted a complete change of career so I went back to college for three years to do interior design."
Al Birbeck, who is a local girl, had been working in IT for 10 years with both Microsoft and McAfee. "There was a lot of travelling involved in my job which I found difficult to juggle with two young children, Anna and Katie, now aged 10 and 14, so I got out of that lifestyle."
With her husband, Andrew, who is a writer, the family moved to west Cork in 2002 and bought an old farmhouse which they spent a considerable time renovating and redecorating. However, having lived in the city all her life, the rural dream did not live up to Al's expectations and they moved back to Dublin in 2006. The positive side to the 'country idyll' was that Al had really enjoyed the experience of renovating the old farmhouse, so decided to concentrate on interior design.
Whilst doing their diploma, Nawel and Al were constantly looking for ideas for a business that would be a little bit different in the interior design world and would also be accessible to more people.
When Al's husband gave her a Christmas present of Quick & Easy Paint Transformation, a book by English decorator and paint developer, Annie Sloan, it proved inspirational for the two women.
"When I moved here from France, I was really amazed when I saw all the lovely furniture people were throwing out of their houses into auction rooms, and even onto skips. During my first year here, I saw my neighbour throwing out all of these beauties because they were dark wood or perceived as 'dated'.
"Everything seemed to be about MDF and cheap materials. I was really shocked because they were wonderful solid wood pieces and the aesthetics of classic pieces are beautiful, all the work, all the detail. We decided to source some old furniture and start to redesign and give them a modern touch to see how it worked," said Nawel.
In March 2011, the women opened the Upside Design Studio based in The Tramyard in Dalkey Village, focusing on upcycled furniture and interiors with the motto of 'reuse, rethink, redesign'. They contacted Annie Sloan and became stockists of her paint, about which they are very enthusiastic.
"Annie Sloan created this chalk paint specially suited for wood and furniture which gives this beautiful texture. The beauty of this paint is that the chalk makes it quite thick so you don't need to prime or prepare, it goes straight on and is really easy to work with. You just have to protect it with wax at the end and you have beautiful new pieces of furniture for very little."
You can either buy redesigned furniture from Upside Design Studio or you can bring along a piece and they will do it for you. Prices for revamping start around €40 including the paint. If you want extra work such as an antiqued look, distressed or washed, stencilled, collage or decoupage, it is a little extra.
The pair are applying the same principle to their interior design projects, allowing people with a small budget to redo and refresh their interiors using what they have already or sourcing second-hand furniture.
The perception is that interior design is only for wealthy people and the two women want to make it available, accessible, and affordable. "We did the the interior design of the coffee shop in The Tramyard, sourcing all the furniture and revamping the inside as well, and the owner was delighted. We also recently did the dated living rooms in a house in Glenageary for a lady who was trying to sell her house. We changed the layout, redesigned all her furniture, and the fireplace, and it was very successful.
Nawel and Al intend opening a small unit where they can display their furniture, paints and brushes, and also sell some fabrics.
Starting in October, Nawel and Al will be running courses at the Upside Design Studio called 'An Introduction to Using Annie Sloan Chalk Paints'. The cost is €75 per session: three hours' training in basic painting, distressing and finishing techniques. You will also get 10 per cent discount on the day on any of the paints so you can go home and create that faux chateau or cool Nordic look yourself.
So get out your paint brushes. . . as Annie Sloan says, "it is a girl's paint but boys can use it". Get stuck in.
Upside Design Studio, The Tramyard, Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin.
tel: (087) 237-0949/