A joined effort - how to achieve perfect built-in storage
Having a clear vision is key to creating seamless built-in storage
'Cowboys, Ted, they're a bunch of cowboys!" Father Liam Deliverance tests the workmanship of the door by kicking a hole in it. Then he turns to a perfectly serviceable bookcase.
"What did you pay for the shelves, Ted?"
Father Ted doesn't remember.
"These won't last you. Look at that! Sure you could talk that into coming down."
Ted points out, quite reasonably, that the shelves have lasted fine until now.
"Give us a go," says Father Liam, proceeding to tear the shelves apart by brute force. "Look at that Ted, sure it's falling apart."
This immortal sequence comes from the Rock A Hula Ted episode of the Father Ted sitcom, first seen on Channel 4 in 1996. Like most of the comedy in the series, there's more than a grain of truth in it. There is a lot of shoddy joinery in old Irish houses. And we've all met people who would happily prove their point by testing something until it breaks.
But, most of the time, built-in storage is well-made, solid and functional. "Joinery is something that I use in all my projects," says Róisín Lafferty of Kingston Lafferty design. "It's a great way of creating a space that's functional and unique to you."
Lafferty's recently completed interior of a London apartment makes a strong case for built-in furniture. "The apartment didn't have a utility room, so we created a lot of concealed storage in the kitchen."
At one end of the room, she designed a dining area where a built-in bench, with storage beneath the seat, fits neatly into an alcove between two tall cupboards. These allow space for the vacuum cleaner, mop and cleaning materials, while less frequently-used items fit under the bench.
The cupboards are ceiling-height and the top sections are mirrored. "I hate free-standing joinery with dust-gathering areas on the top," Lafferty says.
To make a tight space seem larger, she used mirrors, including one on the wall of the alcove. "We extended the neon yellow frame of the mirror by painting on the wall around it. It's a bit of fun and it could easily be changed."
An island, also mirrored, separates the dining area from the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets are painted the same minty green as the cupboards at the other end of the room and neatly inserted in an alcove lined with bistro tiles.
Here, she has utilised the high ceilings by designing a recess above the kitchen, just below ceiling height. The owners use it as a bar. (If you wanted to control someone's drinking habits, you could just hide the ladder.)
The ladder hooks on to a ladder-rail, like one you might see in an old-fashioned library, which runs the length of the room. The ladder can be unhooked and moved to the living room, where Lafferty has designed shelving on a similar scale and installed a second ladder-rail. The same ladder works in both spaces.
"The living room is different in style," she says. "The owners wanted it to feel more intimate." Open shelving along the wall creates a place to display personal items, with concealed storage in the mirrored cupboards below. Wooden panelling, designed by Lafferty and made by her joiner, extends to the seating area at the back of the room.
In terms of cost, each project is priced individually, but joinery of this scale and standard would set you back several thousand euro. "If you have a joiner that you trust, you can talk to them about making the work cost-effective," says Lafferty. "Often you can save money on the finishes. If you're going for a painted finish, you don't need to use solid wood."
The important thing is to ask all the right questions before you embark on a project. If you make your plans well in advance, the electrician can make sure that the wires and plug sockets are where you need them. "Storage shouldn't be an afterthought!" Lafferty says.
Since anything made by a joiner will be specific to the space that it's going in to, be prepared for a conversation that goes back and forth a few times before you settle on a design.
"Joinery is a journey," Lafferty explains, "but it really helps if you have a clear idea of what you want."
Be honest about how you live and the amount of stuff that you have. The minimalist lifestyle that you would like to have may not be how you actually live. "It's like fashion," she says. "It's easy to get carried away and buy something aspirational that isn't going to suit you in the long run."
There'll be plenty of opportunity to find out more about built-in furniture - from cupboards and kitchens to bespoke seating - at House, the interior design event that runs in the RDS from May 26-28. I'll be chatting to Róisín Lafferty on the Inspiration Stage at House 2017 (between 1pm and 2pm on Saturday, May 27). You'll also find plenty of exhibitors with expertise in high-end joinery (prices on request). My favourites include Cillian Johnston, Michael Farrell Kitchens and high-end cabinetmakers Zelouf+Bell.
As it turns out, Susan Zelouf is a big fan of Father Ted too. "That episode cracks me up!" she says. "I think it tickles every craftsman. What I'd say about choosing an artisan-made piece of fine furniture is that it requires care and maintenance over a lifetime, like cars, gardens, relationships, and ourselves."
See kingstonlaffertydesign.com, cillianjohnston.com, michaelfarrell.ie and zeloufandbell.com.