Inside the stunning home of the couple who specialise in transforming other people's homes
Psychologists say that, after bereavement and divorce, moving house is one of the most stressful of life events; coming a close fourth must be actually selling your home before moving on to the next house - it's physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
There's the decluttering process to start, and the years of accumulated debris to be got rid of. Then there are the finicky things to be dealt with, the things that went awry over the years, but which you've tolerated rather than face getting a handyman in - the dicky taps and the locks you've managed with your special knack, rather than having them replaced.
Then there's getting the house to look elegant and attractive and welcoming enough, but without too much of your personality intruding, in order to allow a prospective buyer to imagine themselves actually putting down roots in what was your space.
It's enough to make you want to lie down in a darkened room. Or at least decide to make do with what you have, and not sell at all.
But help is at hand in the form of home staging. Home stagers are the clever people who have spotted this niche in the home-selling market and have set up businesses whereby they come in and turn your home into the most desirable property it can be.
It's quite a new concept in this country, but there are already a few companies doing it here, including that of husband-and-wife team Ross Power and Mags Mallon. The couple, who have set up a home-staging company called Power2Design, are eminently qualified to advise home sellers - they've been in the property market for years, with enormous experience in fitting out houses and apartments.
Indeed Ross, an architect, has been steeped in property since childhood. "Property was the family business, mainly developing shopping centres. As a family, we travelled a lot when I was young, and we spent much of the time touring shopping centres abroad," Ross says with a laugh, adding, "I developed an interest in becoming an architect because of that, and also there was a guy called James Twomey, who I used to do a lot of summer work with. He was the company's in-house architect - he developed Powerscourt Shopping Centre, St Stephen's Green, and Powerscourt in Wicklow. Working with Jim, I realised I'd like to be an architect myself."
Ross was born in Cork, but came to live in Dublin at the age of six. After secondary school - first at Blackrock College, then at St Columba's in Rathfarnham - he went to the UK to study architecture, and after qualification he set up a practice with fellow architect Chris Boyle.
However, he was torn between working for the family business and the architectural practice. The family business won out at the time. "I was getting busy developing our own property portfolio, and I couldn't give architecture enough time and attention," he volunteers, adding that Chris Boyle is now a lecturer in architecture in UCD.
By that stage, too, Ross and Mags had met - their paths had crossed in San Francisco in, of all places, a shopping centre. Mags, who hails from Tyrone and is the youngest of five, studied travel and tourism in college in Belfast, then headed to the States.
"I went to San Francisco; my brother lives there," Mags says. "I spent five years in total there, with a year in the middle spent in Australia. At the time we met, I was working in men's retail in a shop called Royal Regiment, and Ross was helping his dad with property management there."
Ross adds: "I was still studying architecture and working in the management office during the summer, dealing with the day-to-day running of the shopping centre. A security guard from Galway, Vivian Walsh was his name, told me about this Irish girl, and recommended I introduce myself to her."
Romance blossomed, and they had a great summer. "You could say it was love at first sight," Mags says fondly. "San Francisco is full of nice places to go, and fun things to do. I remember we took a Sunday brunch cruise; we went to a lot of Park concerts - yes, it was lovely," she reminisces.
When the summer ended and Ross had to head back to college, Mags decided to return to Ireland, and they've been together ever since.
The couple have two boys - Jake (14) and Scott (11) - and while Mags stayed at home with the boys in the early days, she gradually got more and more involved in Ross's work, which by then involved long-term lets of residential property; some owned by the family business, some owned by himself and Mags.
"I set up a property-leasing business in Dublin for high-end business executives coming in from overseas," says Ross. "We were catering for the American market; no one else was catering for them at the time."
He goes on to explain how that business worked. "Because we had travelled extensively, we were able to see what kind of homes these executives had in New York and Los Angeles. We could pinpoint what these guys would require when they moved to Ireland. A period property with just two bathrooms wasn't going to cut it," Ross says. "So we would purchase a property, go through the planning process and bring it up to standard with all en suites, power showers, underfloor heating, sub-zero fridges. We got a reputation for high-quality work, tailored for the corporate market and for embassies."
The business was hugely successful initially. Unfortunately, the downturn meant that suddenly there was little need for corporate rentals, and the couple sold their properties. Ross had developed a good reputation, and now that the market is picking up, he's in demand for consultancy.
In addition, he and Mags decided to set up their home-staging business; they had talked about it in the early days of their business - home-staging was a regular feature of the property market in the States, but hadn't yet arrived in Ireland.
Last year, they finally set up Power2Design. "People viewing a home will form an opinion within the first 10 seconds of entering a property, so you need to make your house stand out from the one that's for sale down the street. That's where we come in," says Mags. "You want your house to sell a lifestyle; you want the potential purchaser to think, 'I could see myself living here'."
Over the years, Ross and Mags have developed many ways of making a home look particularly enticing - texture, colour and comfort play an important role.
"Cushions, throws, and rugs are all important, mirrors in the right places, the shape and height of a coffee table; the smallest detail can make a difference, the right furniture for the space," says Mags, adding they specialise in made-to-order footstools and headboards.
Mags and Ross advise home-owners what to get rid of when staging their home for sale, and then they provide furniture to create the desired look - according to Mags, they have high-end suppliers in France, Spain and Italy, and two storage units full of furnishings, ready to put in to properties for sale.
With so many resources at their disposal, they were able to stage a show house for all the top estate agents to see their work, and they say they got a great response from them, with many recommending them to prospective sellers.
If the look of the couple's own home in Wicklow is anything to go by, it's obvious that anyone using their services to sell a house is in safe hands. Their home, which they moved into only last November, is pure, understated elegance, yet obviously cosy and comfortable.
"We had renovated a house in Dun Laoghaire - it was a big period renovation, and we lived in it for 10 years, but it was too big for us," Mags says. "We also wanted to move more into the country and Greystones/Delany was ideal. It has a village atmosphere, a little more relaxed than Dublin, but also the Dart close by."
The new house is by no means small - it has five bedrooms, plus a loft for the boys, and an office. On the ground floor, there's a large kitchen/dining room and two reception rooms.
The interior decor is very much as they would advise a prospective seller - low-key, elegant, with luxurious soft furnishings, plus some arresting details of interest - for example, in the paintings or wall hangings, such as the print of a Scottish cow hanging in their dining area.
If it were for sale, one could imagine plenty of people wanting to buy it.
To date, Ross and Mags report a great success rate, though they did have one interesting situation. "This couple put their house on the market because the wife hated the house. After we staged it, she loved what we did so much that they decided not to sell," Ross says.
Estate agents won't love Ross and Mags if they continue to have this kind of result.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine