Sunday 25 March 2018

Comfort zone - peek inside the colourful home of an interiors expert

Writer and interiors expert Caroline Foran is all too aware of the stresses of getting on the career ladder, and her colourful home plays a key part in her coping strategy.Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Caroline in her dining area; the Eames-style chairs are from Zinzan and the lamp over the table is from
Caroline in her dining area; the Eames-style chairs are from Zinzan and the lamp over the table is from
Caroline Foran's living room, where she likes to use neutral basics but pops of colour in disposable items like cushions. The flamingo lamp is by Rachel McCann, whose work is stocked at Detail in Arnotts
Caroline and her boyfriend Barry chose dark grey for their kitchen units, which is a great success. The worktops are made of quartz
In the chilling area off the kitchen, the leather sofa is from Meadows and Byrne, one of Caroline's favourite shops, and the mid-century-modern-style chair is from Ikea. The plants throughout the house are flourishing, thanks to Barry
Caroline's office is prettily furnished, but a special orthopaedic chair is essential for her back

Caroline Foran is the kind of young woman that others of her age envy, and it's easy to see and understand why; for a start, she's stunning looking, with the figure and poise of a model; she's got wonderfully expressive eyes, and a mane of hair to die for.

From the point of view of work, she has a great career as a beauty writer and runs a successful interiors website with a friend. On the love front, she's in a happy relationship, and she and her boyfriend own their own home.

To cap it all - and isn't this every millenial's dream - she has a book coming out in the spring. Can it get any better?

However, you won't find Caroline ever feeling smug; the clue to that is in the content and title of the book, which will be published by Hachette. It's called Owning It: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide To Living With Anxiety.

Caroline, a Northsider who studied communications at DCU followed by a master's in film and TV studies, suffered from acute anxiety, and she's not alone in that - but she is different in that she's writing an honest account of her experience and she doesn't sugarcoat it.

Caroline could write a book about many topics, including beauty and interiors, both passions of hers, and maybe she will in the future, but the anxiety she suffered during a particular period in her life took such a toll on her health that she felt that she needed to explore her condition in book form, and, by doing so, help others. "It was a hugely upsetting time. I was consumed by fear; I couldn't leave the house; I didn't know what was happening to my body, or what was happening to my brain. There isn't enough help out there for people in the state I was in, and I want to change that," the articulate 20-something explains.

Unlike many others who suffer from anxiety, Caroline had got through her teens without mishap. Everything had also gone swimmingly for her during college, and afterwards she was lucky enough to get an internship, which led to a job. "After college, in 2010, 2011, there were no real jobs. I knew I'd have to work for free for a while, and my parents were very understanding. I got great experiences, learning the ropes in different workplaces. Then I went in at intern level to, which I loved, and over three years I worked my way up to become editor of the site," she notes, adding, "it was an amazing opportunity, I was flying off on junkets interviewing movie stars, I was writing theatre and music features; it was all great for a 23, 24-year-old."

During her stint at the website, she was headhunted to join another company and this is when her anxiety levels changed dramatically; she is keen to stress that it wasn't the company's fault. "I had just moved out of my parents' house and moved in with my boyfriend. I think I was bubbling under with stress for a while, and then the job changes triggered it. I got really sick and had to leave the job," Caroline explains, adding, "I had acute stomach problems, which I ignored at first, then I started obsessing over what it could be. I even thought, because I had moved from the Northside to the Southside, 'am I allergic to the south-Dublin water or something?' I refused to accept that maybe it was stress, but when I thought about it more, I realised that being very ill coincided so much with changing jobs that I couldn't really deny it", she notes.

The doctors focused on the stomach problems, but that was just a symptom, and eventually Caroline started to have full-blown panic attacks. "Finally, my body cranked it up a notch. I'd wake up in the morning with aches and pains all over my body, as if I had the flu, and trembling. It completely destroyed me for a while, not understanding what was happening. It was a hugely upsetting time, and I remember thinking, 'Everyone is getting on with their lives - God, am I the only one?'" Caroline recalls, adding "I felt I had done it to myself. But there's such a physiological thing going on, you can't just decide to snap out of it; to go and have a cup of tea and get over it. All your hormones are all over the place, Even if you think you've figured it out, your body needs time. I couldn't sleep, literally, for about three months," she recalls with a shudder.

Caroline says in the beginning she was obsessed with curing her anxiety, but she realised the important thing is to learn to live with it, and she goes into how she did all this in the book. Her coping strategies are mainly cognitive behaviour therapy, medication and watching her diet. "I don't do caffeine, I'm very aware of my sugar intake, and I'm not a massive drinker. Alcohol is not your friend when you're anxious," she says. She also does yoga and resistance training. "I'm living life to the full now, but it's most important when you're well to keep doing what you need to do," she explains.

When she felt better, Caroline got a job with Image magazine, where she wrote a lot of features about health and well-being, which increased her understanding of the way our bodies and minds work.

A year ago, she felt confident enough to go freelance, and now she writes a weekly beauty column for the Sunday Business Post and has also started a website, with her pal, Jo Linehan. "I worked with Jo in Image. We chatted about it and realised there was a gap for accessible, affordable interiors, - how to create lovely spaces without any money. Basically it's an online magazine; we ask the experts, we show how to work different interiors, looks and we work with brands," Caroline says.

Caroline herself is, of course, Gaff Interiors' target audience. She and her boyfriend Barry, who she says was a rock throughout her troubles, have just bought their own first home and are gradually decorating it. "We got help with the deposit from our parents; we couldn't have done it without them," she notes, adding that they were also very lucky to get an affordable new house in their chosen area of Drumcondra.

"We had put in an offer on a new-build in the area, but the owners kept asking for more and it was really frustrating; then my parents said, 'Let's look at this other new estate'. Most of the houses were way above our budget, but there were some in our price range. Barry was in Wales at a rugby match and I rang him about the house and said, 'You're going to have to trust me on this one' - there were queues of buyers and I had to put down a deposit. His friends were teasing him, 'Are you seriously letting your girlfriend make the decision?', but he said, 'Go for it'."

He hasn't regretted it. They moved in last year, and already Caroline has created a fun-filled, comfortable home. "Barry and I have similar styles, but I make all the decisions. We wanted the basics like tables, sofas and chairs to be neutral, contemporary and minimal. The little flourishes that you can take away as you get bored with them, that's where I put in the personality," she explains.

And the personality of the house is charming, whimsical and life-affirming - like Caroline herself.


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