From the rugby pitch to the house he built, Rob Kearney on his love of clean lines
Rob Kearney's sporting life is all about finding the best lines on the pitch - but he honed a keen eye for architectural rules on various projects, starting with building his own home. The Ireland rugby player talks to our fashion editor about tackling the world of design
One thing you won't find in Rob Kearney's Dublin 6 home is clutter.
The Ireland and Leinster fullback is all about lines. Some lines are memorable, like the one he crossed for his important try against England at Twickenham three years ago. Facing down the same team again today, he will undoubtedly be hoping to repeat that feat.
Meanwhile, the clean lines Rob aims to take on the field of play are replicated in his contemporary home, which he started building at age 24.
It was an ambitious project for someone so young, but with the help of his architect - and lots of useful advice from his mother, Siobhán - the modern house was built overlooking a tiered garden.
Not that you'd find Rob Kearney out gardening on a rest day. "No, absolutely not," he says emphatically. His love of green doesn't extend beyond the Ireland jersey it seems, with Rob admitting that the majority of his visits to the garden are to his barbecue, which sits just outside the open-plan living room.
Rob - who turns 31 next weekend - grew up on the Cooley Peninsula, where he played GAA and made the Louth minor team in 2003 when he was just 16. Rugby entered his life when he boarded at Clongowes Wood College in Kildare, where his younger brother, Dave - his 'roomie' in his South Dublin house - was also educated.
By his own confession, the young Kearney was not good at art in school, which probably makes this journey into interiors all the more unexpected for the player.
"I was appalling at art in school, so bad, and I didn't even really enjoy it," says Rob. However, design magazines came onto his horizon when he started building his home from scratch, and no doubt they were a welcome distraction when studying for a master's in business.
Given his dislike of clutter, I'm not surprised that the glossy magazines didn't survive, to be transformed into a feature wall.
"No, I didn't keep the magazines. When I was working on the house, I had a folder broken into different rooms in the house and if I liked something, I would just rip it out of the magazine and put it into the living-room section or the bathroom section."
Rob keeps his home off limits to the media so, while photographs of the open-plan space are politely ruled out, he's happy to provide us with photos of some of his favourite decor touches in the house (see below).
One of his favourite pieces is a painting of Carlingford Lough, where he grew up, by the Newry artist Peadar Jackson. There's also a selection of Banksy postcards which he bought at a market in London's Shoreditch for £30 and then framed in gold.
The wall art reveals a DIY side to this non-gardener, so is Rob a secret flatpack enthusiast hanging out in Ikea once the crowds are gone? Rob's freckled face breaks into a wide smile and he declares, "I think Ikea is brilliant and I do have a few pieces in the house, but unfortunately I didn't build them myself."
When the rugby star opted to build his own house, his brief was: "clean lines, contemporary but still having a warm, cosy feeling to it.
"It was a real unique opportunity to be able to put my own stamp on it and to have exactly what I wanted. Obviously, you only get one crack at it so I wanted to make sure that I did it well, and right."
He acknowledges that "the days of having loads of walls inside a house are probably gone, so I wanted a real open-plan, spacious living area downstairs. I am glad I did split-level because it breaks the dimension of the house into a couple of different parts. The garden is quite contemporary as well and it's a continuation of the house so when you walk in the hall door, you can see right down to the very back."
Top of his wish list for the design was getting lots of natural light into the house - and for the ultimate blank canvas, he went for off-white-painted walls.
"I didn't want white-white because it is quite clinical and it gets dirty very easily, but I like big spaces and I suppose the closer you get to white, the more of a 'big space' feeling it gives you."
In the end, Rob chose a warm white shade called 'Milk Teeth' white, which, when I Google it later, I discover is from the Historical Collection manufactured by the Irish paint brand Colortrend in Celbridge, Co Kildare.
If I'm looking for any more evidence of his new eye for colour, it's the car he arrived in today. After years of always choosing a black car, in his role as Audi Ireland Ambassador, Rob's brand-new wheels are the Audi A5 Coupé in Scuba Blue. There's no missing him motoring through the Dublin suburbs in that machine.
"I've always been a black-car person but I do love the blue. I think sharp lines are something that work well in cars and turn heads," he says.
Architectural design considerations are now cropping up in his life more and more. With the confidence that came with completing his own house project, Rob was no doubt raring to get involved in two pub projects he's invested in with his brother, Dave, their fellow Leinster colleagues Jamie Heaslip and Seán O'Brien, plus businessman Noel Anderson. First came The Bridge 1859 in Dublin's Ballsbridge in 2014, and last year the syndicate created their city-centre Lemon & Duke venue, just off Grafton Street.
It is strong on interior aesthetic and colour, as you can see from our photoshoot with Rob. Sitting on the bright couch in Lemon & Duke, he's framed under dramatic converging metal lines. If he was surprised by some of the suggested colour choices - "We were told mustard, and mustard isn't really a colour that people associate with being pretty" - he really likes it now and the way it contrasts with the green chairs, the red-tiled wall and the "spaceship" ceiling lights.
Given the players' competitive natures, how did that work out? Fisticuffs over the décor and colour palette?
"Like lots of people do, I'm sure, the five of us had a joint Pinterest account and we would share what we liked. There was one particular photo of a pub in New York that we thought was awesome.
"Myself, Dave and I think either Noel or Jamie put it in. Seanie's not quite up to the Pinterest just yet," says Rob, taking a good-humoured pop at his playing buddy and business partner.
Rob likes the fact that, in the end, they did a full wall of red tiles opposite the bar's entrance as opposed to just a half wall. He notes that there are some similarities between elements found in the two pubs and in his home. "The glass on my stairs is quite similar to the stairs in Lemon & Duke and, instead of some big pieces of art, I love a wall filled with some small ones."
Off duty, when he closes the front door on the world at home, Rob likes to chill and, increasingly, indulge in some kitchen action.
"Yeah, I definitely am cooking more. I suppose diets have changed a lot in professional sport. You know, back five or six years ago, I would have eaten out an awful lot, whereas now we've cut down a huge amount on that - and to know exact portion sizes and what exactly you're eating, you have to cook in more."
Like so many of the Leinster team, Rob loves his coffee, but his kitchen presses are not full of the coffee-brewing paraphernalia that other players bring on tour with them.
"I have a coffee machine but I don't use it a huge amount. I find coffee a real social thing and I like to get out of the house to meet people, to have chats. I love coffee and I'll have two or three a day, but I cut down on a Thursday and Friday if I'm playing on the Saturday."
Rob then tells me how he likes "to watch a bit of Dermot Bannon" on the RTÉ show Room to Improve. "Yeah, the show's ratings are sky high at the moment. What I like about it is that it's really honest. They don't try and portray relationships differently.
"You can almost feel the tension between architect and client when they are not happy about something and I think that's what a little bit gripping about it." Almost as gripping as rugby.
At home with Rob
DIY eye: Rob bought six Banksy postcards for a fiver each in London and encased them in an ornate gold frame
Colour king: Rob chose a neutral palette for the floor and walls of his home, with colour pops such as this purple velvet chair
Lough star: A painting of Carlingford Lough in Louth by Peader Jackson, hung on a wall painted in ‘Milk Teeth’ white