Tuesday 21 May 2019

'For years I was afraid to call myself an interior designer' - Suzie McAdam

Suzie McAdam (32) is an interior designer. She formed her design company in 2011 from her living room. Now she has a studio and employs a team of eight. Born in Limerick, she lives in Sandycove, with her husband, Barry

Interior architect Róisín Lafferty, interior designer Suzie McAdam, and architect Dermot Bannon at the launch of house 2019
Interior architect Róisín Lafferty, interior designer Suzie McAdam, and architect Dermot Bannon at the launch of house 2019
Pictured at the launch of house 2019, Ireland’s premium interior design event, were (l to r) Architect Hugh Wallace, Interior architect Róisín Lafferty, Architect Dermot Bannon, Interior designers Suzie McAdam and Amanda Hilton Sawyer. Photo: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland
Design seekers Deirdre McAuliffe, Suzie McAdam and Isabelle Carton

I'd love to say that I get up at 6am and go jogging, but I'm actually a terrible morning person. I have coffee and bring the dog out for some fresh air. Then there's always a bit of panic in the morning, trying to find clothes. I know that I should decide what I'm going to wear the night before, but I don't.

My husband, Barry, is in the army, and he's based in the Curragh, so he leaves very early. He brings me coffee before he goes. I listen to Spotify in the mornings, a nice chilled playlist. I'm renovating our house in Sandycove, so we're living in Donnybrook at the moment.

I have site meetings in the mornings. Usually it's a house site, so I meet with the client, the architect and the engineer, and we talk through the progress on the project. It might be about marble selection, a kitchen installation or lighting. It's a holistic approach with a team, as opposed to a retrospective add-on. It can be a weekly update. Currently, we have 10 projects on our books, so there are a lot of meetings.

The majority of our projects are residential. They are generally refurbishments and can take up to two years. A typical project might be a Georgian house, but we're also working on the refurbishment of the g Hotel in Galway. We also do a lot of country houses, so I'm on the road a lot. I enjoy driving.

I'm an interior designer. For many years, I was almost afraid to call myself that because a lot of people thought that it was just about wallpaper and cushions. But as I've grown professionally, I realise that this is a real art and skill, and I'm proud of that title now.

If I'm doing a family home, it's really important to listen to the family's needs. You need to understand how a family wants to live in that space, where they gather and where they want to chill. You look at the comfort level, the shape, the textures and the textiles. Everything you pick impacts on that. A strong thought process goes into every single detail. I like understanding what they want, and seeing if I can create that. I don't have a standard look for designs. It's all bespoke. A lot of my clients have impeccable taste, but these projects are mammoth tasks, and they might not have that much time.

I spend a lot of time at design shows, so my brain is like an encyclopedia of all the things that I've seen. I might remember a pendant light I've seen at a show in Milan, and I'll know where it will work perfectly. I take photos all the time, and I've been using Instagram for years. I like to show the behind-the-scenes of a project.

I'm from Limerick, but my dad worked in the States a lot. So I had this duality - this lovely suburban childhood in Ireland and then, on our trips to the US, the scale and the size of the houses was very different. My mom was quite into the arts, so we spent a lot of time going to museums and art galleries. It threw me into the world of beautiful buildings. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston had a big impact on me. It looked like a Venetian palace in the middle of the city. It's one of my favourite places in the world.

Recently, when I was clearing out my home, I found all these old school copies of mine my mom had kept. At the back of the maths copies, there were lots of drawings of houses. I didn't realise that I had been sketching for years.

I started out studying architecture, but then I changed to interiors. It was the right decision. But nothing was wasted from architecture. We got to visit Eileen Gray's house in the south of France.

I started the business in 2011, and it was a small-scale consultancy. But after I did a trade show in 2012, I met two clients. After that, I got a lot of referrals. I started out working from my living room and the business grew. I invested my savings into the company. I wasn't making any interest on it, so I thought I might as well bet on myself. Now I have a team of eight, a new studio, and in the summer, we will open The Design Seeker showroom in Monkstown Crescent.

I'm in contact with my clients and my team all the time, so it's hard to switch off from work. At weekends, I go for walks up the mountains, or I'll go sailing. There is no phone signal out on the ocean, so it's really relaxing. I need down-time to come up with business plans and goals.

Sometimes it's something simple like walking the dog. If you do something creative, it helps that side of the brain. I play the piano to relax. I like to have a glass of wine, shut the door and play away. Because we are renting and renovating, I don't have a piano at the moment, so I have this angst of not having a piano.

I'm a night-owl. I stay up late working, and sometimes I'll watch movies. I'm such a visual person. I'm probably not listening to the dialogue, but admiring the costumes and design instead. I'm such a sponge. I take pieces from everything.

My husband Barry is very supportive. He is interested in design, and sometimes he'll come to shows with me. He has seen a lot, but now I kind of regret his creative education. We are renovating our house, and he will come up with suggestions; he'll remind me of something we saw in Paris, or some brand which he thinks will work well. He's quite good at it.

The decisions end up being more of a debate.




In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Suzie McAdam will be at house 2019 - Ireland's premier interior design event, taking place in the RDS from May 24-26. Tickets on sale now at house-event.ie

Sunday Independent

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