We all have our Proustian moments; when a sight, a taste, a smell, a touch, or a sound will send us off on a journey of nostalgia; a trip down memory lane.
For the narrator in Marcel Proust's famous series of novels called A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, this evocation of times past happened when he tasted a madeleine cake dipped in tea. For Emma Lynch, interiors entrepreneur and co-owner of Lamb Design, it's the heady scent of her grandmother's garden in summer which can evoke days of her youth; days spent happily splashing at the seaside in Brittas Bay and making castles on the beach; days of family gatherings and picnics and birthday parties. Happy days.
It was a scent which Emma never thought she'd fully experience again once she'd grown up - her grandparents had sold their house many years earlier, and Emma and her family stopped going to Brittas. Then, one fateful day three years ago, she got a call out of the blue from her father. "You'll never guess where I am?" he said, down the phone to her at her then home in London.
That phone call led to Emma getting the opportunity to relive the days of her youth and give her own children a similarly carefree upbringing. It also led to the creation of her thriving new business.
A lot had happened in Emma's life in the intervening years. Born and reared in Dublin, the youngest of three children, she had studied marketing and PR, and went on to become the marketing manager of British Telecom in Ireland, where she worked for three years. In 2009, she married her husband Peter, a businessman, and they decided to go and live where Peter's work took them, first to the US and later England. "We lived for three years in Scottsdale, Arizona. It's just gorgeous, and there was a great social life. Career wise, it was a bit tricky for me with work visas, but then Chloe arrived, and I looked after her full-time." Emma recalls.
Chloe, six, was followed by Hugo, three, who was born in London, where the couple lived for two years. At the time of Emma's dad's phone call, they were debating about coming home, as they wanted Chloe to go to school in Ireland.
"Dad said, 'I'm having a cup of tea with the lady who owns gran's house'. It transpired that Carlo, who did painting jobs around the house for my dad, was doing a job for this lady, Susan. They got talking, and Carlo found out that Jill, Susan's late mother, had bought my grandmother's holiday bungalow in Brittas from her. Susan asked Carlo for my dad's phone number, purely to have a chat," Emma recalls, adding, "The house had been left to Susan by her mother, and it had been derelict for 10 years. At that stage, she had no intention of selling the house, but I expressed an interest, and she thought the fact that it had been my grandmother's house, and that I loved it enough to want to buy it, even though it was derelict, was a wonderful story," Emma recalls.
The happy outcome was, Susan agreed to sell, she got an estate agent to set the price, and Emma and her husband were thrilled to be the purchasers. Emma recalls with delight the day they came to see it; it completely lived up to her memories of the house - in fact, she thought it was even more wonderful. It was a glorious day, and the setting looked idyllic. "As a kid, you have no concept of views, and I suppose that was one thing I didn't really remember. We came back to look at it on a blistering hot day and we realized the setting was amazing, with these gorgeous sea views."
When Emma and her husband originally bought the house, they planned to do a complete redesign, and she was going to engage an architect and an interior designer. To extend would have meant looking for planning permission, which would take months, and, as the sale itself had already taken a year to complete because it was a probate sale, they just didn't have the stomach for any more delays, so Emma went with her gut instinct and did an internal redesign herself.
For Emma to take it and bring it back to life was a joy, but she also felt a certain responsibility in that she wanted to honour the home of her grandparents. She and her husband transferred back to Ireland in 2014, and, while the house was being renovated, they stayed in Wexford with Emma's parents, who had retired to Gorey.
The renovation, which took two months, involved tearing the house apart internally, leaving only a shell and a roof. "The house dates from the 1950s. There were always four bedrooms, but all the rooms were tiny. The kitchen, dining room and the living room were all separate rooms; now I've opened them all up," Emma says. "But I would be sensitive to people's feelings, and I've kept the front of the house exactly as it was, and all the shrubs and rose bushes."
There were some things internally that she kept, too. "The builder said, 'Get rid of the doors, they're awful', but I couldn't. They remind me of being a kid, running in and out of the house all day long."
Emma's brother, an engineer, designed the structural beams, which were essential, but she did the redesign herself and found a local builder. "I worked off the BER-rating floor plan, and followed my instinct. For example, I always wanted a playroom off the kitchen, so I did that," she says with satisfaction. She turned the original games room into a master bedroom, and opened up several of the small rooms, including the living room, to make one big, open-plan living space. She also ensured that the builder put really effective insulation in the walls, floors and ceilings. There were a few demons lurking, like dry rot under the floors, so they took them all up. Emma didn't mind too much, as it gave her an opportunity to put beautiful smoked herringbone flooring in the dining and living areas, while they put down tiles in the kitchen, laminate in the playroom and carpets in the bedrooms. .
When it came to the decor, Emma chose to mix a bit of Nordic with a touch of French; she also takes much of her inspiration from the sea, and she uses different shades of blue extensively. "I wanted it to feel young and bright and open. I love the Nordic look, but it can be stark. I like a French feel, but with a bit of fun. I like to layer things up with texture," she explains.
She got her kitchen locally and is thrilled with it. "I got it from P&M Kitchens in Ferns. They were the only company who sent me a screen 3D model, and they made it for half the price the others were quoting," the bubbly brunette notes with delight. The worktops are made from Carrara marble, and the lighting over the peninsula is from Mullan Lighting. The paint on the units is Smokey Joe from Helen Turkington.
Apart from the kitchen, Emma has kept her background fairly neutral, and used Colourtrend's Milk Teeth, in the main, on the walls. "I get colour in with my furnishings and accessories," Emma says, adding that she had collected many of them over the years for her homes abroad. "I've done up houses in Arizona and London," she says, adding that she had collected many of the pieces of furniture in the different rooms from the different countries in which they'd lived. These include very interesting pieces like the dining table, which is an old barn door.
Though it was a tough task renovating the house, Emma found she relished it. "When you're out of the workplace for a few years, you can lose a sense of yourself. Doing up the house gave me back confidence and self-worth," she enthuses.
After the house was done, she toyed with going back into the workplace, but she hated the idea of commuting from Brittas to Dublin everyday. She began to reflect on possible options, when it hit her that she ought to go into interiors. She got so many compliments about the redesign of the house that she realised that starting her own business selling beautiful pieces to enliven and enhance others' homes mightn't be a bad idea. She discussed it with her friend, Christina Kenny, who had also lived abroad. Together, they decided to set up a new online interior store called Lamb Design, and bring to Ireland all the things that they had sourced abroad and loved. Emma has a studio in her house with its own separate entrance, where people can come by appointment and talk interiors and look at samples. They can also go online and purchase the many beautiful pieces on sale, including bedlinen, cushions, and lamps, many of which are made by artisans. She is trying to include as many Irish artisans as possible. She also has a little section of her website called Little Lamb, which is devoted to accessories for children's rooms.
"I love looking after the kids, but I feel I have so much more to give. By working from home I can fuel my passion, and the kids are none the wiser," she says with a laugh.
And whenever she wants to feel like a carefree kid herself, all she has to do is go into the garden. "That day we first came to see the house, I picked up a leaf, and I got the most amazing smell," she says. "It reminded me so much of being here as a child."
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine