Tuesday 21 November 2017

Girls on top: Peek inside interior designer Angelina Ball's home

How do you tell your fiance that the new interior decor of his home has to go? Interior designer Angelina Ball enlisted the help of her business partner, Grace Macdonald.

Grace Macdonald, left, and Angelina Ball in Angelina’s living room, which is painted in Cornforth White by Farrow & Ball. The chenille sofas are from Ashleaf, a range stocked in Phoenix Interior Design. The picture is by Terry Bradley, a favourite with both women.
Grace Macdonald, left, and Angelina Ball in Angelina’s living room, which is painted in Cornforth White by Farrow & Ball. The chenille sofas are from Ashleaf, a range stocked in Phoenix Interior Design. The picture is by Terry Bradley, a favourite with both women.

The business world is full of great partnerships - Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, David and Stephen Flynn of The Happy Pear, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's.

Angelina Ball and Grace Macdonald of Phoenix Interior Design may be in a somewhat more modest league than the companies mentioned above, but they have similar aspirations; they want to make their mark. And this glamorous pair want to do it by helping their clients to beautify their homes.

And just as Bill and Paul live and breathe computers, the two women are consumed by interiors. They will happily discuss new trends ad nauseam - rose-gold and copper touches, big pieces of photography, curved sofas as opposed to angular or boxy, if you want to know - and are so in tune that they finish each other's sentences when they relate to interiors. "We look out for each other; we empower each other," notes Grace, while Angelina adds, "We both have a great sense of fun, and we both believe in getting the head down and working."

The women are so in sync that it's difficult to believe that they only set up in business together in 2014; prior to that, both worked in other businesses while constantly upgrading and refreshing their interior design skills and doing interiors projects freelance, some on a collaborative basis.

Angelina, who was born in Derry, is the middle daughter of two Olympic swimmers, Liam Ball and Anne O'Connor. "They both swam in Mexico in 1968 and Munich in 1972. They met and fell in love and had us three girls while they ran a sports complex in Castlebar. Dad developed a brain tumour and passed when I was four, so Mam, who's from the Liberties, brought us to live in Dublin," Angelina explains.

The swimming gene bypassed Angelina, who had no interest in the early mornings required for swimming practice; instead, she went to work in the telecoms industry for many years. However, she always had the passion for interiors, and, while working full-time, she opted to study interiors at Limperts Academy of Design, and from then on she combined office work with interiors projects.

At one stage, she was a departmental manager for 82 Carphone Warehouse stores. It gave her fantastic retail experience, but she was glad to go into interiors full-time in 2012, first with Out Of The Blue Interiors in Malahide, then in 2014 with Grace.

Grace has been steeped in interiors since she was a child growing up in Dundrum. "I was always rearranging the furniture in my parents' home. I used to make my sisters' beds and then wouldn't allow them to sit on their own beds," she notes with a laugh, adding that she got her creativity from her father, who liked to design toys. Grace first studied craft, design and production in Liberties College, before heading off to Australia and Thailand.

When she returned from her travels in 2002, she concentrated mainly on interiors. "I started visual merchandising. I worked for Top Drawer in Stillorgan for five years, I was with Dunnes Stores for a while, then I did five years with House and Garden fit-out company," the 30-something mother of eight-year-old Daniella notes, adding, "I did property staging, getting houses ready for sale in the boom time.

"Seven-bedroom houses with pools, basements and hot tubs in Dalkey and Dublin 4 . . . it was like I was living in MTV Cribs."

The two women met while on holiday in Bermuda in 2005. "We just started discussing how much we both loved interiors, and clicked," Angelina notes.

They did lots of freelance projects together over the years, starting with quite an ambitious collaboration - the kitting out of the penthouse in the Four Seasons 10 years ago.

They have another extremely challenging project on at the moment - the updating and remodelling of all the apartments in Embassy Court in Ballsbridge - but they're not daunted. They know they have the talent and experience to carry it off. Plus a huge range of fabrics, wallpapers, furnishings and accessories, all available to them in their shop, Phoenix Interior Design, on Terenure Road North. "We can call on 40 to 50 different suppliers, including Coach House, Eichholtz, Zoffany, and Irish companies like Abbey Upholsterers and Ashleaf Interiors," notes Grace.

As the women explain, the shop is also open to drop-in clients. "The retail space gives a flavour of what we do - people can call in and buy furnishings and avail of a design consultation. We call out to houses for anything up to two hours," says Angelina.

The pair travel to international design shows to make sure they are abreast of the latest trends, and that their suppliers reflect those trends. "When we go to shows we find we both say 'Look at that' about the same thing," says Grace, adding that in the case of the interiors show, house 2016 - which is being held in the RDS next weekend - instead of being observers, they will be participating, and will be available to give design advice to anyone interested.

Their tastes are so similar that Angelina trusted Grace to style her wedding, and asked her to help with the decoration of the home she shares with her husband, Stephen Murphy, and baby daughter, Sienna.

Stephen is an electrical quantity surveyor whom Angelina had dated in her teens, then they called it a day, though they remained friends. "In 2011, I went to Australia and he went to Israel. We had always kept in touch, and when we both came back, we went for a coffee and sparks flew," she says fondly, adding that they got married on New Year's Eve 2014, and Sienna arrived a year later.

The home they share was originally Stephen's house, and when Angelina first saw it, she realised she'd have to put her own stamp on it if she were to live in it. "He had just done up the house, new tiles had gone down - they had to come up. The kitchen was two rooms, it had to become one, so I took out a wall and put in an RSJ. I came in and ripped everything out," Angelina explains, adding that Stephen was thrilled to have the benefit of her and Grace's expertise.

Up went her favourite artworks - her Terry Bradleys - and in went her black table and chairs, and elegant sofas.

Grace approved everything - she, too, likes Terry Bradley and the two 30-somethings have many of the same pieces of furniture.

Grace has her eye on a new house for herself and Daniella, and no guesses as to who she will be calling on to help her kit it out - Angelina, of course.

Phoenix Interior Design, 114 Terenure Rd North, Dublin 6W, see phoenixinteriordesign.ie

See Phoenix Interior Design at house 2016 - Ireland's first ever high-end interiors event takes place in Dublin's RDS next weekend (May 20-May 22), showcasing world-class interiors, art and design. Buy your tickets now at house-event.ie/tickets and avail of the reduced online price

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

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